Usually I put a video up with the posts of my newspaper column. These thoughts are a direct follow on of thoughts from a recent video blog I did with Tuesday Ryan Hart about Systems Change and Social Justice. In this column I apply what we covered there at the high level to my thinking about my local community. Get ready to dig into the need for tough conversations in our closest relationships, unintended racism, and the breakdown of trust in government. You can read the column on the Lighthouse NOW website - or better yet get a subscription!
It is time for tough conversations which address the root causes for our current circumstances in Lunenburg County. If we don’t break the silence on fundamental issues we run the risk of making changes to current systems that make no real difference. All of our change efforts could be more like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic - they keep us busy but we still hit the iceberg. Let’s start having the kind of conversations that make us nervous, that is how we know they are worthwhile. Discomfort is a sign that we are doing something new, comfort means the status quo ways of thinking reign supreme.
I think they are personal conversations to have in the day to day of our lives. That is where real change happens. We must engage each other in our homes, cafes, pubs, during car drives or when out for a walk. Although I do not believe that breaking silence necessarily creates change, I do believe it is a pre-condition. If we cannot engage deeply with our current reality, it is unlikely we will be able to transform it and build a future that works for our kids and grandchildren.
I will talk about two of these core issues in this column and two in the next. I have included some questions to get our conversations going. This month, I talk about the break down of trust in decision makers and unwelcoming communities. In next month’s column I will talk about gender inequality and the distribution of wealth and power. I am sure there are other issues in our region - the purpose of this is to provoke conversation, rather than be a definition of what is important.
Break down of trust in government and decision makers
The recent debacle of public engagement around the South Shore School Review makes it obvious why trust in decision makers has been so undermined. Badly run engagement leaves everyone bruised; the organization engaging the public, the people that attend and the citizen leaders that are involved. In this case the process is legislated, but that does not make it any less damaging. It also doesn't mean that the prescribed process can’t be augmented and added to in order to allow for genuine input.
The lack of information made available to the public (e.g. unknown impact on other schools) and the lack of opportunity for new ideas to be truly considered was troubling to me. There was no depth of engagement with many of the primary stakeholders (students, teachers and parents) which left the whole process feeling bereft of integrity.
There exists a whole suite of tried and tested methodologies for engaging communities in issues like this. For example, the recent school review engagement that Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB) ran used the World Cafe methodology to engage the public in conversation, following a transparent and clear presentation from HRSB senior staff. Of course the proof of the process will be in the outcomes but at least the engagement is well prepared and people feel involved in the decision. People hate change done to them and will work with change they feel part of.
How can genuine engagement with the people that are impacted by decisions become normal practice?
Why won’t our governments share what they know so the public can have an informed debate?
How can our governments and institutions overcome their fear of engaging the public?
How can the public release their cynicism to contribute to real change?
We have to find ways to authentically engage people in decisions. Being an elected leader has lost much of its integrity in the eyes of many and is often inaccessible to people who are not retired or independently wealthy because of the hours and compensation. As a result we miss out on many of the best and brightest stepping up to lead. Many people in my networks just dismiss it out of hand. People don’t engage and don’t vote because they feel their involvement will not have real impact.
Who is willing to take the leadership and attempt to shift the current dysfunction?
How can we support more young, progressive and courageous people stepping up?
What is the risk if we don’t shift the political landscape on the South Shore?
Unwelcoming communities: racism, diversity, Come From Away vs Local
I just heard another story last week of how at a public event someone was shut down because they were “not from around here”. If the fear of difference remains dominant in our local culture, our communities and economy are going to continue to decline. Our region will depend on diversity to get out of this mess. We need new and creative perspectives to come up with previously unthought of solutions and an influx of large numbers of people to grow our economy. Every time anyone of us shut someone down because they are “local” or because they are a “come from away” we are working in direct opposition to a bright future for our children.
Furthermore, this lack of experience of what it takes to work across difference can lead to unintended racism. This has a two fold impact of missing the contribution of those diverse voices who are already living here and failing to attract more of the diversity of people and perspectives that are needed to overcome the challenges facing this region.
Why are we afraid of difference?
What are we willing to let go of so we can welcome diversity into our communities?
How could a diverse community give us vibrant communities and a thriving economy?
To conclude ...
I hope these thoughts have provoked you to lean over and talk to the person next to you. In the next column I will talk about gender inequality and the distribution of wealth and power. These, for me, are things we need to courageously start talking about and calling each other out on whenever they come up.
I think this region is brimming with potential and on the cusp of a major leap forward. It is exciting times! Within that momentum I want us to stay awake. My experience over the last couple of decades in my work is that most efforts at change fail because people fail to see reality. The more boldly we can look in the mirror, the more opportunity we have to consciously and deliberately design our future.
Change will not come from a far away place. It is going to come from within each one of us in relationship to those we are closest to. It is time to push through our anxiety and start conversations that are long overdue. We are all change leaders and change is on, whether you like it or not. So, we might as well join in and make sure it is something we get to influence, rather than something that happens to us.
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