Leadership, in these days of deconstructing and decolonising, can be challenging for those within the context of white privilege. As I have discussed before, the use of the term white privilege, when talking about church and Canadian society is not only admittedly difficult, the phrase is used intentionally. It is intentional because it can make space, if we are to engage in tough conversations, to allow ourselves to be somewhat (if not a lot), unsettled. This is important because if done well, not to imply easily, creativity and unexpected possibility and transformation often blooms.
Leadership, in these days of deconstructing and decolonising, is challenging. It is difficult because those who hold power and influence, authority and control, must find ways to let go of those very things: power, influence, authority and control. If you are wondering how complicated and, ironically (?), easy that is, let’s consider meetings. Whether in church, work, with our families, need alone in most places where people gather in the dominant Canadian culture, agendas set the tone, direction and atmosphere of a meeting.
On the surface, we use them simply to direct, help us, guide us toward an outcome, or address an issue. But, when we start to think about an agenda from a decolonising perspective, we stand on the cusp of that proverbial rabbit hole …
Let me set the stage for this upcoming story: one of my commitments, prior to beginning and, thank goodness recently completing my PhD, was that any further academic study had to have a way to change the world. In my work context that means The United Church of Canada (UCCan). I committed to challenge myself to recognise the temptation to end up creating something intellectually satisfying, yet which had no practical way to make the world a better place. I am still not sure the project will, but I am sure trying to find ways to live into that hope!
With that intention in my mind, I was blessed to gather, recently, with UCCan friends to talk about church and change. Church & change, being central to the PhD, was the focus on the fifth chapter of the work, in which I suggest a process and/or curriculum to help the church. It would be easy for that to be a simple invitation to these friends: but underlying it could very well be power and privilege. I may have suggested talking about what possibilities might be for the project, when really what I could have been intending was to gain buy-in, in order to make it happen. What my agenda might have easily been was to say “Look what I created; I have important credentials now. So, as the expert, I am inviting you to help me make it happen.”
If you’re with me so far, and, as I hope I and my friends did (somewhat) well, was to have a conversation that did not presume an agenda: in other words an outcome, goal met, process used or direction chosen. It is this temptation to process that can serve to distract from, even hide, the underlying privilege that power brings. Processes are assumption-filled, inform who gets to speak, need alone who is at the table. With that challenge in mind, I find, more and more in such settings I try to be agenda-less.
What we ended up doing, was listen to one another with care. We paused between each response to a question or idea. Once we had gone around the circle we paused in silence. And then … we did it one more time. And then … we thanked each other, shared a reflection or two and ended our time together by acknowledging we had listened, heard one another and that we might very well continue the conversation.
Giving up control means giving up outcomes. Talking about deconstructing and decolonising cannot be afforded the space they need in a simple blog. But – and here’s the takeaway, I hope – next time you invite anyone into a conversation, formal or not, ask yourself: what’s my agenda? What’s my intention? Do I have an outcome I want? And, if so, start digging deeper … and, if you can, see if you get to a point where what you want is simply to talk … you might be surprised what new meaning you create when you listen to someone without an agenda …