Looking for the gift that keeps on giving? Or the gift for the person who has everything?
How about the gift of ‘civil conversation.’ Good, fresh, meaningful conversation is something everyone needs.
At the recent “Whiteness and Privilege” conversation, I was expecting to facilitate a group of seven or eight people who would likely be ‘white’ and speak from that perspective.
Surprise! I was directed to facilitate a family, one family of seven people, none of whom were ‘white’ unless you use outdated census forms. This family’s roots are in Puerto Rico. Using the ‘color’ spectrum between ‘black’ and ‘white’, they all fit somewhere close to the middle.
The age range included a nine year old, her mother and the mother’s relatives, two aunts and uncles, married couples with long work histories.
My challenge was first to accept the radical shift in who I expected in the group. This isn’t what I had signed up for. Secondly, I need a way to affirm this unexpected situation and figure out how to facilitate a conversation that they would value.
I was pleased but not surprised that the evening went so well. Civil conversation proves over and over to be its own reward.
Right from the beginning, everyone was ready to share their experience of ‘white’ privilege. They all spoke in rather hushed tones, yet the message of their anger and disappointment stemming from their experiences of race was very clear.
The family conversed. They did so with respect for the variety of experience present. They probed significantly into the meaning of ‘white’ privilege for them and for others.
Their experiences, some positive and some negative, involved Milwaukee Public Schools, the armed services, and the factory workplace. Their lives had been deeply impacted by the reality of white privilege. They had little difficulty or hesitancy in identifying what they knew of the subject.
The nine year old was understandably shy, but wanting to participate. After two rounds of response by the others, she whispered to her mom that now she has a story to tell.
In a clear and confident voice, she told of an experience in her class when a class mate treated her with disrespect. I followed up her response by asking, “what did she think should happen next?” Continuing her quiet demeanor, she said, “I think he needs to learn how to listen.”
The gift of conversation has been given. Each of us in the group heard a voice we all could learn from.
There is a temptation to think that we teach a dialogue technique. That there is some endgame that we are pursuing.
It is increasingly clear to me that to modify Shakespeare’s Hamlet’s observation, ….the play’s the thing’, for us ‘the conversation is the thing.’
This kind of conversation is ‘the gift that keeps on giving.’