Sunday, November 13, 2016

Building Narratives of Inclusion

Mitigating Implicit and Explicit Bias in Our Own Stories 


The following activity was created by Brandi Lust of Learning Lab Consulting and will appear in her upcoming book which explores practices of mindfulness, gratitude, growth, and connection as tools to enhance our humanity. 

Note to teachers: This activity is intended for adults, but may also be appropriate for mature teens. 

“…most often people who have power turn their stories into a wall keeping out somebody else’s truth…” 
James Hannaham, Delicious Foods (the following activity was inspired by this quote)

We all have power. In addition, we all have the desire to see ourselves positively, as worthy of love. Sometimes, in order to protect our own value and worthiness, we avoid seeing the ways in which we exclude others through either conscious choice or implicit bias. None of us are exempt from these human conditions: the desire to be worthy of love; the urge to protect our self image; the ability to be exclusionary in thoughts, actions, and community choices. 

This practice is an exploration of the ways we as individuals act out our human condition. Using personal narrative as a tool, the goal is to closely examine our own experiences in order to see the ways we may have been blinded by circumstance or choice to those who represent “otherness,” a term which means something different for every single person. 

Using this practice in the past, I have been told it is quite insightful and also painful at times to realize past harm in which one may have taken part. So I remind you before starting that the human condition is ubiquitous. We all have caused pain; we all have room to grow. The power of the activity lies not in shame, but in the intentions that one makes for the future. If you are a teacher who plans to use this activity with your students, please be respectful of their own wishes as to whether or not to share what they’ve written with the group. 

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Find a quiet place where you can be alone. Before beginning this activity “clear the dust.” Take a few deep cleansing breaths, breathing deeply in through the nose, out through the mouth. Spend a few moments with your breath, cultivating silence, clearing space for reflection. When you are ready, guide yourself through this narrative process at your own pace, first imagining each life stage, then answering each question in writing, pausing before you move onto the next one. 

1. Mentally place yourself back in your childhood home. You are in elementary school, in second grade. Describe your neighborhood. Was it urban, suburban, rural? Did you have neighbors who were of a different race? Religion? Socio-economic status? Cultural group? Who do you see in your circles at that time of your life? 
2. Now imagine your classroom, your school building. What type of student were you? A high-achiever? A struggling student? With whom were you friends? Were you friends with people who were different than you- racially, ethnically, religiously, politically or otherwise? Who taught you? Do you identify with them as similar or different from yourself?  
3. Now imagine yourself in a classroom at age sixteen. Ask yourself these same questions: What type of student were you? A high-achiever? A struggling student? With whom were you friends? Were you friends with people who were different than you- racially, ethnically, religiously, or otherwise? Who taught you? Do you identify with them as similar or different from yourself?  
4. Bring yourself back to today in your adult home. Describe your neighborhood. Is it rural, urban, suburban? Do you have neighbors who are of a different race? Religion? Socio-economic status? Cultural group? Do you regularly interact with people who are different from you? Who believe in different things than you do?  
5. Take a moment to reflect upon your close relationships currently. Do you have close social relationships with people who are different than you- racially, ethnically, religiously, politically, or otherwise?  

6. Now ask yourself the questions: How might my story be a wall keeping out someone else’s truth? Where do I hold power that could make others feel powerless? What might I not be seeing from my one vantage point? Who is not present in my story? 
 
7. Once you have answered these questions, then ask yourself: How can I be intentional about honoring my own story, while also creating bridges that allow me to connect with the truth of others? What would have to change in my life in order to do this? 
 
8. Set an intention to make one specific change in your life that will create a bridge and connect you to others. Write this down as an “I” statement and reflect on it daily for the next week (or longer if you wish). Some example statements include, 
  • “I will be conscious of the power I hold as a parent and the ways my child interacts with the world differently than I do.” 
  • “I will recognize when I am in a position of power or privilege within my community and make sure that I step back and include the voices of others in those conversations whenever possible.” 
  • “I will notice the way I create and react to otherness and reflect upon my internal states in those moments.” 
  • “I will seek to understand another perspective on the topic of ___________ in conversation with others and through research on my own.” 
9. At the end of each day, reflect on your intention. What opportunities did you create? What opportunities did you miss? Where did you grow? Where are you still learning?

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3 comments:

  1. Excellent practice, especially important for healing after a very divisive election.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Pete. The timing on this certainly did work out well.

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    2. Thank you for your feedback, Pete. Please let us know, if you decide to use it, how it is impactful for you or others. It's been very helpful in my own life.

      Brandi

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