In every Boundless Awareness workshop one of the first steps we take as a group is we collaborate to build a Brave Space. In our workshops, we embark on conversations that bring up some discomfort and push participants to their growing edge. Building a Brave Space means that the participants tell each other what they need in order to have a tough conversation on race, colorism, gender, sexuality, sexual harassment, ableism, communication, impact and accountability in a safe, open and consensual way.
The Brave Space, or Community Pact or Group Guidelines, offers a structure for the discussion that follows, in my case, usually on topics of oppression, bias and privilege.. With material that can be triggering, angering or scary but necessary to break through our bias, a Brave Space provides the necessary ground rules to engage. In building a Brave Space the questions are: who builds it, what rules are most important and can we agree to the rules as a group.
I ask my participants to come up with the guidelines during this discussion because they know what they need best. Many times the following guidelines are offered and agreed upon:
Listen and Don’t interrupt
Confidentiality (what's said here stays here, what's learned here leaves here)
Withhold your judgment
Be open to learning
I like to add to this list by asking my participants to separate their intent from their impact during our discussions. Often we like to mitigate the harm that has been done by using the person’s intent. “He didn’t mean to.” “It was just a joke.” But for the purpose of our discussions I like to put intent to the side, because despite someone’s intention being good they can still have a very real and very harmful impact. In our discussions it is the harm that I want to focus on. Once we recognize the harm we can then learn to stop impacting people in negative ways and create real cultural change.
At the end of the day, I ask my participants to find someone in their lives who can abide by our Brave Space rules. By finding people who have compassion for us, we can continue to have these discussions and work on our growth outside of the workshop space. After all, we can always continue to learn, do better, and effect change. And it helps when the community around us is on the same page with how to go about talking about these extremely sensitive issues.
What guidelines are important for you when having tough conversations?