August 1, 2013
For a city with a rainy reputation, our Seattle summer has been especially hot and dry. I’ve had to pay particular attention to watering my garden.
Thinking about how to get moisture to sun-baked plants has provided me with quiet opportunities for reflection as I water the thirsty garden on quiet evenings.
I’m aware that elsewhere in the country, in the world, people are knee deep or deeper in floods or even drier than here with drought.
We all need water. We all are water.
- Water makes up between 55-78% of a human’s body weight.
- Water covers 70.9% of the Earth’s surface.
- Only 1% of Earth's water is available for drinking water.
For all the universality of water, our personal stories about water may reveal the myriad ways we are unique -- and help us appreciate our differences.
What is your experience of water throughout your life and locations?
How would water figure as a metaphor for you today?
Take a moment to share a story with a friend. It might just open the floodgates…
P.S. Exploring metaphors is a key aspect of our Circle of Trust® approach. Give yourself a few days to explore your life's meaning and purpose at a Courage & Renewal retreat. See our calendar.Today's blog is a mirror of our Words of EnCOURAGEment newsletter. Subscribe here.
by Jan Vallone (July 30, 2013)
Every winter I plunge into darkness.
As Seattle days shorten to eight hours with clouds covering most of them and the city readies for ten months of showers, my inner world becomes as bleak as the world outside. I burrow through three seasons like a shrew mole through the mud, tunneling deeper to cry, surfacing only to complain.
Born and raised in sunnier New York, I’ve not adjusted in twenty-seven years.
My doctor calls my melancholy SAD, a depression caused by lack of sunlight resulting in low serotonin. Those who experience it suffer desolation, petulance, anxiety and social strain and find it tough to manage it.
I can’t, though, blame my darkness solely on the weather. The past six years have been tough. Just as my children left for college, I lost my full-time job, and I can’t seem to find a new one, thirty years of résumé be damned.
Since I’ve desperately tried to fill the void with a grab bag of pursuits not always suited to me—part-time, volunteer and temp jobs, housework, classes here and there—I’m left feeling frantic, lonely, worthless, bored, and more so every year.
This winter SAD struck hard. I could barely rouse myself mornings, sometimes didn’t bother dressing, cried if my cat crossed my path, overate, skipped the gym, ignored my friends. Every evening I pleaded with my husband, “Get me out of here! There’s nothing for me in Seattle, nothing at all but rain.”
But, in truth, I knew my husband couldn’t leave. He’s worked decades to grow his business and it’s not portable.
Once, I met an American woman vacationing in Tuscany. She told me that although she was married, she always travelled solo and lived alone too. Her husband preferred Boston and she Cos Cob, so they had separate homes.
When I asked the woman if she was ever lonely, she shrugged, “Why should I be? I’m never by myself. My favorite companion is me.”
At this, I remember passing judgment. How selfish. What’s the point of such a marriage? I could never be like her.
Still, in the bleak of winter, I determined that I could. If my husband couldn’t leave Seattle, I’d move by myself.
The idea was so radical and bewildering that my mind could scarcely comprehend it. I’d buy a tiny house. A house in North Carolina, where there are 220 days of sun. I turned on my computer, began to search online, and after ten minutes on Trulia, there my dream home was.
This classic 1929 cottage was one-third the size of our Seattle house. It had lovely lemon shingles, a cheerful side veranda, a steep pitched roof and sun-drenched lawn. It featured cozy rooms, quaint divided windows and sunbeams angling through the panes lighting the honey hardwood floors.
What relief this house would bring me, so tiny, simple, bright. I’d leave my tattered furnishings behind, discard my old books, not need very much. I’d spend my time reading Kindle on the porch or planting a garden in the sun—azaleas, honeysuckles, witch hazels, asters, bee balms, goldenrods.
The inside of my cottage would be an uncluttered haven just for me, the outside an ebullient sight for the community.
This would be the home of my heart. Thrice daily I ogled it on Trulia, walked around the block on Google Earth. How apt that it was located on Sycamore, for I was sick in love.
One rainy spring morning after dreaming of the house, I came across a poem by Emily Dickinson, as quoted in a Parker Palmer essay:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth's superb surprise.
Palmer was pondering depression, a state he claims is caused when we disrespect the true self, the person God created us to be.
When we honor the true self, we choose pursuits that employ our inborn talents, resist pursuits that don’t and heed our natural limitations. Doing so brings us joy and enables us to serve those around us. Doing otherwise causes depression and burdens the community.
To honor the true self, we must listen to the promptings of its voice, which Palmer calls the inner teacher, others call the soul, and others the still, small voice of God. But this voice can often challenge the resistant ego, so to make acceptance easier, it sometimes tells the truth slant, using metaphor.
Could it be that the Carolina cottage was a trope composed by my true self? Not the dwelling I should buy, but the person I should be?
Rather than welcome less square footage, should I embrace my diminished role in the professional world? Instead of shedding tattered furnishings, should I drop unfulfilling work, like teaching basic grammar and dusting the church pews?
Rather than throw out old books, should I discard worn sob stories, like those about my SAD and unemployment? Instead of planting a new garden, should I cultivate pursuits I have and love, like writing and, yes, gardening, and caring for family and friends?
Who would I be if I did these things? Inside, an uncluttered, tranquil person; outside, ebullient, generous.
Perhaps the brilliant sunlight angling through the Carolina windows is simply the truth told slant by the voice of my true self.
Now it’s summer, and I am listening.
Jan Vallone is the author of Pieces of Someday, a memoir, which won the 2011 Reader Views Reviewers Choice Award and will be re-released in fall 2013. Her stories have appeared in The Seattle Times, Good Letters, Catholic Digest, Guideposts, English Journal, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Writing it Real, and Curriculum in Context. Once a lawyer at a large law firm, and later an English teacher at a tiny yeshiva high school, she now teaches writing and literature at Seattle Pacific University.
July 23, 2013
As part of his week in Seattle on “Healing the Heart of Democracy”, Parker Palmer joined three other panelists at Seattle CityClub on July 18 at Town Hall. The panel discussed the current political arena, especially the breakdown in civil discourse and how we can change the trend.
Moderated by Diane Douglas, Executive Director of CityClub, the panel on Civil Discourse: Moving to the Heart of the Matter featured Cathy Allen, President and Owner, The Connections Group, Inc.; David Domke, Professor and Acting Chair, Department of Communication at the University of Washington; Parker J. Palmer, Founder and Senior Partner, Center for Courage & Renewal; and Representative Hans Zeiger (R), 25th LD, Washington State Legislature.
This powerful hour-long dialogue concluded with a session of questions from the audience. One question in particular spoke to the heartbreak of the Trayvon Martin case, a topic we heard people talking about throughout the week. You can watch and listen to the question at 64:27 in the entire video below—Parker’s response is at 67:56. Here’s the transcript:
Question: "My name is Alekzandr Wray. I work for a nonprofit after-school organization [OneWorld Now!] serving youth of color and low-income students in Seattle. My question relates directly to Mr Palmer’s comments about the habits of heart being formed in the public sphere.
"How do you think recent events over the past few years such as the killings of John T. Williams, Oscar Grant, and Trayvon Martin, and the decision handed down in that case will affect democracy in the coming decades as people of color are estimated to become the numerical majority. How is democracy going to be impacted when the thing they see democracy representing is the life of a person of color not being valued equally as their white counterparts."
Answer by Parker J. Palmer: "I want to respond to the very important question asked about people of color in this society who will be over 50 percent of America by the year 2050 according to the projections I’ve seen, and the impact of cases like the Trayvon Martin case. And I’ll come around to it in a moment.
"I want to start by saying that one of the most important sources of social change, political-economic change in world history is social movements. It’s not taught much in higher education or in our schools. But half of the history of the world has been written not by institutional power but by people who had no power, no external forms of power. They didn’t have money. They didn’t have institutional access. They didn’t have leverage on financial or political institutions.
"They had only one power. And I’m thinking now of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and the movement against apartheid in South Africa. And the Black liberation moment in this country which did not begin in the mid-20th century—it began the moment the first slave ship left the shores of Africa bound for these shores. On and on it goes. The women’s movement. People who had no external forms of power. The only power they had was the power of the human heart.
"A lot of us don’t believe or understand in the power of the human heart because nobody knows these histories, few people have studied them. They’re not given the opportunity. But these movements are places where people accessed the power of the human heart, they accessed that intrastructure. What was Nelson Mandela doing for 27 years in a prison cell on Robben Island? He was accessing the power of his heart. And then they went out, deployed it in ways that built relationships, created communities that developed skillful strategies, and ended up changing the lay and the law of the land all around the globe. That’s history. That’s not romantic fantasy. And it’s all about intrastructure and infrastructure. And it’s another reason why [Alexis] de Tocqueville was right.
"So, people of color, over 50 percent by 2050, case after case like Trayvon Martin, where the decision may have been legal but it was not just. And what do you call a decision or a law that’s legal but not just? You call it a law that needs to be changed.
"What this means is that we are in for a rough time. It means we’re in for a movement. And we need one. Because this change—despite the fact that there are many good people in the houses of power in this country—and one sits right here [pointing to Representative Hans Zeiger]—despite the fact that there are decent people in our financial institutions—the change is not going to come from those sources. It never has. There is too much at stake. It’s why men need to be empowered to lose some of their perks when they know what’s right. That’s the kind of empowerment we need.
"But [change is] going to come from a critical mass of marginalized people who are going to say, with John Lewis and his colleagues in the mid 60s, this needs to stop and something new needs to start, and we are going to find a way within the democratic process to make that happen. [Democracy] is a tension-holding system that’s not only about our right and capacity and absolute responsibility to hold tension creatively. It’s about the right and responsibility to create tension in the system that effects change."
Taped and generously shared by the Seattle Channel, this video is 77 minutes long.
We invite your thoughts...
July 16, 2013
It's a big week for us here in Seattle as we host a series of events with our founder, Parker J. Palmer. He will be speaking to sold-out crowds at three large venues on Healing the Heart of Democracy: Civil Community, Creative Conflict, and the Common Good. We appreciate everyone who has made plans to spend this time with Parker, learning how we each contribute to a politics worthy of the human spirit.
We wanted to take a moment to thank our wonderful sponsors and co-promoting partners who made this event possible with their funding and outreach.
Thanks to Our Generous Sponsors!
Event Contributing Sponsors:
Event Contributing Sponsors (continued)
Anonymous, Antrim Charitable Trust at The Seattle Foundation, Paul and Debbi Brainerd, CourageWork LLC, Heide Felton, Steve Boyd and Sheryl Harmer, K&L Gates, kkhe.consulting, Tim Krell, Leading from the Heart, Peter Morgan and Raleigh Bowden, Debbie and Bill Mowat, Deborah Nass, OneWorld Now!, Shannon Patterson, Alan and Andrea Rabinowitz, Diane and Vickie Rawlins, The Reid Group, Donna Smith, Karen Souter, Jeanne Strong, The Very Reverend Steve and Kathy Thomason, Doug and Judy Thorpe, University of Washington Graduate School, University of Washington Office of Undergraduate Academic Affairs
Alliance for Education, Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession, Clear-Consulting.biz, Compassionate Action Network International, Elliott Bay Bookstore, Facing the Future, IslandWood, League of Women Voters of Washington, Northwest School, Seattle University, University of Washington Medical School, Washington Education Association, YES! Magazine
July 11, 2013
In this podcast Parker J. Palmer and Jim Henderson talk about Parker’s background as a community organizer, why he veered away from a life in the “academy” and his recent book Healing The Heart of Democracy where he explores what it would look like if we truly practiced “staying in the room with difference.”
Jim says about Parker, "He is a national treasure, a deep thinker and a profoundly spiritual person." Parker will be speaking at several events in Seattle, July 16-18.
Click this link to hear the podcast at SoundCloud.com. The podcast will begin automatically. You can click the round icon in the upper left corner at that site to pause or play. Here's what you'll see:
by Rose Yu, Assistant Director (July 9, 2013)
Do you find the talk at class reunions banal? How often do former classmates truly share authentic life stories? Or even show up at all?
Wanting to help create a more meaningful experience, I joined the planning committee for my Stanford MBA 25-year reunion. My hope was to introduce the Center for Courage & Renewal’s Circle of Trust approach for at least one session as a way to promote connections among a small group of classmates.
At the same time, I was going through a whole rollercoaster ride full of emotions prior to the event itself as I struggled with how I measured up to my Stanford MBA classmates 25 years post-degree.
The reunion committee embraced the idea of connecting through stories as the theme. We created four topics to take place as panel discussions followed by group circles:
- 25 Out: What Success Means Now
- Passions: Work that Satisfies
- Curve Balls: When Life Requires Courage
- Family First? Reflections on our Choices
What I found in these few planning months is that by being vulnerable and leading with integrity from my place of feeling like an outsider that we were able to create a more inviting and hospitable space for everyone to show up and they did in droves!
I sat on the Curve Balls panel discussion with three other classmates. One spoke of challenges raising his son with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. Another talked about developing a near fatal cancer a year after graduation. And another spoke of his fall from an 18-foot ladder head first and his recovery. I thought I might talk about rediscovering my femininity in the process of losing both breasts to cancer or redefining what it means to be human by raising a child with an IQ of 70, but instead I found myself talking about my experience with internalized racism.
A black classmate, whom I didn’t know well before, came up and was surprised and grateful that I brought up the topic. A white classmate asked at dinnertime asked what internalized racism was since he had never heard the term.
What I discovered was that I was intimately connected with these peers in our struggles to live life with meaning and, at midlife, how much of that is defined by the quality of our relationships with others and with oneself. I am so happy that by sharing our true stories we found a way toward our love and humanity.
What authentic life story would you choose to share?
by Alan Preston, Guest Writer (July 5, 2013)
After five years as a community organizer, Parker J. Palmer became enamored with the Quaker tradition of social justice. He believes when “we, the people” re-examine connections to beliefs and communities, it creates an opportunity to heal an ailing democracy.
I encountered the work of Parker J. Palmer in the early 1990s, when a friend handed me his short but profound collection of essays, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. The essays touch on his own personal journey through depression, his path in aligning his role in life with his soul’s calling, and the lessons he has learned about the inner dimensions of leadership. Let Your Life Speak became a constant companion for me over the next few years, coming into my life as it did during a period of personal transition and questioning.
Over the years, I’ve had the honor of spending time with Palmer. What impresses me most is that his humility, insight and authenticity come through every bit as clearly in person as they do in his books. I was not at all surprised when “Utne Reader” named him one of their top 25 visionaries in 2011.
Palmer often refers to the metaphor of a Mobius strip — a surface that blurs the distinctions between inner and outer — in his writings and teachings. Palmer has used the metaphor to invite individuals to explore the integrity between their own values and their vocation. More recently, he has extended the metaphor to the state of our democracy, and he challenges citizens to consider the relationship with our hearts, our connections to our communities and a healthy, functioning democracy. Palmer will be making a rare appearance in Seattle this month, and I was eager to catch up with him before his trip. Continue reading...
By Marianne Houston (June 27, 2013)
As one of the first Courage & Renewal facilitators prepared by Parker Palmer in 1994, it has been my extraordinary good fortune to work with the administrative team of Paw Paw (Michigan) Public Schools for the past 14 years. This unique opportunity offers one illustration of the potential of the Courage & Renewal approach to build community within an organization over time.
Superintendent Mark Bielang (now on the Center for Courage & Renewal Board) participated in a three-day Courage to Lead® retreat for education leaders in early 1999. In August 1999, Mark invited me to lead a retreat for his leadership team before the beginning of the school year. Every year since, I’ve continued to do so.
I called that first retreat “Gathering Strength for the Journey.” All 17 team members were required to attend. The team consisted of the superintendent, curriculum/instructional director, business manager, technology director, principals of high school, middle school, lower and upper elementary schools, the high school and middle school assistant principals, the adult/ community education director, transportation director, plant manager, and directors of maintenance, food services and transportation/buses. This diversity of roles was initially challenging but proved an extraordinary blessing over the years.
One of the first things that the food supervisor said to me was “I didn’t want to be here, but I came anyway” and the maintenance director, fingering the journal we’d provided, approached me with this quiet secret: “I don’t write at stuff like this.” I tried to reassure both of them in those early minutes, and in the circle stressed how seriously we take our guiding principles.
With a warm, gentle introduction, I invited them to introduce themselves in the circle with the direction, “Take a few moments to think of a story about yourself, or something about yourself, that these folks – whom you know so well – DON’T know.” This was great fun and resulted in relaxed shoulders all around!
We worked slowly through our time together. We freed ourselves of cell phones, and celebrated. In one exercise I invited them to consider a time during their work in education when they realized that they were fully engaged and felt the joy of that. What a beautiful time we had! The gentleman who confessed that he did not write was caught scribbling away with his left hand long after everyone else had finished! He’s taken a lot of gentle ribbing about that since and became a kind of wisdom figure for the team over the years, with no one more surprised than he!
As the years passed, the constants in each retreat were our principles and practices: the power of poetry and story, the generous way in which Time is held, and the unbounded welcome that we practice. As new leaders joined the circle, others left for other work, and one passed away. By 2012, only six of the original 17 remained. Those constants were passed on through the years with an ebb and flow that is natural to vital, living institutions. Newer administrators have more than once spoken of how the retreats helped them integrate into the community.
Over the years, I recorded what the participants shared with the group. There may be no better way to offer a snapshot of the impact of Courage & Renewal for this team:
- One thing I know: I don’t want to manipulate people. I just want to respect them and grow with them.
- I just realized what’s meant by ‘integrate being with doing’… that’s the undivided life you’re talking about, right?
- It’s not just about skills and techniques… it’s about my world and life view. It’s more about who I am.
- I always had to be with somebody. Now I’m content to be by myself.
- It’s kind of a new way of thinking for me: we can create the kind of environment we WANT TO LIVE AND WORK IN.
- Am I doing anything that helps my staff take better care of themselves? I see how this work helps me.
- It’s so healthy to own my own doubts and fears. Hearing yours has helped me do that.
- I’m feeling better understood by this team, and I even understand myself better!”
- “I’m thinking a lot about how to use our relationship on the team as a model for my staff relationships.
- Who knew it was OK … really good… to bring your HEART to this education business? How did we miss that??
- I wrote to myself… ‘Try to see the person behind the job. ‘ I keep it on my desk.
- One of the greatest things that has happened to me is that I realize I know more than I think I do. That sounds silly…
- I thought my high school staff would laugh when I used poetry in a meeting but they seemed to really like it. Incredible how a poem can facilitate real dialogue.
- It’s OK. I am not perfect … and this poet is right on: I am not done with my changes.
As a facilitator I feel like a member of the Paw Paw family and look forward to our retreat this year.
Think about a team you’re part of. What do you most hope for them?
Guest blog by Sandra Copley (June 25, 2013)
I came to Courage to Lead® in a state of disillusionment. I was working in a fractured system plagued by too many projects, minimal support and the struggle to maintain its projects in the face of dwindling funds. So I applied for a Santa Barbara-based seasonal retreat series for nonprofit and community leaders, hoping to find some support. In the year-long work of Courage to Lead, our facilitators Ken Saxon and Kim Stokely guided us all through an inner journey of renewal.
I began to gently hold and nurture my role as a leader and accept my worth as a unique force in the community. My paradigm shifted. I no longer felt confined to work within the role of the organization, but rather to be guided by the whisper of the inner voice of wisdom.
I then began noticing an interesting phenomena emerging. Other Courage to Lead graduates were also bringing this work into the community. I attended a meeting of community leaders to discuss how to collaborate more effectively for grants that would benefit our county’s residents in need. When I looked around, I noticed there were Courage to Lead alumni at every break-out table. The conversations were rich and engaging. There was a genuine feeling of authenticity and cooperation. We were all impressed by the creative ideas and camaraderie at the end of the meeting.
I feel that Courage to Lead is slowly penetrating and inspiring a shift in how we work together here in Santa Barbara. I truly believe that engaged leaders trained in the methods developed by Parker J. Palmer and the Center for Courage & Renewal can share the values inspired by this series and create a shift that will be passed forward in profound ways. Ultimately, this has the potential to change the fabric of our society.
Sandra Copley is Director, Maternal Child Adolescent Health at the Santa Barbara Public Health Department. See our calendar for current Leadership programs.
by Mardi Tindal (June 20, 2013)
Much of the Center’s work revolves around seasonal metaphors, and we have chosen retreat centers to reflect the best that a season has to offer. For the longer, lighter summer days, we have space available at at our signature retreats: July in Minnesota and August near Seattle. If crisper days and changing leaves are more to your liking, check out: September in Ontario and October in Colorado. See more in our full calendar.
Below is a reflection from one of our facilitators-Mardi Tindal---on how spring showed up in her life and in her retreats.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background: from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
Today feels like one of those days of which Li-Young Lee writes in his poem, From Blossoms. His words have been woven into the threads of my spring Courage & Renewal retreats this year.
I just can’t let spring burst into tomorrow's summer solstice without pausing to salute and honor the many hues of new growth and beauty that I’ve witnessed over this season.
Nestled into the lush desert orchards of the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, the fertile Plains of Manitoba, on the shore of a late-melting lake of Northern Ontario and along cities and riverbeds in southern Ontario, my soul has stirred as individuals reclaim passion for their life and work, from blossoms to blossoms.
Teachers and clergy, professors (of business administration, nursing, international relations and more), lawyers, alongside those working in music, human resources, truck driving, and more, have gathered to give voice to their soul’s claim upon them.
One teacher’s “aha!” stands out. She shared how she’d realized that her frustrations of the past year were not so much about having been unable to find the right ‘tips and techniques’ for her students, as they were about her inner fears of being with students of an age group with which she was unaccustomed.
“This year I will pay attention to who and how I am as I meet my new students. It wasn’t about them. It was about me.”
Here are a few other voices that joined the springtime chorus:
“I now feel renewed---contentment rather than restlessness; direction rather than waffling; courage rather than fear!”
“The immediate value of this retreat is immense. An impasse has been broken and I am moving forward.”
“This retreat has not only been a rich blessing in helping me connect afresh with my soul but in increasing my ability to companion others in a circle of trust.”
“The value of these retreats is in the uniqueness of each one.”
One of the things I noticed on these particular retreats was the ways in which spring blossoms often appear---not at the end of new shoots---but part-way down a branch, springing from the end of last year’s growth. Flowering bushes told me that the fruits that will come of today’s growing efforts won’t be seen for some time to come. That’s just the way it is.
It took a lot of growing effort---represented by time, money and attention---for the over 100 individuals with whom I’ve had the joy of sitting in Circles of Trust this spring, to invest in next year’s blossoms. It appears it’s been worth it.
Together we have made way, not just for the next year’s possible blossoms, but for the ‘sweet impossible’ ones too!
Question: What is blossoming forth in your life from last year's growth?
Mardi Tindal will be co-facilitating one of our signature retreats, Journey Toward an Undivided Life, offered by the Center for Courage & Renewal, near Toronto, ON, September 19 - 21, 2013. See our full calendar of retreats.
(June 18, 2013)
"The poles of either-or, the choices we thought we had to make, may become signs of a larger truth than we had even dreamed--and in that truth, our lives may become larger than we ever imagined possible."
- Parker J. Palmer, The Promise of Paradox
As Parker writes, it's true that the world is full of very real opposites pulling vigorously against each other. It's also true that when we are able to "live the contradictions", we learn to hold the tensions in life-giving ways.
Light & Shadow
Alone & Together
Now & Future
Freedom & Discipline
Heartbreak & Hope
What's on your list of life's great contradictions?
What "larger truth" might be on your horizon if you embrace a paradox?
Today's blog is a mirror of our monthly Words of EnCOURAGEment newsletter. Subscribe here.
by Emily Chamberlain, Courage & Renewal Facilitator (June 13, 2013)
It has been over a month since I attended the White Privilege Conference for the first time, and I am still filtering the experience, trying to understand how my internalized sense of “whiteness” separates me from the full expression of my own humanity and keeps me unconsciously aligned with the very forces of injustice and oppression I say I am working against. During the three-day conference, we had one opportunity after another to unpack the “invisible knapsack” of unearned privilege Peggy McIntosh speaks of – the one we carry around with us always, as white people, even if we are unaware of it.
Much of what I found in my own “backpack” I expected to find, although the process of bringing those parts of myself to light was surprisingly unsettling.
I expected to have my blindness around issues of equity and race mirrored back to me and to be jarred into a clearer recognition of the harm I have unknowingly done to friends and colleagues of color.
As a white woman who grew up in the segregated South, I expected to feel a deep, unnamed sadness welling up within me and to fear exposure for the privileged little white girl I was – and to a great extent, still am.
But what I didn’t expect was how much of the work we did around class and the intersection of race and class was completely new to me, and how charged those conversations were, not only for me but also for many of the other, more experienced participants in the room. In a workshop entitled “How Do We Talk about Class?,” I realized that at age 59 I couldn’t recall EVER having an honest conversation about class in a group setting. The simple activity of creating a “critical events timeline” of my awakening awareness of class brought back memories I hadn’t thought of in 30 or 40 years, and to which I had attached no particular significance.
Though it seems obvious now, it had never occurred to me that I bring my entire background of class into every interaction I have, and that looking at white privilege through the lens of both race and class can help us more clearly see the intersectionality of all forms of privilege and oppression. This was perhaps the most important insight I took from the conference, along with a deepening understanding of how daunting the task of interrupting white privilege really is, and how much we depend on each other to show us the parts of ourselves that would otherwise remain unseen. I believe this process is a necessary step toward putting love in action for our fellow human beings and for ourselves.
(Note: Peggy McIntosh's essay "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" was published in the July/August 1989 edition of Peace and Freedom, pp. 10-12.)
How do class and race show up in your everyday life?
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