Trying To Do It Right!
I think of the things that I have been wrong about; it is a list that is longer than I care to admit. But let me list a few. I was wrong when I thought that me and my best friend in second grade would be friends forever, we are not even Facebook friends. I was wrong when I believed that I would one day marry Ralph Tresvant from the group New Edition. I was wrong when I thought that by the year 2000 that we would have flying cars. And I was wrong when I thought that I would be 5 7’. I know that these are not major things, but at the time (before I knew better), they were serious beliefs that I held. Although these were pretty benign beliefs (they had no potential to harm anyone) there were some that weren’t so innocent. I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee in the 70’s and 80’s and it was a very segregated city, in some ways very different from the Nashville of today. While Black businesses were thriving, the city had very distant racial and socio-economic lines. If it weren’t for Father Carroll (the Priest assigned to St. Vincent De Paul Church and School) and Nuns at my school, I could have gone days without seeing someone outside of my race. It was a very different time. And I can recall the interactions that I did have were unpleasant. It is difficult to remain objective about things when what you have been told and experienced is negative. “Our brains handle negative information differently and store it more readily and accessibly” (1) consequently, I carried some “beliefs” for years that were not true, yet they were a primary context for me. It took exposure and new experiences for my beliefs to change, and it was not any easy process. It is true that “we can all be very resistant to changing our opinions once they’ve stuck.”
In Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything, Bobby Duffy offers solutions. I am able to apply the information more effectively when an author takes the writing a step further and gives some practical ways to address the issues that they present. When I am left with only information from well-researched problems, I am less likely to retain the information or recommend the book. As I approach my NPO, I look for tools and solutions that will assist in my research. I have concerns about how to approach stakeholders that have held views that cause them to reject my work. Duffy offers, “because our weighting of positive and negative information is unbalanced, we need more positive than negative signals in successful personal relationships: 50:50 doesn’t work.”(2) He continues, “indeed, researchers have shown that the perfect ratio needed for partners to be happy together is 5:1- five times as much positive feeling and interaction as negative.”(3) The process for creating new positive signals is to expose people to five times more positive information than negative. This gives me something to work with!
There are times when I am reading and there is something that stands out, a statement that I take and put in my “I may need this one day” file. I found a few of these statements in Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything. Duffy says, “Fair representation of women is not just about sending a signal of world’s population is an equal part of society: it also changes policies and practices in business and government, by uncovering often unconscious gender bias decision.” (4) As I am working to create positive signals, I must also be working to change policies and practices that have allowed unfair business/church cultures to continue. It is not enough to talk about it, identify the root issue, and create a plan, change will only happen when the system that has allowed biases to govern decisions is dismantled. I still have questions about how to effectively create change among Church Leaders. Is this possible?
I appreciate that Duffy presented ten ideas of how we can form more accurate views of the world. I found two of them to be especially helpful to my research. They are:
2.“Accept the emotion but challenge the thought…Denying that we have an emotional reaction…is pointless and impossible, but accepting these emotions and trying to understand then is not.” (5)
9.“We also need to tell the story…there is no contradiction between facts and stories: you don’t need to choose only one to make your point. The power of stories over us means we need to engage people with both.” (6)
These two ideas are extremely useful as I construct my next workshop. Acknowledging that emotions will play a major role in my work and that there is value in every story is really important. I want to remain mindful of how these factors impact my stakeholder’s ability to feel safe, heard and valued. This can be challenging when beliefs arise from my stakeholders could contradict the beliefs that I know to be true.
I can’t end this blog without acknowledging what a good feeling it was to read a book that references the work of an author that I’ve actually read. I was thrilled and honestly, I felt so well read when Duffy introduces Daniel Kahneman’s “experiencing self” and “remembering self.” I was reading and nodding my head as if the three of us were in a dialogue together. We are making progress, Loved Ones.
Bobby Duffy, Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2019), 111.
22 responses to “Trying To Do It Right!”
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I too fist-bumped myself when I came to the mentions of Daniel Kahneman. There was a brief moment when I thought, “Oh, yah, I’m getting smarter.”
Then it dawned on me that I am probably wrong! Ha!
Growing up I wrongly thought if I were to comb my hair exactly how I like before getting into the shower, it would come out perfectly. Kinda weird, and potentially in the category of TMI, but your confessions of wrongness begets a confession of my own.
I always appreciate your perspectives Jonita. Have a great week!
I love that we shared a fist bump moment. I am also wondering how long it took you to figure out that your hair combing technique was not working. Are there pictures? LOL! I enjoy your posts and I am grateful to be on this journey with you. I’m looking forward to seeing pictures from your trip.
I felt the same way when Duffy referenced Daniel Kahneman. . . I felt a little doctoral.” Ha!
Thank you for sharing your perspectives. I think so often stories are discredited for facts. Do you find that to be true?
HA! I love it…”I felt a little Doctoral”, also.
I think that people are drawn to the drama of a story. It’s easy to look for conformation in someone’s story to support what you have believed to be true and not look for the facts.
There is so much in this post, Jonita. Thank you for sharing your initial “I was wrong” thoughts from childhood… They made me laugh.
On a more serious note, I truly appreciate the insight you share from your limited exposures to other races as a child. What a great experience to apply to your stakeholders who also have limited exposures.
I also identified with “Accept the emotion but challenge the thought” and “We also need to tell the story.” I wonder: as you plan your workshop, how will you leverage the two? How will you strike the needed balance? This is a skill needed in so many places…
I have labored over how to strike a balance with my stakeholders. I know that the story is so important to tell and for us to hear but it can also be triggering. I’m hoping to lean into my training as a facilitator, but I also know that there are limits to what I will be able to do. Do you have any suggestions? Tools?
Oh, I don’t even want to think about listing all the things I’ve gotten wrong. That sounds so depressing. Your examples were great, though. It was actually one little phrase you slipped in there that sparked a whole line of thought for me. You said, “but at the time (before I knew better), they were serious beliefs that I held.” That’s some really helpful vocabulary as I talk about my NPO. I need to be careful not to disparage or judge parents who use/used “old school” methods just because I think now we know better and can do better.
I would hazard a guess that you might encounter comparable situations. Where in your work and your research do you find yourself saying some version of, “That was the past, but now we know better so let’s do better” ??
I would love to hear your list, Kim!
The problem that I have experienced is that some don’t want to acknowledge that there is a problem. Ignoring the problem safeguards against fixing a broken system. It allows unjust systems to continue to operate.
Hi Jonita, Thank you for these words, “Acknowledging that emotions will play a major role in my work and that there is value in every story is really important. I want to remain mindful of how these factors impact my stakeholder’s ability to feel safe, heard and valued. This can be challenging when beliefs arise from my stakeholders could contradict the beliefs that I know to be true.” That’s a lot of tension to hold. I am considering something similar as my stories are different than my stakeholders. Even though we may have experienced the same situations our feelings and perceptions are very different. What helps you hold onto yourself when faced with conflicting views? How do you set aside your story to listen to the story of another? I don’t want to project my experiences onto my stakeholders and miss what they are needing me to hear.
You are right, my friend…it is a lot of tension to hold. I am constantly looking for healthy ways to deal with conflicting views. I spend a lot of time in my prayer closet, and I have scheduled weekly time with my Spiritual Director.
Jonita, I smiled when I read that you experienced how good of a “feeling it was to read a book that references the work of an author that I’ve actually read.” I smiled because I felt exactly the same thing! In fact, Duffy’s reference to experiencing self and remembering self has helped to reinforce a new-for-me concept that has been very helpful to process over the past few weeks.
You asked a great question after a great comment: “I still have questions about how to effectively create change among Church Leaders. Is this possible?” In your NPO research (I’d love to learn more about your NPO, too), what are you finding that is either trying to answer that question or is instead making the question of “is it possible” harder to navigate? Also, is there a particular faith/theological/denominational tradition you are focusing much of your work on/in, or is it more broad? I’d be curious what other roadblocks you are running into.
My NPO is focused on discussing the sociological issues impacting black women leading in white religious spaces. My work is primarily focused on Texas, but I would like my research to expand beyond this region. The roadblocks have been on creating a space where white religious leaders can be comfortable enough to share. I have not gotten push back but have gotten a “we don’t have that problem” type of response or “we have diversity in our Sunday School Staff”.
Thanks Jonita! Point two was so good! I was just in a dialogue today where someone made the comment, “The way that person is acting feels like X” and my immediate thought was, “It might feel like X, but they might not be intending X”. We can be so quick to assume the way we interpret and feel about an interaction is the way the other person intended us to interpret and feel it….but that is often NOT the case. I know I have, on more than one (or 3!) occasions say, “I’m sorry you felt that/interpreted that in that way….that wasn’t my intention.” The complexities of us getting triggered and reacting wrong…combined with people who miscommunicate, means we need a whole lot of grace for one another and a healthy does of curiosity and humble communication skills. God help us do this well/better as His Kingdom people!
Yes to this, “The complexities of us getting triggered and reacting wrong…combined with people who miscommunicate, means we need a whole lot of grace for one another and a healthy does of curiosity and humble communication skills. God help us do this well/better as His Kingdom people!”
Thank you for articulating it so well!
Jonita, I think you are onto something here as you reflect on what Duffy says about people not changing because of facts. When it comes to your very important NPO I think that will become a major point as all the truth in the world won’t necessarily change hearts but change needs to happen.
Oh, and I wanted to ask: You guys don’t have flying cars out there, yet?? 😉
Thank you for your comment, Tim!
As for the flying cars…there are a lot of weird things happening in Texas but no flying cars yet!
“It took exposure and new experiences for my beliefs to change, and it was not any easy process.”-thank Jonita, this is a statement of hope and unease, as it takes so much risk to put yourself into new experiences and trusting that they will create one of those 5 good experiences to balance out the negative. I trust you have many allies who journey with you in these risks! I also really appreciated your response to the work that must be done. You said “As I am working to create positive signals, I must also be working to change policies and practices that have allowed unfair business/church cultures to continue. It is not enough to talk about it, identify the root issue, and create a plan, change will only happen when the system that has allowed biases to govern decisions is dismantled.” This is where I am stuck at my place of employment…they are not willing to take the risk of maybe making our(mostly cis-gender, white) employees uncomfortable….we need policy changes, hiring changes, education….and yet can’t even get a DEIB committee off the ground. I appreciate your comment and will keep it close to me as I continue to fight the good fight! I don’t have a question of Jonita, I only want to say, thank you, I’m sorry for the experiences you had (have) and I appreciate your story and what you are doing in this world!
I am so thankful that you are in the DEIB Space…the field needs you and your wisdom. Please keep fighting and finding a way to disrupt the current systems. I appreciate you!
I have to say a big YES to Duffy’s #9 – “We also need to tell the story…there is no contradiction between facts and stories: you don’t need to choose only one to make your point. The power of stories over us means we need to engage people with both.” As you said, people do need to feel “safe, heard and valued.” Being curious about where people come from and how they process and think develops trust that can bring change. We will never all think alike because our backdrops are different. However, valuing each other brings unity in moving forward together.
Thank you for who you are, Jonita, and for all you bring to the table in this cohort.
Thank you for your wisdom and the beautiful calm presence that you offer. I am always impacted by your comments. I’m glad that you are on this journey with us.
Some really good points. You wrote, “The process for creating new positive signals is to expose people to five times more positive information than negative. This gives me something to work with!”
Wow, I have a long way to go in my Immigration NPO to make this work. But like you said it gives me something to work with!
I also liked # 9, having a balance of story and fact. Last week I spent time with folk in Texas who were either doing just fact or story. Perhaps I can find a way were both will be shared.
Russ… your work is so important. We have to keep creating positive signals and messaging to combat the negative. Let’s keep working to finding the balance between the story and the facts.