Sunday, December 14, 2008

Conversation Recap for December 7, 2008

Nineteen of us gathered this morning under clouds, with the sweet, spicy aroma of several dishes laid out on the table.

We listened to of Dexter’s KXOT commentary from August, on the pending election of Obama. You can hear it HERE.

In the ensuing discussion we heard many echoes of the themes in Dexter’s talk. The consensus is that the talk very usefully framed the mix of symbolic and material outcomes possible from this election. There are many sides to what is going on.

One participant noted some commentary from Naomi Klein, which you can get a sense of at the following:
Democracy Now!
The Nation

One participant noted that the left in the US needs to be much better at supporting people. Take a look at this, for instance. Are you kidding? Why take it in that direction?

Another vital policy question is his policies about the war in Afghanistan. This might be a sign of the way his advisors constitute such significant choices. The machine that is in place might constrain his choices, and it is very possible that very bad outcomes are down the road.

We continued last week’s discussions with a presentation, entitled “Racism 201.” Last week an earlier attempt to discuss it took an unplanned turn, and we never did get back to the original topic. As he read last week from the concluding chapter of his book, Dexter suggested that none of us are untouched by what happened regarding race in the United States. Shortly afterwards the conversation took some turns that Dexter felt were especially critical of him, and it hurt.

Terms of engagement of the discussion. (from a list last week, based on a Conversation document from a couple of years ago)
1. Remember none of us is excluded
2. we are all both teachers and learners
3. manifest mutual respect and caring for each other
4. work hard to create a safe and liberated space
5. develop a thoroughgoing analysis of racism
6. embrace difference
7. racism is a difficult emotionally laden subject.

In the exchanges last week, the discussion was framed as one person marginalizing or minimizing the statements of someone else, and from therethe discussion never got back to the original topic. This week he offers a new list for Strategies of Engagement.
1. Assume best intentions
2. listen carefully and with curiosity, not with certainty
3. listen to understand not just to respond
4. own your works and your feelings by using “I statements”
5. engage, be courageous, explore your own discomfort
6. empathize, be courteous, allow others to explore their own discomfort
7. engage intellectually and emotionally
8. commit to talking through issues even if after session conversations are needed

One participant noted that there are some responsibilities shouldered by all of us. If someone says something that strikes us as somehow not right, or not following the terms of engagement about what we can say and what is left for others to say (say, about how we ourselves feel, and how we think others feel), we all have an obligation to seek clarification. Don’t let something sit there. Feel an obligation to request clarification. One participant suggested her obligation (and by extension, an obligation shared by all) to respond honestly and sincerely to things heard at the Conversation.

Other participants noted the same thing—that they noticed a need to clarify a topic, but balked at doing so. Several people expressed similar concerns, and described the particular issues that led them to hesitate. Remember folks, letting things ride is not an option.

One participant noted that we, like Dexter, play several roles here—sometimes we are listeners, sometimes we are speakers, sometimes we have a role in facilitating, and more.

We looked at some of the Conversation documents, available on the website. If you are reading this from the blog, check the links on the left, “Conversation History and Structure.” Some tentative suggestions were made about the content of some of those documents, yet most who spoke on the topic believe the current distribution of roles works well for us.

One participant noted that this extended discussion of process illuminates some of the approaches to our roles that we bring to discussions of racism—how active are we, how many of the terms of engagement we skillfully follow.

One participant shared that the conversation last week did not produce feelings of conflict or discomfort—on the contrary, his memory was that the conversation got into some interesting and illuminating territory from several points of view.

One participant noted that we each have a piece to contribute to a discussion of race, we each have experiences with it. And, we wish to try to understand these many perspectives.

A new slide in the Racism 201 presentation made these points: America is often depicted as Eden. And, it has two original sins…. the near extermination of the native population, and the importation of slaves from Africa.