Finding Bright Spots in Highly Divisive Issues


I sat down to write a summary of key learning taken from Friday’s Faith in Action workshop and yet before I do that (in my next post) I want to share with you the manner that workshop played into a deeper story of learning that was going of for me last week. This learning (or re-learning) began when scrolling through pictures from the recent White Ribbon Clergy Oath. I was confronted among these images to see the face of a man signing the pledge whose opinions of women have left me feeling quite victimised.  It was painful for me to see because I suspected that this particular individual was seeing this pledge as a promise not to physically hit a woman while not recognising that a culture that subordinates women is a culture in which violence can survive.  Or to quote Victoria’s chief commissioner, Ken Lay, in a recent guardian article on domestic violence:

“…attitudes show that we perceive women differently than men and by differently I mean we perceive them as less valuable. In order to stop a problem we have to tackle the cause.”

Inwardly just seeing this image caused quite a violent response in me that was still not quelled by speaking with a friend who challenged me that I must celebrate the small steps and that this signing of the pledge offered us an opportunity for the broader and deeper conversation. I was challenged again the following day, however, at Friday’s Faith in Action event as we looked at discovering the opportunities and gifts we may be missing from refugees and other minority groups in our communities.  Brad Chilcott (of Activate Church and Welcome to Australia) challenged us to appreciate the polarities in people.  When speaking of the opposition he has faced for allowing those politicians who have openly supported policies that have marginalised refugee communities to none the less stand side by side with him at the front of the Walk Together events; Brad said he chose to start with the areas of congruence and invite dialogue from there instead of taking a purely adversarial approach.

“We need to celebrate and amplify the light”   -Brad Chilcott

This is much like the principle of “Bright Spots” that I try to espouse in Community Development.  Rather than fighting against what is broken we can often gain a lot more energy and momentum by finding those (even small) spots of goodness and then work to amplify, celebrating and duplicating those. Brad spoke about his desire to provide a positive voice within a highly divisive issue, calling out the best in Australia and to begin the conversation with powerful questions such as:

“How would you like your home to be described?”

So I am challenged anew to consider how to balance a strong stance against language, behaviour and attitudes that create a culture that allows for marginaisation and still work in community with those who demonstrate these poor behaviours, language and attitudes by finding those places of congruence (those “bright spots”) from which to begin a relational discussion.

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