Facing Threats to Safety and Identity

With the murder of 50 Muslim members of the Christchurch community, the realities of hate crimes, have been brought closer to home than we are accustomed to.  Those of us who are members of privileged or relatively protected communities may well be able to distance ourselves from these events once the news feed dies down. However for members of the workforce who come from ethnically diverse backgrounds, the sense of threat, which has always been within the society has been enacted in the most horrendous way.  One of the real tests in the following days will be the extent to which we acknowledge these events and their immediacy or dismiss them as an anomaly – the act of a few outliers.    The capacity to distance ourselves – to dismiss events – is an irritant or source of conflict escalation which some of us can be blind to.   Why?  Because not everyone enjoys the privilege of assumed security.

Shock is a natural part of facing trauma or the revelation of things we once believed impossible.  However we do need to find ways to face and engage with these difficult and painful events.    In denying the harm experienced by others, we inflict further pain and harm.  On the national stage we have seen this in the public denial and defence of George Pell by senior political leaders who refuse to acknowledge the extent to which Pell specifically and institutions, churches and their leaders have failed their members.  When we see their behaviour we have to ask ourselves what creates such a glaring blindspot.  How can they not get it?

But these dynamics are not the exclusive domain of politicians and public figures, they play out throughout our community and our workplaces.    When  our identity is challenged it cuts to the core of who we are … not everyone is up for taking a fresh look at themselves or the groups they belong to.  Doing so requires courage and a willingness to remove the veil of comfort and self-deception.  We need to be willing to question ourselves and all we take for granted or hold sacred.

When the time is right, we each need to reflect on where our potential  blindspots lie.  And we need to learn to skilfully enquire into and challenge the blindspots of others.

While  facing organisational blindspots can be challenging its important.  What are the sacred cows in your life or institution?

Individuals and organisations need find a way to face the information that flies in the face of what they have believed till now.   We must learn to navigate the divided loyalties that the unpleasant stuff presents. We need to appreciate those people who give us the challenging feedback.

In an environment where our capacity to feel safe even in prayer and our spiritual communities has been deeply challenged we need to find ways to stabilise ourselves.   We need to reconnect with the mindfulness practices that help to counter the amygdala hijack  that sends us into shutdown survival mode.  Now is an ideal time to be offering this support to your workforce as they deal with the hidden anguish that we gloss over in our busy working lives.

Interestingly the ability to stabilise ourselves despite stress and trauma, allows us to actually face up to it and deal with it.  Ignoring it only allows the problem to grow.  In the past weeks, we have witnessed the consequences of issues that have been minimised and overlooked for far to long.   So I applaud those organisations that are building the self-regulation and conflict management skills needed to face the tough issues.  They are building the understanding and capabilities needed to deal with the unpleasant stuff that it’s easier to avoid.

As conflict management coaches we engage in these delicate conversations, teasing out the elements that hold us hostage to our primitive tribal survival instincts.   We are skilled to spot the early indications of threat that can lead to people forming extreme and polarising views.   These skills are highly needed for immediate support and longer term culture change.

In the short term, watch for the ripple effects, look out for each other and take good care of yourselves.

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