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'Tip #7 Look For the Wisdom in the Outrage or the Outrageous - Tending to the Margins' from Fierro Consulting: Inspiring People. Growing Organizations. Strengthening Communities.'s Blog

Tip #7 Look For the Wisdom in the Outrage or the Outrageous - Tending to the Margins

Nov 12, 2016
Category: Racism  Power Dynamics  Antiracism  What is an inclusive conversation?  Inclusive Conversations  Tips for inclusive conversations 
Author: Rita Fierro, Ph.D.

On Wednesday, we found out that Donald J Trump is our president-elect. I spent the day grieving for what I thought the next ten years of my life would look like, for me and the children I’d like to bring into the world. Outrage got him elected. Outrage now grows in those of us who have begun marching. I spent the campaign season reassuring myself that 60 years of desegregation, activism, and coalition building could not have happened in vain. That we were a better people, a more united people, than it seemed. That the violence, the hate, was the minority of us, and Trump’s campaign would become just a bad dream. I was wrong.

The violence is rising.

When I guide groups through frustration and outrage, I say it’s time to tend to the margins. In this case, the margins have become 50% of the popular vote.

For our series on inclusive conversations (conversations where differences are seen as an opportunity, not a threat), tip #7: Look for wisdom in the outrage.

I support groups of people to agree on a future direction, even large groups of people.

It’s a process that sometimes happens quickly and sometimes takes months. In each and every process, there is always a moment, when the frustration and the anger turn up. Often, I get blamed.

“Rita, you are not the right person to do this.”

“Rita, I have no idea what you want from us.”

“Rita, I’m lost.”

 “Rita, you were too ‘woo woo’ in that meeting, Black folk do healing differently.”

 “Rita, you are blaming me for your lack of skills.”

I said I support groups towards a common decision, I didn’t say it was easy. Often, the frustration gets directed at me. Things get delicate.

It is very hard not to react when attacked. It’s extremely  hard to keep listening when I disagree with the accusations and my own emotions are triggered. But I know from experience that when the frustration shows up, it’s time to tend to the margins.

First, this means taking the time to listen to the perspective of the person/people who has/have a different opinion and really, really, taking the time to understand it. That process can take a phone call, two, or three, a lunch or more. I try my best to not take personally whatever the accusation is, but to truly listen to understand.


Second, when I’m alone again, I lick my wounds. Again, I didn’t say it was easy. I didn’t say the accusations don’t hurt. And some days are better than others. I can’t deeply listen to others unless I listen deeply to myself. I spend time thinking about how I was affected by the interactions. Did the accusations get to me? Why? Are they a projection of my own thoughts about myself?

Third, I do some thinking and processing about the conversations I had. I may call a colleague for insights. I am actively looking for the wisdom that the frustrated person or subgroup carries for the whole group. In group relations theory,  every individual holds something for the whole group. It could be an emotion, and/or experience. Discovering this pearl of wisdom means finding what the individual is holding for the whole group, which helps veer away from scapegoating the person/group who disagrees. I’m not talking about looking for a compromise. I’m talking about listening to the wisdom in the outrage. The wisdom in the outrageous. Digging deeper for a kernel that will change the whole group’s dynamic from conflict to shared purpose.

Fourth, ONLY once I’m clear of what the wisdom is, I start a separate group of conversations to identify solutions. In tending to the margins, it’s important to not look for solutions too soon. Sometimes I call the frustrated folks back. Sometimes I make a small adjustment in the process, to incorporate the critical opinions. Sometimes a radical change of direction is needed.



To people on the outside, tending to the margins looks like pure magic. “How did you do that? How did you get everyone on board?” I hear this time and time again. I’ve seen the person/people in the group that others labeled difficult, come around once they saw their concerns listened to and incorporated in the future direction of the group. The others are stunned that an agreement was reached at all.


Tending to the margins is hard right now. Trump and trumpers stand for everything my America, focused on inclusion, is not. Yet listening, deeply listening to the frustration of the America that voted for him is really important right now. Especially, but not only for white folk. We need to listen, not agree, but listen. Otto Scharmer called it understanding the blind spot that has created this condition.

I’m one of those white people who function in predominantly Black spaces. The white spaces I navigate tend to be progressive ones. I don’t interact much with conservatives these days.

I’m feeling a real strong need to understand, to find the wisdom, in what seems like retro insanity. Is it that poor, rural, white America feels despised and dismissed by a country dominated by the urban coastal cities? That a country that governs from the coasts and dismisses the majority of its landmass is unsustainable? Our electoral college supports our coastal privilege? Is it that in our strife for diversity and inclusion, we underestimate how hard the white poor has been hit? Is it that we spend too much time despising our own instead of organizing our own? Is it that we are using white supremacy divide and conquer tools ourselves every time we use the term “hick” or “white trash”? Have we failed to build class alliances? Too much time on our phones at Sunday dinner? That the white poor continues to support racism in bad faith? In good faith? Maybe all of this or much more. Many pundits are writing articles on all of this, as I too write. I'm not calling upon you to read more articles, though you may choose to. I'm calling on you to face those who don't think like you with genuine curiousity. I'm launching into the next week with this intention. I hope some trumpers set a similar intention for their interactions with me. It's important I step into this work, becuse given the rising hostility, it's even harder for my brother and sisters of color right now. 

There’s wisdom in this mess for our nation. My process with groups teaches me that. Even on the discouraged days I least believe in a shared purpose, I still know it’s possible. I must look for the wisdom in the outrage, the kernel that will change that can unite us in spite of what we are experiencing right now.

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