Finding our way past misunderstanding

A friend recently shared this poem by Chuck Dunning.

ESJ dialog misunderstanding

After reading the poem, my friend asked, “How can we hope to hold conversations about equity and social justice with all these misunderstandings?”

Her question points in the direction of what will help us find our way through the misunderstandings: curiosity and compassion.

Our beliefs about each other, our stories, can limit our ability to clearly see. Our stories define us. They can also transform us. If we are to get past our misunderstandings, our limiting stories, we need more personal stories about each other.

Does that seem odd that something as simple as stories could be so transformative? Then watch Dick Simon’s Ted Talk The Most Dangerous Four Letter Word.

“THEM—the most dangerous four-letter word in the English language,” Simon explains. “This word is used to isolate, to marginalize, to insult. This word has been responsible for the suffering and death of millions and millions of people. THEM is an obscene word.” Simon has spent years traveling to conflict zones around the world like North Korea, Syria and Iran getting people together who would otherwise avoid each other.

He gathers hundreds of business and government leaders to hold small, confidential conversations that “breakdown stereotypes and attack this four-letter word.” He says, “I learned that THEMification, yes, that’s a new word, is often the root of the problems we deal with both personally and geopolitically.”

We could add that THEMification infects our teams, work groups, organizations and communities.

If we are to clear the mist from our understandings of each other, we need to create safe opportunities to share and learn from our stories. We need to see ourselves through fresh eyes and feel our common struggles informed by our very different experiences.

Our stories might take form in poem, conversation, film and song. Last night I watched the documentary film about the life of blues singer Nina Simone, What happened, Miss Simone? As the film begins, we meet Ms. Simone on stage with ferocious, quizzical silence. And then she speaks. “The best way to tell you who I am these days is with a song. I will start from the beginning…”

I hope you create time to hear her song. And then to share it with someone—a friend, a co-worker, your work group. What do her struggles and glories tell us about her and ourselves?

Here are some resources I’ve been learning from since my last post about about sharing our equity and social justice stories. Experience them, share them. Keep the conversation alive. That’s our best hope for finding our way to understanding together.

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