Building Allies

Earlier this week I attended an evening workshop titled “Building Allies: Interrupting Bias-Motivated Behaviors”. It was sponsored by Boulder Community United and facilitated by two people from the Denver branch of the Anti-Defamation League. The main focus of the workshop was on discussing our own experiences as targets, perpetrators, bystanders, or allies of prejudiced behavior, and on learning techniques for speaking up when we witness such behavior. I found the workshop both thought-provoking and inspiring.

For some reason, I had great difficulty thinking of specific incidents where I have in fact been a target, perpetrator, bystander, or ally. I’m not sure why this is the case. Perhaps such events have not stood out in my mind, which could be considered a positive or negative thing (for example, I was not deeply impacted by an incident, which could mean that I am desensitized to prejudiced behavior). I also found that the exercise we did to practice responding when someone says something that is prejudiced was harder than I expected. It is difficult to respond in a way that does not make the person defensive but gets the point across, and I am actually not completely confident that I would be able to speak up against someone’s prejudiced behavior.

I enjoyed the atmosphere of the workshop. Everyone spoke honestly and authentically, and listened carefully to others. I was reminded once again of how much I enjoy interacting with other people in an atmosphere of authentic communication. I also observed the facilitators closely and was trying to imagine myself in their role. I do think that facilitating dialogue between people is something I would be good at, and I would like to find a way to try it. At one point during the workshop we broke into smaller groups, and I felt comfortable spontaneously taking a leadership role in my group to ensure that everyone had a chance to speak.

One important thing that came up during the workshop is the necessity to recognize and acknowledge our own biased behavior. I think this is absolutely critical in building a peace-based world. The worst perpetrator is one who is not able to recognize that he or she is hurting others. If we could all acknowledge our own faults and recognize that we all sometimes targets and sometimes perpetrators, I think we would be well on our way to a more peaceful world.

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