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'Inclusive conversations Tip #2: Choose when and where to invest your energy.' from Fierro Consulting: Inspiring People. Growing Organizations. Strengthening Communities.'s Blog

Inclusive conversations Tip #2: Choose when and where to invest your energy.

Mar 25, 2016
Category: Antiviolence  Education  Racism  Power Dynamics  Participatory Leadership  Art of Hosting  Antiracism  Inclusive Conversations  Tips for inclusive conversations 
Author: Rita Fierro, Ph.D.

Many friends have talked to me about struggling with Facebook posts on their "friends' " timeline especially in this time of heated presidential debates and recent tragic terrorist attacks in Nigeria, Lebanon, Mali, Turkey, Ivory Coast, Belgium, and Pakistan. Some posts were prejudicial, others blatantly racist. The way Facebook is structured, someone's status shows up on our feed, so many of us feel the need to "call out" misinformation and prejudice, and feel deeply disturbed when we choose silence. It is known that reacting to Facebook posts can create more trouble in relationships and friendships.

I believe in calling out prejudicial behavior during personal interactions. I value calling out injustice, because being silent also means being complicit. Speaking out is also an opportunity to begin an inclusive conversation: one where differences are seen as an opportunity instead of a threat.

But Facebook is another beast. I do a lot of thinking about this context before I step into the ring. Yet this concept of always calling out injustice, I believe predates Facebook. Since Facebook is not a face-to-face interaction, I found it rarely promotes genuine dialogue when people have divergent opinions. So in front of my Facebook feeds, I'm presented with choices of how to react: calling out or being silent. This is a false duality and we have other options:


1. Assess the context: Am I trying to win an argument or am I coming from a place of curiosity? Who is this person and what is their relationship to me? How is my comment likely to be received? What are the advantages/disadvantages to commenting on someone's wall? Would sending a private message be more effective? Am I/they likely to be/feel attacked; if so, have I done this before? How do I feel today? Am I in a space to be able to engage mindfully? I am capable of being completely present to the person I'm communicating with or am I frustrated about something else in my life and taking it out on them? Am I in a place where I can engage and freely let go if the conversation doesn't go as I would like?

2. Call out: I can name the assumptions in a person's discourse, their misinformation, the impact of their perspective on the world, the injustice, or the discriminatory effect on a targeted group. I could also just state: I disagree, and point out other points of view.

3. Be silent: this option can range from withdrawing after I say my opinion to not saying anything at all. Is this the right venue for what I have to say? A friend of mine recently wrote under her FB post something I admired: "P.S. I have no interest in being part of any intense Facebook arguments. Happy to debate in person, but internet discourse can become hostile too quickly for my taste--perhaps because we cannot see each other's faces. Just sharing my thoughts."

4. Ask questions: can I identify a question that will help me point at the default in the thinking? Can I ask a question that promotes real communication and inquiry?

5. Post and article on my own feed. I can choose to be more explicit in my own personal stance by posting articles with my perspective. The other person might notice, just like I did, and maybe read it.

6. Offer a reflection: I can invite the other person to reflect. This may be best done by me getting off my pedestal and offering an example of a time when I too, thought the same way or made the same mistake they are making.













7. Use the misinformation in a different context. Sometimes the most awful things I see online, I can repurpose in a different conversation, article, lecture and/or training. When I use my moments of outrage as teaching moments for me, I can reflect deeper into why I think the way I do and gain a sense of empowerment by using the information in a different way.

8. Deconstruct the thinking. Gain insight on another perspective, analyze it, debunk the underlying assumptions, and key inquiry questions so that when I'm in an actual in-person interaction I've done some pre-thinking about it. I make this choice often when the online situation feels like it would not promote real dialogue.

9. Create other opportunities for dialogue that enable me to engage with people who have those opinions. If I'm dissatisfied with the need for real conversations around the issue, I can become more active in creating opportunities to engage in conversation in diverse groups. I can start anywhere, friends, religious community, neighborhood association, parent association, or activists. Chances are, my Facebook friend is not the only one with those opinions.

10. Increase my capacity  to continue dialogue in the cases of extreme differences of opinions. I can use my outrage as an opportunity to build my own capacity for real dialogue. I can attend some trainings, for instance that can help me build my capacity for having hard conversations. The following have been best for me:

  1. The Virtues ProjectTM helped me pay attention to someone else's strengths while in the conflict, it gave me language to express appreciation, too.

  2. Art of Hosting taught me to stop controlling conversations, breathe freedom into them, and helped me find the courage to name what was really going on;

  3. Group Relations taught me what in my personal history was getting me locked into similar conflicts over and over again.

11. Establish relationships where I can be held accountable. No matter how progressive we think we are, there is always space to grow. This can be done by identifying a group of like-minded people with whom to build accountability to check my own ability to have open dialogue. Establishing ally relationships to have people I trust who can point out to me my underlying assumptions. These relationships can be a godsend especially when conversations go awry despite how hard I try.

I must admit that assessing the context (no. 1 above) with honesty and integrity towards myself and my motives, is always the best first step. When, instead, I dive right in with a solution, I'm often in a more vulnerable position of being hurt. And some days, like all of us, I still forget. 



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