By Tuesday Ryan Hart
A few weeks ago at a training, I was in the middle of teaching about power - a new teach for me, and one that I am, at times, quite nervous about giving - when my colleague, Tim, interrupted me. Things quickly moved into a typical pattern with white folks in the room talking about their experiences with power, a white woman expressing painful feelings about her level of hurt, and me - the person of color trying to share my expertise - sitting there quietly, really unsettled and a little bit stunned.
And I knew it would be okay.
And it was. Not because this story has a happy ending. There actually is no ending, no particular resolution. No, I knew it would be okay because Tim and I are in relationship.
We didn’t have a chance to talk about what had happened that day. Or rather, we didn’t take the chance. I was trying to figure out what had happened and how I was feeling about it, and Tim - after checking in with me - was giving me some space and trying to figure it out for himself, too. (And we had a training to conduct!)
Fortunately, Tim and I share a practice of running, and the next morning, we took a run together. We talked about my experience of the teach and how I saw historical patterns playing out, his experience of what happened and the impact it had, what we thought we were learning, and how it might be important to the group we were facilitating together.
And then we took it back into the training room. We sat in circle together and we shared our experiences both in the teach the previous day and during the run that morning. We shared that these issues will arise again and again when working with teams of people and how we, as practitioners, were moving through it together.
In the circle, questions were asked around, “What did you decide?” or “How will you act going forward?” And in the ensuing weeks, there have been questions about “What did you guys do?” and “How did it resolve?”
Ideally, in the moment of the interruption, we would have named it and decided how to go forward together. But that didn’t happen. It often doesn’t.
Tim and I have talked a great deal about the expectation that we would come up with the way of doing things in the future that would keep it from happening ever again.
That’s not what we did. We didn’t problem solve. We didn’t come up with a resolution to avoid future occurrences. Instead, we attended to our relationship. We shared our understanding of the situation and our reactions, made apologies where needed, saw and heard each other well, and decided a next step together. We decided to stay together.
And so this is what we’ve shared with folks, “We continue to work together and be in conversation about our learning,” but somehow this doesn’t seem to be enough for some folks.
But that is what is happening.
I get that this is disappointing. The desire for more “resolution” is completely understandable.
But I don’t believe that resolution was - or is - the goal.
In fact, I think there are a few real risks to forcing resolution in situations like this:
I don’t believe that there is any “finish line” about race and that we can just make agreements, rules, policies, or models that will get us there. The resolution is in our relationship, in our ability to stay in discomfort together, to be humble in the face of not knowing what to do, and to not pretend that we know how to solve this intractable issue. For Tim and I, the resolution is in our practicing relationship with each other, day in and day out, with its inevitable hurts and with a commitment to learning from each other.
This resolution in relationship is not neat and tidy, but more real, deep, and entirely based in practicing together.
The relationship is our resolution.
Added Jan 20, 2016: This one is especially tough, and I think it's important that we figure out how much relationship is needed...we don't have to be friends with everyone all that time, but keeping relationship as a possible resolution feels like a really important part of our systems change work.
I’m really glad to be able to say that Tim and I continue to work together a great deal and continue to challenge each other in many areas! Folks have asked me how to practice relationship as resolution if you don’t have a pre-existing relationship or practice to fall back on. This is a great questions, because, of course, relationship is resolution is much easier to practice if you have some depth of relationship or established trust in each other. But I don’t think it’s required.
I’ve seen folks decide to stay in relationship when they barely know each other or have a long history of conflict. What’s important is that the folks who are involved in the challenging situation want to stay in relationship as they figure out how to move forward. It will look different each time and the relationship that is part of the resolution will be as unique as each situation. There is no formula here, but staying in relationship brings the possibility of even better work together.