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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Why difficult conversations matter

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Many people fear broaching the subject of race and even avoid having this difficult conversation. We’re scared of making matters worse, feeling attacked or criticized, coming across as ignorant or uneducated, or even just being made uncomfortable.

At Spirit & Place, a collaborative community initiative housed in the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, we have been encouraging people to have these difficult conversations since 2017 with the launch of Powerful Conversations on Race. This dialogue series explores topics around race and racism and the resulting impact on our communities and American society. We realize that talking about race is difficult for most Americans, and sometimes, we don’t have the tools or the knowledge to dive into this topic and unpack racial complexities. Powerful Conversations on Race presents a space for people to engage in these necessary dialogues, using historic texts, artwork, poetry, music, articles and more.

We believe that engaging in difficult conversations is a needed practice before we can start to see real change in our communities. If we want a different future, we must listen to one another, learn from our country’s past and discuss these topics, openly and honestly. In other words, we need to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Difficult Conversations Foster Growth

When we are open to participating in difficult conversations, we can learn from one another and gain respect for other people and their unique experiences. Through Powerful Conversations on Race, our participants are moved to action. They take what they learned back into their own communities to facilitate change, they consider how doing this important work affects their own lives, and sometimes, they even seek additional training in the space. None of this growth is possible without first having a conversation. 

We need individuals to practice the skills that come with having difficult dialogues. These skills can include listening as much as you talk, appreciating the experiences of others, and exercising a humble attitude. These skills lead to deep and systematic change.

How to Facilitate and Measure Growth

First, we must be honest with ourselves and pose the question: Do we want to work toward building a society that fulfills the promise of being a United States? That is a choice people must make for themselves in order to determine if growth is possible. Answering this question is not feasible if people are not willing to sit down first and have a dialogue.

Growth and change can look different for everyone, as everyone grows and learns differently. At Spirit & Place, we see growth as the willingness to come back and engage in more difficult conversations, particularly when it comes to race. We are attempting to unlearn behaviors and notions that may have previously been conceived as natural. This can be a lifelong endeavor, but the willingness to come back and try, to take what you learned and put it into action in your workplace, friendships, neighborhoods and at home, is how true growth is achieved.

Creative Approaches Towards Difficult Dialogue

First and foremost, we must learn how to deal with our own issues around race. This takes courage and becoming comfortable with listening to ideas you may have never considered before. We must understand that people know their truths; just because you haven’t experienced something before, it’s important to realize you have had the privilege of not experiencing this. Working toward progress requires accountability and self-evaluation to advance change.   

We recommend seeking resources to assist with this work; a few of our favorites are listed below. Connect with organizations in your communities that deal with racial justice and continue to work toward facilitating these difficult conversations. It’s only through honest interaction that we’re going to achieve progress and create the strong environment we want for our community, Central Indiana and for our future.

The next Powerful Conversation on Race is Aug. 8, and a link to RSVP to the virtual dialogue can be found here.

Resources:

  • “The Little Book of Racial Healing: Coming to the Table for Truth-Telling, Liberation, and Transformation” by Thomas Norman DeWolf and Jodie Geddes
  • “The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice” by Fania E. Davis

LaShawnda Crowe Storm is Spirit & Place community engagement director, and Erin Kelley is Spirit & Place program director.

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