Invitation to Discomfort

For the first time since the slaughter of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, hearing news made me cry.

Make no mistake there has been a nonstop parade of horrifying and repugnant behavior since 2012, but for whatever reason, the mass shooting in El Paso brought me to tears.

Later that same day I was having a discussion with a prospective client about how I facilitate discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). They wanted implicit bias training but were worried about “blame and shame” – that I would be “too angry” or make their participants feel bad about racism.

This is a legitimate fear. Most discussions of “isms” will feel risky to somebody in the room.

In this case, talking about bias felt so risky to the client that they put off hiring a DEI consultant for two years following their decision to “offer education on the topic”.

As I explained how I work, I realized that I should probably need to include some description of my values and belief system on my website and in my proposals.

I need to be explicit about the change theories I ascribe to, and the evidence based research I utilize. These are the bits and pieces that help folks see the rigorous underpinnings that support my DEI work.

In the meantime, I told this prospective client that I don’t believe in “blame and shame”. My workshops, facilitation and coaching are always centered on individual growth. People shut down and dig their heels in when they are attacked. I don’t like when it’s done to me so I don’t make a habit of doing it to others.

That said, what I do instead is invite folks to be uncomfortable.

Think of it like when you go to the beach, or to the pool on a cool day. Some folks creep into the water slowly, some dive in and get it over with quickly, and others stop when the water reaches their ankles.

But they are all in the water.

Getting in that water – those discussions of racism, sexism, xenophobia and so on – is a choice for most people. And if you don’t know how to swim it can be scary, even life-threatening.

What I do when I facilitate is invite you to be uncomfortable.

I invite you to be brave and get in the water with me. To be cold, to flail and to tread water. To hold your breath and go all the way under.

To learn to swim.

I never throw anyone in the deep end by themselves. That’s not my style. I am right there with you in the deep or the shallow. You can trust me. I won’t let you drown.

Now more than ever we need to understand our role in shaping the society we live in.

We need to commit to the actions and behaviors that will make our “good intentions” reality.

We can do better.

If you work with me for more than five minutes you’ll know that’s one of my signature phrases. I use it to remind myself to start where people are to help them move forward. It keeps me in a place of hope and out of that cozy place of judgement.

“We can do better. We are all good people doing the best we can, and we can do better.”

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