How can we ensure safe spaces?
Let's look at some of the characteristics of safe spaces from part 1 and explore what we can do to externally and internally affect our environments.
1. A space that respects presence
Invite many kinds of people to your group. Take stock of who you know and who you do not to see where you can expand your reach. I want to caution that this is not an exact science, but it should come more from a genuine place of wanting to connect. People have a way of knowing whether or not a space is authentically interested in having all kinds of people participate. Where you lack skills or knowledge, say so, your humility in public will attract more people that will want to join so that they too can get to know you and share.
Learn to sit with your own presence in silence. I recommend taking some time every day, I prefer mornings, but whenever your day starts, to sit and be still for at least 10 minutes. Some people say meditate, but you do not necessarily have to breath a certain way or chant or any other variation of mediation. The purpose here is to get comfortable with your body and the way your energy presents itself. It’s not as easy as you may think, but as you get used to it, it will help you better respect the presence of others.
2. A space that values opinions
Decisions are made democratically, with fair time-frames to reach decisions by consensus. In consensus, everyone’s opinion has to be considered so that a final decision does not make some members of a group feel completely opposed to it. The idea is to get to a place where everyone in the group can live with the decision. This takes practice, and guidelines are important to set up in the group long before the first group decision needs to be made.
Some tips on using consensus:http://consensusdecisionmaking.org/
Challenge yourself to sit among a group of people and listen to their opinions without interjecting or adding yours. See how far you can get before you shut down. How long did you listen to what others had to say? Could you take each opinion and give a summary of what people thought about the topic without disregarding someone’s opinion as wrong or stupid? If you practice this, it will open your eyes to your own biases.
3. A space that has people in it that are willing to show solidarity
This has to be organic to a group, but I notice it starts to happen when the leaders of the group first extend the solidarity. Note that leaders of a group are not necessarily the people out in front. Every group can shift leaders, I think it is a good thing because it shows the diversity of the space and it exhibits the level of trust within the group to allow people to lead in areas that are strong for them.
When was the last time you did something for the greater whole that also made a person struggling feel like you understand and appreciate them? Start showing solidarity with small things that you agree with by telling someone that you agree with them, just to validate their experience. The challenge becomes being able to show solidarity to someone that you do not agree with by finding something to affirm that lets them know that even though you are not of the same opinion, that you respect them from one human to another. Doing this helps you learn to show solidarity through peace, and it also helps you challenge yourself that peace can be found in spaces that you would not normally gravitate to.
4. A space where people can challenge ideas freely without ever accusing character
Set up a common language for the group that helps people know how to express themselves that reduces misunderstanding. For example saying things like “oops, ouch sorry” or “in my experience” helps so that people are less likely to feel like comments are made against their character. Also you do not want to literally attack someone’s character either.
Challenge yourself to sift through comments in life that do accuse your character by responding to the issue, not the person. There is no way to get around this but you have to try. Some people call it taking the high road. It’s definitely not easy, we all get defensive and our defenses are a way to protect ourselves from harm. It is helpful to let people know that their behavior is inappropriate and where there is danger, face it with love or if you cannot at that time, walk away. Notice I did not say ignore, it only comes back to haunt you. Be sure to have a support network of people that you can talk your frustrations out with. We all have these moments!
5. A space where people are committed to resolve conflict that happens when things are tense
Externally: Set up conflict resolution protocol to follow.
Internally: Seek to resolve conflict in non-violent ways, we’ve talked about ways to practice non-violence in previous sessions.
QUESTIONS: Can you think of an example where practicing the characteristics worked well for you? Can you think of an example where practicing the characteristics DID NOT work well for you?
Keep trying! Practice makes progress.