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Setting the Stage for Courageous Conversations

The need for tough conversations right now is high, while the difficulty of these conversations can feel even higher, for some. As our colleagues, communities, and country navigate dialogue and action surrounding race, power, and justice, we might find ourselves at a loss of what to say or do. At CMA, we believe it’s less about getting it “perfect” and more about the continuous effort to engage in tough topics to unify and move our organizations and communities forward.

As psychologists, our goal is to understand human thoughts and behavior and – in alignment with our ethical code – work toward outcomes that help people, minimize harm, and are fair and just. During these times, we must move toward rather than away from one another. We must consider how to bridge divides rather than increase already gapping chasms. We must, in the simplest terms, talk to each other and listen to each other.

What can make conversations about race, power, and justice difficult, particularly for White people? A lot of things, frankly. But one thing that rises to the surface is the concern over saying it (whatever thought, opinion, or idea you might have) wrong. Some people are so worried about saying the “wrong” thing, that they are totally silent, eliminating the possibility for courageous discussions and collaborative movement.

We’re at a unique time in American history that might be pulling for us to respond in ways that don’t always feel good or natural. We’re confronted with tremendous pain that can be difficult to hold. In our last blog, we talked about liminal space and the power of it to help us transform into a better future, if we allow it to happen.  What are the building blocks for all people to engage in this right now?

  • Curiosity – Coming to conversations with a strong desire to know or learn something.
  • Empathy – Taking others’ perspectives. Considering how they might feel. Considering how you might have contributed either directly or indirectly to that feeling.
  • Vulnerability – Taking emotional risks in the midst of uncertainty.
  • Authenticity – Staying “real.” Engaging wholly.
  • Presence – Staying involved in the conversation. Continuing to sit in the tough feelings that these conversations likely elicit.

Again, it’s less important that we get it “right” all the time. What is more important is that we are continuing to listen, try, grow, learn, and work toward resolution that honors and respects us in all our diversity.

By Jennifer L. Nguyen, Ph.D. and Ashley G. Parker, Ph.D.