Big C of 2020 - Curiosity (not Covid)
This week I co-led a session with a group of arts professionals looking to increase their exposure to inclusive thinking and how they can imbed it inside their work more readily. As with each of these trainings I run, my mind was expanded and my practice enhanced by the contribution and insight that was offered. I learn all the time about the nature of role-modelling honesty and clarity of intention with this work.
Since our world went into lockdown and we all had to adapt and respond to this new framework we are living in, I took note of the changes in my outlook. I began with a resistance to engage, because I did not know how to place myself in an active way. I felt the passiveness of being stuck inside seep into my brain and it made feel fairly apathetic. I noted my privilege within all of this- with a guaranteed roof over my head and a set of emotional tools that i had been equipped with to hold myself together in the uncertainty. I wanted to continue to make an impact but I didn't quite know how. I am sure many people in the world can relate to this. Over time I realised that impact comes in many forms and the act of doing something is better than doing nothing at all. The act of knowing I didn't have to have all the answers allowed me to be open to more conversations and put myself out there creatively again. I said to myself: 'I am part of a bigger picture- my own experience is not an absolute version of how things are'. I was reignited by the possibility of providing space for myself and others to experience joy and connection in seemingly unspectacular ways. I am now in a space where I see that this time of reflection, in the midst of turmoil for many, has helped me reform my purpose and intention. I know I am not at an end point with that- and I don't ever intend to be.
So with this perspective it occurred to me, as I led the session this week, that there was a feeling in that (virtual) space that may have been indicative of the year we have all had. There was a collective sense that each individual had come to absorb and respond as opposed to dominate or act before listening. I have always found in this subject area of Inclusion and Diversity- that has a clear social conscience- that there is a tentativeness from people to begin with, as they embark on the journey of getting to know themselves better as well as engaging with others in their differences. It is a subject that is filled with the history of oppression, discrimination and prejudice - and with that the anger, pain, fear and sadness that has emerged from this treatment. I mention the 'feeling' because I sense a shift in many people's mindsets- the realisation that rather than engaging on the defence, there is much more value in engaging with curiosity.
I believe that curiosity has the right combination of direct enquiry and open-heartedness.
And I implore this of all learners and leaders at this time. Inclusion, Diversity and Unconscious Bias trainings and courses have come with an edge to them because there is a sense of who sets the agenda for these conversations, who facilitates them and how we actually see the impact of it them. Sometimes you will be in a space that on the face of it has little diversity and at other times the worldviews and identities are vast and beautifully complex. In both scenarios everyone stands to gain something. The 'defensiveness' I mention comes from all sides- it comes from people who are fired up and ready to action change (because why wouldn't people be increasingly impatient at this juncture) and it also comes from the people who have been labelled as the problem and either think their place in the narrative is defunct and pointless or that they want to engage but don't know how.
Inclusion is a process that requires people to imagine a fluid space that responds to needs, desires and ambitions of people across multiple identities. Where people often get stuck is when they start to attach their inclusion policies on top of a fixed system that previously only served the few and the privileged. That is a 'tokenistic' and rushed approach that will not lead to truly fruitful and empowering engagement for diverse peoples. Again, this comes from being led by defensiveness and the desire for a quick fix that will make an organisation, a space, a leader, a project etc. look good on paper but have little integrity at the core. Curiosity, here, is what allows the learning to be done as the process has already begun. Curiosity allows more diverse perspectives to inform how a process looks from the start. Curiosity allows for the mindset that you can make mistakes, ask questions and emerge more knowledgable and equipped longer term. Curiosity is something we squash when leave childhood and move into adulthood, as our brains become more solidified in our models of the world that are built on what 'serves' us and keeps us 'safe' rather than what might help us grow and enrich us beyond our own expectations.
Recognising where we sit in the spheres of influence and power can help us also be aware of what intensity of curiosity is required and how we encourage it in others. Author, Alan G Johnson, conveys this well: ‘As I shift the patterns of my own participation in the systems of privilege, I make it easier for others to do so as well, and harder for them not to. Simply by setting an example - rather than trying to change them - I create the possibility of their participating in change in their own time and in their own way. In this way I widen the circle of change without provoking the kind of defensiveness that perpetuates paths of least resistance and the oppressive systems they serve’.
So. Be curious. Be an enquirer. Be open-hearted. Be prepared to be challenged. Be prepared to face what is difficult as well as feel the effects of what is beautiful in this process. Celebrate not knowing and see wisdom as a process of getting to that place of knowing- not a fixed attribute of having all the answers from the start. Let those who understand more than you through lived experience do the sharing first and then see your own experience, in kind response, as valuable too. We all have complex worlds inside us and we need to do better to appreciate each other for what is brought to the table; in the rehearsal room, in the board room, in the classroom. We all have a role to play in this story and it is a story already being written with a new chapter of progress- so make sure you are a part of it.