[gratuitous photo from last week’s holidays that has nothing to do with this post…]
I’ve been working on contextualising our staff code of conduct for people who work in a particular environment this week. The general codes of conduct that would normally apply don’t quite cover the areas we need them to, so we have to tweak and extend them. None of that really matters, except that I’ve been immersing myself in the language of treating people with dignity and respect.
I love how work areas overlap and feed into each other. I’ve said a number of times that I’m finding a bit of culture shock coming back into church culture in this new role. One of the things that still shocks me [naive, i know] is the way we talk about other groups in the church. I’ve been thinking that it would be lovely to have that same expectation with regards to other bodies within the church and workplace, that we have with the way we talk about other people. We can’t make derogatory comments about another person. We are respected to act with respect towards another person. If we have a complaint about their work, or a comment to make about them, we take it, first of all, to them directly. We should be expected to do that about another part of the church.
Blaming is a dominant characteristic within the church. So many of our conversations are based around the idea that ‘they should… [change, stop, understand, agree]’ . Coupled with that is an unhealthy tendency to depersonalise – and dehumanise – our structures. We forget that there are people like us, trying with the same passion and commitment as us, to be faithful to their work and their faith. We characterise others as being self-interested and defensive; as having suspicious motives and no grasp on reality. We talk about others’ areas of work as though they can be discarded, not valued. We believe we know best, so can find easy fault with them or offer unsolicited, uneducated advice about how they should be doing their work. We search only for the evidence that will suit our beliefs about them.
Fierce Conversations would ask the question ‘why do you need them to be at fault?’, or ‘how does them being at fault get you off the hook?’. It would ask it with curiosity, holding gently to the answer. And it wouldn’t be rhetorical.
Blaming gives easy solutions to what are complex problems that are still too difficult to have answers to – and as such, they are the wrong solution. And they will always be the wrong solution, because they are created from an culture of lack of ownership, accountability and respect. The new reality created by the solution will be carved from that same culture. It will be marked by lack of trust and respect. And as such it will fail again.
From my experience, without exception, I’ve found that when people take the time to understand and question – with curiosity, not suspicion – another person or group’s motives and work, they come away unable to blame in the way they did before. We are always changed by curious conversations. We become bigger. The conversation going forward is coloured by new truths and perspective. But being curious takes energy, humility and rare courage. It also creates energy, humility and courage: we become the change we were wanting.
So, in my dream code of conduct for groups in the church, I’d include a line that says you don’t get to talk down another part of the church without having talked to them specifically and directly about the issue, and without having been changed by that conversation. And we’d have to do that with a respectful curiosity, knowing that solution to the problem starts to unfold not from an answer, but simply from having the conversation.
Luckily, I’m in a position where I get to act on things like this. [It’s funny how difficult it is to step up to the responsiblity to act, even when one has the possibility. It’s so much easier to know what you would do in a situation when you don’t have the power / responsibility to do it!] As such, I’m going to take this idea to the places where I have a voice. And since that will only work if I model it myself, I guess I’ll have to do that too…