Relationship is the resolution


My friends and colleagues Allen Kwabena Frimpong, Kelly McGowan and Tuesday Ryan Hart recently started a blog called Power and Privilege 2.0. It is excellent. The blog below was originally posted there and is reflection on an experience Tuesday I recently had at AoH Beyond the Basics on Bowen Island. If you'd like to know more about that particular work and read more blogs like this, please check out Power and Privilege 2.0. —Tim

This blog post talks about an experience I had recently with a close colleague, Tim Merry. Tim and I have been good friends and colleagues for several years; and, in addition to Kelly and Allen, Tim is one of the people that I’m learning the most with about systemic transformation and working in difference. In fact, it’s because I think our work together is so good and our relationships is strong, that I’ve decided to share this experience and our learning from it. 

A few weeks ago at a training, I was in the middle of teaching about power—a new teach for me, and one that I am, at times, quite nervous about giving—when my colleague, Tim, interrupted me.

Things quickly moved into a typical pattern with white folks in the room talking about their experiences with power, a white woman expressing painful feelings about her level of hurt, and me—the person of color trying to share my expertise—sitting there quietly, really unsettled and a little bit stunned.

It happens.

And I knew it would be okay.

And it was. Not because this story has a happy ending. There actually is no ending, no particular resolution. No, I knew it would be okay because Tim and I are in relationship.

We didn’t have a chance to talk about what had happened that day. Or rather, we didn’t take the chance. I was trying to figure out what had happened and how I was feeling about it, and Tim—after checking in with me—was giving me some space and trying to figure it out for himself, too. (And we had a training to conduct!)

Fortunately, Tim and I share a practice of running, and the next morning, we took a run together. We talked about my experience of the teach and how I saw historical patterns playing out, his experience of what happened and the impact it had, what we thought we were learning, and how it might be important to the group we were facilitating together.

And then we took it back into the training room. We sat in circle together and we shared our experiences both in the teach the previous day and during the run that morning. We shared that these issues will arise again and again when working with teams of people and how we, as practitioners, were moving through it together.

In the circle, questions were asked around, “What did you decide?” or “How will you act going forward?” And in the ensuing weeks, there have been questions about “What did you guys do?” and “How did it resolve?”

Ideally, in the moment of the interruption, we would have named it and decided how to go forward together.  But that didn’t happen.  It often doesn’t.

So then… what?

Tim and I have talked a great deal about the expectation that we would come up with the way of doing things in the future that would keep it from happening ever again.

That’s not what we did.  We didn’t problem solve. We didn’t come up with a resolution to avoid future occurrences. Instead, we attended to our relationship. We shared our understanding of the situation and our reactions, made apologies where needed, saw and heard each other well, and decided a next step together. We decided to stay together.

And so this is what we’ve shared with folks, “We continue to work together and be in conversation about our learning,”  but somehow this doesn’t seem to be enough for some folks. But that is what is happening.

I get that this is disappointing.  The desire for more “resolution” is completely understandable.

I also want us to know exactly what to do next.

I want us to solve the problem.

I want us to have so much certainty about what to do that we know how to avoid the problem in the first place.

I want us to know what agreements to make so that we don’t interrupt, disrupt, and hurt each other ever again.

Race and racism is so painful and challenging, that all of us would love for there to be a way of fix it. We want someone to have the answers. We want an experts to show us what to do and how to do it. We want something we can point to that says we have figured this out and that we know what to do in the future.

But I don’t believe that resolution was—or is—the goal.

In fact, I think there are a few real risks to forcing resolution in situations like this:

  • We have resolution, but it isn’t real, or it is superficial.  It might address the current circumstance but it doesn’t give us any capacity to deal with future occurrences.

  • Forcing resolution can lead to short-term alleviation of feelings and discomfort but may have no real meaningful impact beyond making us feel better in the moment.

  • Our relationships are not rooted in reality as we move from our lived experiences of each other to a set of “should” or “shouldn’ts”.

  • Our relationships become more vulnerable to future disruption. We aren’t able to build the resilience—we don't get the practice necessary—to face future challenges.

  • As process facilitators we undermine the work of the group because we don’t allow the discomfort or learning that comes from it. 

I don’t believe that there is any “finish line” about race and that we can just make agreements, rules, policies, or models that will get us there. The resolution is in our relationship, in our ability to stay in discomfort together, to be humble in the face of not knowing what to do, and to not pretend that we know how to solve this intractable issue. For Tim and I, the resolution is in our practicing relationship with each other, day in and day out, with its inevitable hurts and with a commitment to learning from each other.

This resolution in relationship is not neat and tidy, but more real, deep, and entirely based in practicing together.

The relationship is our resolution. 

This post was originally published at Tuesday Ryan-Hart's site.