Nuggets From Tuesday Ryan-Hart's Call

Posted by Janessa Wilder on Sep 19, 2020
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Last Saturday, we had the privilege of hosting Awakin Call with Tuesday Ryan-Hart.

Tuesday Ryan-Hart leads large-scale systems change with a deep practice of placing equity at the center of new movements. She believes that social, organizational and systems change often starts with a "big bang" -- "something urgent enough to make us realize the effectiveness and relevance of our systems is diminishing exponentially." But though we "like the drama of epic turning points," big bangs simply "force disparate groups into conversation." Her approach to longer term change processes is that finding a shared purpose or vision is not a prerequisite for doing work together; rather, doing work together is the prerequisite for building relationship and getting to shared purpose. Attempting to arrive at shared purpose too early can leave some voices marginalized -- thus holding groups back from doing the real work of taking the next step together.

Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me ...
  • How do we actually move big systems—which impact so many people—to make change? And how do we not forget that issues of equity are at the center of that. What motivates me is that we actually can make change. I don’t have much room in my heart for despair.
  • Equity IS excellence. It’s the same thing. Why would we assume that the most excellent person is not someone of a different race or gender? Cases to make for equity:
  • Business—your product will be better and your nonprofit will do better if you understand the people you’re serving.
  • Strategic case—you’re going to fall behind the curve because the world is getting more diverse. It's a case of survival—this is where we’re headed.
  • Moral case—it’s the right thing to do. I don’t want to be afraid of backing off that. What we do is important but how we do it is important also.
  • Resilience: People at the margins are used to “making a way from no way.” The world is so complex that one person cannot possibly have the answer. We must turn to each other and move into this together. We no longer can “extract” what is good from that group or that people, but must actually be in relationship. Even systems change still happens in relationship
  • I think I came out of my mother as a social worker. Growing up, I experienced ongoing sexual trauma, including rape. When I say darkness, I mean dark. The trauma helps me see people in their wholeness and not only in their wound. It’s a perspective I bring with me. It’s just one part of me. I have experienced such darkness and I know that it doesn’t last forever. I know that there is another side. I know that there is light. I know that as much as I know my own name.
  • We can do life across difference. Growing up bi-racial, I just expected people to be different. It was hard, but everyone did it together. When people ask, "Are you black or white?" I’m option C. People want to use only A and B options, I say, “What’s C” I don’t believe there's one right way to do things. I’m sure there are 70 right ways to do it.
  • I know that people feel my groundedness. They feel my lack of fear. I love to work with groups who are working on impossible things. My belief in the impossible becoming possible undergirds my work.
  • We don’t have to be entirely healed to get moving. People say, “Oh, we have to deal with our wounds BEFORE we move forward.” I don’t believe that’s the case. In the moving forward, that’s how things get dealt with.
  • I ask, "What are we willing to DO together?" I don’t spend a lot of time on vision. Are you willing to do this work? And as you do the work, you’ll come up against all the issues--equity, issues of power, of inequality. And then you get to deal with them.
  • The work "out there" is just the vehicle for the “real” work of relationships.
  • I feel it’s a potent moment for transformation. The real danger is if we get right up to that moment and then contract if it’s too painful.
    In the bigger picture, we are going there. Chuck Yeager said right before you break the sound barrier, the cockpit shakes the hardest.
  • Neutrality is not the goal. I have a direction. Neutrality is just pretense. People are not neutral.
  • Yes, I am with Oneness as a spiritual principle. It is truth. But we don't start there because it ignores that the opposite is also true--difference, people's complexities. I hold both of those spaces at the same time.
Lots of gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers that made this call happen!

Nuggets from Transcript

The importance of equity work for societal resilience and survival

(Preeta, moderator): "one of the things that's been so interesting to me is this notion of how critical bringing in all voices is to our very survival. And I think of this in terms of innovation. When you think of innovation theory, like as a business, traditionally innovation happens at the edges. So how do you bring in the voices from the edges, which are where, who are used to seeing things in a different way?

"A couple of things come to mind which I want to get your views on. There was a recent Brookings Institute study that showed that in the wake of the pandemic, where obviously minority populations -- African Americans, Hispanics, others -- have been so disproportionately affected in terms of health, economic effects and other things that notwithstanding those disproportionate physical burdens, the mental health burden, the numbers are that white Americans are suffering the most in terms of mental health from the pandemic that the African American mental health figures are much [better].

"And there is a lot of hypothesizing about this, which is that maybe, [because] African Americans have traditionally been facing a pandemic arguably of racism for generations, they have so many internal resources and reserves to carry on in the face of difficult circumstances. And so, this notion of one of the key aspects to survival of the future is building up a capacity for resilience. And we’re seeing with the pandemic, that certain populations just don't have that internal resilience, and how much we have to learn from voices that have traditionally been on the margins who have a different kind of wealth, a spiritual wealth, emotional wealth, the mental health that helps people carry on. So that's just been something that has been kind of interesting to me. I also think in the wake of all these destructive fires on the West coast, firefighters are learning from indigenous populations, Native Americans, fire prevention techniques that have been around for hundreds of years, but we’re just learning now.

"So it's interesting, I think, as we move from a society that needs to focus increasingly on survival and resilience in the face of catastrophic occurrences -- extreme climate, so many shifts, polarization -- how do we reframe equity as you say, to be right at the centre of that, bringing in all voices so that we all learn from each other, and learn the different tools of survival that so many different populations have had to develop?"

Equity work as moving from extraction to relationship: 

"The world is so complex right now. I mean, if you just (laughs) think of complexity theory, right, the world is so complex right now that one person or one group of people cannot possibly have the answer. Our brains are not equipped to deal with the kind of complexity. The only hope we have is to turn to each other and say, what do you know, and what do you know and what are the skills you have? And can we share them, and how do we actually move into this together? This is about our survival.

"And now what happens --  and historically what has happened --  is dominant culture will look at those groups and will say, “Oh, okay indigenous folks, you’ve got these ways of fighting the fire, teach me that. No, no, you stay over there, [but] teach me that thing.” It becomes extractive. “Oh, black folks, how are you so resilient? Okay, let's listen to your music. (Laughs)” Let's take all these different things, and we’ll just take that piece that we like, but you stay over there.
And now the time is to have all of us be able to be our full selves, and in, and so to not extract what is good from there, but to have us come together, take leadership from there, to begin to shift our ways of knowing. To actually be in a relationship."

On how her own personal history of abuse as a child informs her work:  

"I know that the darkness doesn't last forever. I know that you can dive into that darkness and feel that pain and feel that loneliness, and there is another side. I know that as much as I know my own name. That helps me move with groups into darkness. It helps me say, “Wow, racism f***ing sucks. It's hard. And we can be in it and experience it and keep moving toward the light.” It's not an idea for me. It's an experience for me. I can take my own individual experiences and bring that certainty to a group that we can and will get through things. And groups I work with sense that certainty. I don't feel afraid for us to go into those hard places.

"I don't pretend that some of the violence we're doing to each other isn't horrible. And, I hold the conviction and the knowing that there is something else waiting for us, that we can do this darkness and do something else. And so that's why I go into these large systems, I go into these hard issues, and I don't know how we're going to do it, we’re going to figure that out together."

...

"And I do think it shows up in rooms -- I'm not going into rooms and facilitating strategy and talking about my own childhood sexual abuse, however I know that people feel my solidness. They feel my groundedness. They feel my lack of fear. They feel that I actually know the impossible as possible. So that's what I say, I love to work with groups who are working on impossible things. I love it. It's my favorite thing in the world. Do you want to change the Child Welfare System? What? That's just so broken, it can't be fixed. So let's give it a try. I think there's something about that. My belief in the impossible becoming possible, that undergirds my work."

On always becoming

"But I think part of what, as a person who is in process, I think what I bring to groups in my work is that we don't actually have to be entirely healed to get moving. There's a lot of rhetoric now about, “Oh, we have to have a safe space before we can do this.” Or, “We have to deal with our wounds before we can move forward.” And I actually do not believe that's the case. I actually believe that in the moving forward, we will create safe space that we will begin to work on our wounds, but we have to get ourselves moving. We can't stay stuck and wait for the perfect conditions before we go. That's not how it is in my life. We got to go! And so I think that's also something I bring here. We don't have to be perfect, we have to be good. And let's get there."

On the work of relationship as the real work

(moderator Preeta): "there are two ways of thinking about what is thought of as ‘work.’ People usually think of work as the thing you do, the thing that you do together. And then, there’s the work of just building relationship, of just being in loving relationship with one another. It's interesting because, as you say, 'start acting and then you will come up against stuff and then that's going to be the vehicle and the container by which you come to a consensus.'

"To me, in some ways, that is what I love about your approach, is I think it’s redefining what is the work? The work is not what we’re doing out here. ‘The work’ is the loving relationship we’re building. We think we have to build loving relationship to do the work out here, but the truth is, everything we do out here is the vehicle for us to do the real work, which is building a loving relationship with each other."

(Tuesday): "I never thought about it that way. I love that. I love that. As you are talking, I can think of an example where that was the case. I think that is what I am here to do, make us be better together. So, I think the work out here is the vehicle for doing that and it will lead us into deeper relationship. I can give you example after example of being in ‘the work’ out here and coming up into a conflict. I will give an example that I give all the time. Years and years ago, I was working in Detroit in food systems work. We were looking at the iceberg model -- what are the causes…. And a black farmer in the room said, “Well, we’ve got to put racism as one of the key causes of food system dysfunction.” She was a young black farmer. An older white farmer said, “Oh, well, I don't know about that.” And then he proceeded to quote Samuel Lido to us and totally dismiss her perspective. We are just doing this exercise to figure out this system, so as the facilitator I thought, Well, I don’t know exactly what I'm going to do right now, but what I said was, “Hey look, we’ve got a set of principles. One of the principles is ‘What’s important to someone is important to everyone.’ So we’re putting it up, and we’re going to keep ourselves moving,” and everyone kind of breathed a huge sigh of relief. Okay, great we got through that moment as it is in issues of race in a room. Then at the break, the white farmer said to the young black farmer, “I think I have something to learn from you”. And the black farmer turned to him and they had a conversation over the break.

"I want to say a couple of things. One is that she didn’t have to do that. There were other people in the room who would have engaged him in conversation. But what happened to the group, once those two people were able to stay in relationship with each other, the work took off. The outside work took off ,and it just made such… I see that all the time. And I feel like those two people were probably changed forever. I know I was changed forever."

(moderator Preeta): "Yeah, what I loved about learning about your shared work model, it reminded me of two influences. Rumi talks about the real work is to, not to seek love, but to eliminate all the barriers to love within yourself.  And so to me, that's a similar idea, that the real work is the work of relationship, and everything out there is a tool for that. And then the other thing that came to mind was Vivekananda, who says that the world is a giant moral gymnasium, for us to work on ourselves.  And so, again, it's kind of flipping, what is the work?  Is the work what we do in the world, or is the work what we do in ourselves? Obviously they go hand in hand, but so often we think we have to do the work in ourselves or in our groups in order to do the outside work better. But in fact, the outside work, just doing that, can be the precondition for us to do the real work, which is the work of relationship and love."

On holding space with intent of equity, though not agenda

"I think sometimes with holding space, and even hosting, people will talk about neutrality. And I think for me in issues of equity, neutrality is not the goal.  And it is not even a desirable place to be. I think that what I want in everything I host, is I want people to be better together. And I want them to think about issues of equity. That's not neutral. That's not just whatever emerges is good.  I have a direction. And if you hire me, that's my direction.  I want people to be better together. And I want us to talk about equity. Other than that, pretty wide open. I mean, I'm going to get you moving. I care about the work. So I'm going to keep us moving in the direction of doing the work. But I do think, especially in these times, to pretend neutrality is just a pretense.

"People aren't neutral. We all have a thing.  But I was asked recently or, in the last couple of years, to host a worldwide gathering for a denomination that was talking about allowing gay clergy and gay rights within their denomination. And I said, well, I can absolutely host this for you, but you need to understand that there's no part of me that's going to say it's okay if you all decide to deny the rights of gay people in your denomination. There's no part of me that's going to say, “that's cool,” or, “well, it was a decision of the group.” I have -- it's not an agenda -- but it's a clear intent and a principle.  And so I think that's where sometimes the neutrality piece is not helpful, when we're working with issues of equity and thinking about what our real intentions are."

On the need for white people not to despair

"I feel like this is not the time to despair. Please do not give into despair. Especially if you're white folks with meaning, don't collapse. I don't need you to collapse. I need you to stand up. I need you to feel your sovereignty and I need you to take it and make this world better. So I think there's something about, there's so much happening we could say, “Oh my gosh, what do we do? What do we do?”
 And I don't need anybody to collapse, but I'm just thinking about -- the places [where] I tend to hear more despair and collapse and hopelessness tend to be with folks who are just now realizing how bad it is. And I'm like, Thank you. Welcome. Welcome. You got it. This is the work. We are in the work now."

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