Hard Conversations

 

 

By Cathy McNally. Cathy and Jane Kilthei are leading Dynamic Dialogue August 8–11, 2019.

Ten years ago someone who did not know me told me that I was racist and challenged me to face and accept it. I was incensed. In my heart I know I’m not perfect, but I am a caring, loving person. I grew up with a host of friends and colleagues of different nationalities in my life daily. I am not aware of consciously disliking someone due to their race or colour. There had to be some mistake. This person was wrong!

I tried to engage them to see me, see my point of view. They pointed at my efforts as further proof of my racism and privilege. I challenged them to be kind, not insulting, and suggested they ‘should’ be teaching me whatever it was they thought I was not seeing, as their ‘attack’ was backfiring and causing me to pull away. You can guess the result of that! 

With the benefit of hindsight, I see my arrogant defensiveness. In the face of feeling hurt, uncertain and uncomfortable, I had closed up, judged them 'wrong' and me ‘right’, and distanced. 

Brené Brown says in the documentary The Call to Courage, “To not have conversations because they make you uncomfortable is the definition of privilege.” Ouch. It fits. 

In my life today, I am aware that we have all grown up in situations where there is a prevailing cultural norm. By definition this leads to a bias. It is inevitable. If anything is “the right thing to do” there will be a bias towards that and away from whatever the “other thing” is. If our biases are not discussed they are invisible, like the metaphor of the fish swimming in the fish tank wondering “what water?” 

In truth, I believe that I have a large number of biases. I did grow up swimming in a ‘colonial’ system where race, gender, age, accent, education, appearance, family name, parents’ jobs, achievement, athletic prowess, table manners, and MANY other things could lead to benefits or advantages. So whereas I have not registered how many, how deeply and how badly I have taken on these biases,that is my ignorance. And I will not stay in ‘ignore-ance’ anymore. 

My journey to discovering my blind spots about my biases and privilege is hard work, uncomfortable, and ongoing. It requires me to listen deeply, to be willing to make mistakes, to hang in…and listen even more when feeling uncertain. To be genuinely vulnerable and curious. 

The biggest gift has been practicing and learning how to have hard conversations. How to have conversations that may be difficult, but are also productive. How to unearth what is not being said—by either party (me or the other).

These are the skills of successful and dynamic dialogue. The ability to “think well, together.”

In the program Dynamic Dialogue we have upped the ante and invite participants to lean into practicing hard conversations, to giving/receiving feedback, to go deeply into exploring what you have not seen before. This has changed my life. And I learn more each time. I invite you to join us. 

Wishing you productive, life-transforming conversations.

Cathy

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