A second peace circle was held on May 19, 2022, facilitated by Dr. Evelyn Zellerer, Peace of the Circle (peaceofthecircle.com). The focus of this circle was to acknowledge and address specific concerns and harms amongst individuals who engaged with the 8th Principle process at UCV. All those who came forward with concerns in response to previous notices in the Weekly e-bulletin or who otherwise made clear their interest in participating were invited. Participants were (alphabetical order by first name):
- Bruce McIvor
- Diane Brown
- Hisako Masaki
- John Boyle
- John Smith
- Nancy Barker
- Rev Lara Cowtan
- Rob Dainow
- Sheila Resels
- Tamiko Suzuki
At the end of the circle, there was a sense of relief and lightness that truths had been spoken and heard. There was a sense we could now move forward together. We also understood that another’s truth can be more complex than we might appreciate from our perspective. We saw where we could take responsibility for our part in disconnection. As we heard, all in the room had good intentions, yet the lesson of intention vs. impact arose: there are harmful impacts from some words and actions of good people with good intentions. These harms can be understood and lessened with open-hearted curiosity about another’s perspective and experience.
We learned that clear communication and checking with each other for shared understanding is critical. If I make a request, does the other understand what I’m hoping for? If I say yes or no, am I and the other clear about what I’m saying yes or no to? If someone uses language I find alienating, am I willing to hear what their underlying message, hopes and fears might be? Am I striving to welcome all voices, finding our common humanity?
We also discussed transparency in tracking and responding to requests, and the importance of acknowledging the efforts of both leaders and members who are trying their best to respond and contribute, even if imperfectly.
We learned about missed opportunities and how checking for shared understanding might have averted some painful outcomes. For example, for some there was a misunderstanding that a request for respecting the voices and lived experiences of IBPOC meant one should not question processes and wording. Providing more clarity as well as explicitly welcoming all voices and perspectives would have supported more open, fulsome dialogue. And in future, if we are confused or concerned about a process or guidelines for speaking, we can ask for clarity. We require brave spaces and shared understanding of what that means in our community.
Missed Opportunities – yet it’s not too late!
In summary, we have learned a lot, opened up to others, seen where our words and actions might have contributed to disconnection and harm, and how we might do things differently. Opportunities to widen this learning will be offered over the coming year through various programs and invitations to engage in restorative conversations. And each of us at UCV can practice clear communication, checking with one another for shared understanding and for impacts of our words, actions and inactions. If we’re ever unsure, ask the other people involved.
One suggestion offered in the circle for a possible future community conversation: those interested could use the DRSG Final Report and the subsequent critique for asking questions and learning together.
We received a suggestion that for future learning, someone (volunteers welcome!) documents the process around the introduction of the 8th Principle at UCV.
The broader reality of the experiences of IBPOC, other marginalized persons, and those who support them was touched upon and we acknowledge this critical piece needs much greater attention. This includes congregation-wide sessions like those mentioned above to share stories and learn strategies and most of all, to shift our culture so that everyone feels truly valued and welcome.
We know we have more work to do. We also know that not everyone who has had concerns has chosen to come forward. We acknowledge there might still be a gulf of trust for some and are curious to hear from you what might further address that. We want to move forward with demonstrably living in the spirit of our Covenant of Healthy Relations and all our principles, including the principle to accountably dismantle racism and systemic barriers to full inclusion in our midst. We celebrate that many of us were drawn to Unitarianism because we thrive when embracing new perspectives. Now is the time to further welcome the diversity of perspectives, learn, and grow as a community.
Rev. Lara Cowtan