Who knew that there could be so much to simply standing still? That has been one of the ongoing lessons from my Tai Chi sessions each week. Your toes, your knees, your hips, your chest – relax from the hip, shoulders, arms, hands. Stance is so important to all that follows, standing poised so that your body is relaxed but stable; still but prepared to move; flexible but able to withstand pressure. I have certainly found the ability to assume such a poised stance very useful in playing croquet, where the stability of your stroke has a great deal of bearing on the accuracy of your ball placement.
There is also a sort of metaphorical utility in this thinking, in the sense that people often want to know where you stand on an issue … what your stance toward a given topic is. Here too poise and balance can be very important. A suitable palette of topics was on offer when I went along to my usual monthly Sydney Facilitators Network meeting the other night, which was held on the topic of “Facilitation for Diversity & Inclusion” facilitated by Carli Leimbach & Vivien Sung from their start-up, Diversity, Amplify!
The aim was to better understand diversity (gender, race, culture & thought) so that we might disrupt tribalistic mindsets and become more inclusive facilitators. A central concept to the work was the idea that we are blind to our blind spots. Two decades of Harvard research was presented as confirmation that we have hidden biases that we carry from a lifetime of experience with social groups (gender, race, age, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, social class, religion, status or nationality).
Pre-work for the meeting was to engage with the Harvard research website – Project Implicit – and take one of their tests which are a method for measuring implicit or automatic attitudes toward race, gender, disability, age. You can try it for yourself by going to the Project Implicit website and take the test on race bias.
Apparently I slightly prefer Anglo American faces is over African American faces – although I must say I suspect there is probably an implicit cultural bias in the test, in that as an Australian I encounter very few African Americans and I can’t help feeling that lack of familiarity might have influenced the result. The important point at the workshop was that we can all have some degree of bias and by recognising this we can correct for them. After all what is important is not so much the bias as the behaviour or action based on it.
One of the methods to improve inclusiveness suggested was to “call out” (to use a contemporary Americanism) instances of bias leading to unfairness or less inclusive practices – in other words to take a stand. An exercise we undertook was to briefly share with a partner a time when we might have felt excluded or victimised. My relevant experience was a childhood spent being overweight, with the associated name calling and attempted bullying. I say attempted because as I recalled in conversation with my partner, one aspect of my response was to ensure that anyone who picked on me lived to regret it.
That didn’t always foster inclusion but it did instil a degree of caution in my peers. My weapon of choice was not physical but rather verbal – perhaps the chief legacy of that aspect of my childhood is that I have actually spent a good deal of my adult life walking back from my capacity to use words to wound. Early in my working life I took to heart the counsel of a wise co-worker that more flies are caught with honey than vinegar!
But I certainly retain the capacity to stand up for myself when needed. I vividly recall the evening when as a consumer advocate with CHOICE (aka the Australian consumers Association), I was introduced to the then Attorney General of Australia, Philip Ruddock. Smiling a politician’s crocodile grin he shook my hand and said in a low voice something along the lines of really not liking CHOICE as an organisation.
I won’t recount the entire conversation but I gently queried him about why he had this view. It emerged that he did not consider CHOICE to be sufficiently representative. I urged on him the suggestion of us being representational rather than representative, and pointed out that he had only actually been directly elected by the constituents of his electorate and yet he was the first law officer of the land for all Australians. In any event by the end of the conversation, which I think he was a little surprised to find was sustained, he muttered something about not being quite sure what had worried him about Choice in the first place. I counted that as a win, crossing swords and standing up to probably the most powerful person I was directly confronted by in that work.
A funny thing power, especially the ways it is signalled in polite society. Remember when wearing a tie was a power statement? I realised times had changed a few years ago when I glanced around the boardroom table and noticed that none of the senior male executives sported at a tie while the tie wearers were predominantly junior staff anxious to impress, to get their paper approved or to advance their careers. At that point I thought: “Hmmm, which team am I batting for?” and rapidly ditched wearing the tie! Which was a pity because I actually wore ties because I liked to do so and had a large collection of rather beautiful examples to choose from each day. But that wasn’t something I found it necessary to make a stand about – sometimes power politics does win.
Next evening I went to another event, “The future of journalism: Building independence, audience and influence on Twitter”, co-hosted by the Walkley Foundation and Twitter at the Twitter offices in Sydney. Various presenters explored the benefits and responsibilities of putting yourself out there, global best practice for staying competitive and standing out in the right way, and practical tips for safety on Twitter.
One of the most interesting things I learnt was how Twitter is taking a stand against some of the hateful and distasteful material that finds its way onto the platform. The filtering tools they employ don’t actually address the content of the messages but rather the behavioural characteristics of the messenger and the context in which they are sent. So for example robotic rapidity and repetitive inclusion of irrelevant material would be key flags for the content to be given lower priority for viewing. So as for bias, it’s not the ‘content’ that matters but rather the behaviour – I found that an interesting similarity.
As a kind of sartorial experiment I wore a suit and tie to the event – not as a power statement but simply as a change of pace from my current life of rather casual dressing. I was certainly the only person wearing a tie and there were only a couple of other suits in the room. The outcome was surprising in the sense that the tie attracted a number of positive comments and was instrumental in sparking a couple of interesting conversations. It intrigues me that the tie, that erstwhile symbol of power and privilege, functioned as a talking point to enable interaction with diverse people.
Which is one of the primary reasons I go along to events such as these. When I started my Charles 6.0 reinvention, I identified the absence of work colleagues and the opportunity to interact with younger people, and those with different professional backgrounds, as something I would miss. So going along to these occasions provides invaluable opportunities for collegiate style conversations with a diversity of such people. The power of conversation is as a space where the differences of diversity can become manifest, where fundamental similarities can be recognised and, sometimes, creative and collaborative outcomes to be realised.
Which seems to me to be one of the true sources of real power.
So, now that we have established the power of the tie as a conversation starter, which do you think I should give an outing to next?