Guiding principles to discuss race (and other potentially contentious issues) in forum

Discussions in forum about larger societal issues, such as race, racial identity, or race relations, have the potential to derail and to cause hurt feelings and a sense of being judged negatively. 

Before beginning such conversations, ask all members to review and agree to a set of guiding principles.  These eight principles (adapted and summarized from the Daring Discussions Toolkit) provide an excellent starting point.

Ground yourself in love.  Many social problems stem from our willingness to turn people into the “other” and deny their basic humanity. Holding onto hate hurts us deeply while love drives us to invest our time and energy.in each other in a more productive way, raising the level of relationship between us. 

Strength is compassion & vulnerability.  When we think of strength, we often think of toughness and inflexibility.  However, it takes bravery to be vulnerable and great strength to be compassionate rather than judgmental.

Suspend your first judgment.  When we judge each other, we shut down our power to listen to what others are saying.  Be aware of the impulse towards judgment and advocacy; then take a moment to breathe deeply.

Seek clarification before jumping to conclusions.  Assume others in the forum have good intentions and want to find common ground.  Rather than launching into a response based on judgment, or what you “think” another member meant, ask open-ended questions.

Be honest about your experiences.  Focus on sharing your direct personal experiences, as opposed to stories you’ve heard in the news or through other people.  This is the heart of forum: sharing as deeply and truthfully as you are able will help others feel empowered to do the same.

Be unconditionally accepting.  It is possible to both accept someone and disagree with them at the same time.  The goal is not to “win” a debate, but to find common ground, to see our own blind spots in new way, and to be enriched by the perspectives of others.

Reflective & intuitive listening.  Listen patiently and quietly, then reflect back before sharing what’s on your mind.  “I hear you saying that….” “I appreciate you sharing with me that….”

Be aware of the privilege you hold in the conversation.  Privileges we hold may be exactly those things of which we are least aware.  We can simultaneously hold some kinds of privilege or relative power, while experiencing some form of oppression as well.  Being aware of the privilege you hold is an important part of creating space in forum for others to share difficult and vulnerable truths about their experience.

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