Tag Archives: reconciliation

Sympathy for one group – but not the other?

I had a conversation this week and, in trying to make a point to the person with whom I was speaking, these two narratives popped into my head, almost fully formed before I even wrote them down:

muslim and police woman

I am a Muslim. I love being a Muslim. So much of my identity is based in being a part of Islam. I love the camaraderie and fellowship of other Muslims. I make no apologies for that.

I understand that many people are afraid of me. That makes me sad, and, at times, very defensive, even angry.

It is completely unfair that people assume all Muslims are bad because of the violent acts of a small minority of Muslims in the USA. The vast majority of Muslims are good people who care deeply about their communities, they want to contribute positively to such, and they want all people to live in peace. Yes, there are Muslims that do not respect human rights and that have done horrible, violent, reprehensible things in the USA, like:

But I should not have to publicly condemn such acts of violence over and over and over. The assumption shouldn’t be made that I support these events just because I’m a Muslim.

We’ve seen social media posts and videos of Muslims, some of them considered leaders by other Muslims, celebrating or trying to justify these violent acts. But I shouldn’t have to apologize because an Iman with thousands of followers excuses or even promotes these violations of human rights. I want to be judged by my character and actions, not those of others.

I’m proud of my hijab, and when you see me in it, please don’t automatically assume that I am a bad person and that I am your enemy. Please talk to me. Get to know me. I welcome the conversations.

I am a police officer. I love being a police officer. So much of my identity is based in being a police officer. I love the camaraderie and fellowship of other officers. I make no apologies for that.

I understand that many people are afraid of me. That makes me sad, and, at times, very defensive, even angry.

It is completely unfair that people assume all police officers are bad because of the violent acts of a small minority of police officers in the USA. The vast majority of police officers are good people who care deeply about their communities, they want to contribute positively to such, and they want all people to live in peace. Yes, there are police officers that do not respect human rights and that have done horrible, violent, reprehensible things in the USA, like:

But I should not have to publicly condemn such acts of violence over and over and over. The assumption shouldn’t be made that I support these events just because I’m a police officer.

We’ve seen social media posts and videos of police officers, some of them considered leaders by other police, celebrating or trying to justify these violent acts. But I shouldn’t have to apologize because a police union with thousands of members excuses or even promotes these violations of human rights. I want to be judged by my character and actions, not those of others.

I’m proud of my uniform, and when you see me in it, please don’t automatically assume that I am a bad person and that I am your enemy. Please talk to me. Get to know me. I welcome the conversations.

These two groups are so similarly demonized, but I never realized it until the morning of the day I originally drafted this. Both of these groups can say the same thing, almost word-for-word, about how they are negatively perceived by many people.

There are going to be people who are going to read one column and totally agree – and read the other column and be outraged. There are those that believe all Muslims are potential terrorists because of the acts of a minority, but would never believe all police are potentially racist because of the acts of a minority of members. And vice versa.

If you read this and felt sympathy for one group, but not for the other, I hope you will think long and hard about why that is.

Comments are welcomed, unless such use what I consider misinformation or hate-based language.

Also see:

To Do List the Day After the USA election

The USA Presidental election is over in the USA at last. While not everyone is happy with the results, everyone is happy that it is over. It feels like it’s been going on for two years or more!!

This Presidential election has been contentious, controversial and very, very heated. I wrote in another blog about mistrust being rampant in so many communities in the USA and elsewhere, but the reality is that, fueled by this election, mistrust has seeped into organizations and families all over the USA: friendships have dissolved, many people aren’t speaking to various family members, and employees and volunteers may also not be speaking to each other because of what’s been said and done in this election, perceptions of the candidates and perceptions of the candidates’ supporters.

Strong feelings about the election and the issues it raised can poison workplace congeniality, kill employee and staff motivation and drive the exit of employees and volunteers you really didn’t want to lose. Maybe some of this has already happened at your nonprofit or government agency. You may need to do a number of things over many months to ease tensions, heal hurt feelings, reinforce your policies regarding workplace behavior and culture, and make sure everyone understands that the mission of your organization is always the priority while acting in an official capacity as an employee or volunteer.

You could:

  • Encourage departments to organize lunch together one day every other week, or do this for your entire organization if staff numbers are small, for a few months. You could introduce non-work topics for each lunchtime: recommendations for binge-watching, best classic black and white movies, predictions about March Madness, etc. Or have lunchtime trivia contests. The goal is to create fun, friendly, non-political conversations and help employees and volunteers again see each other as real people with real feelings. You don’t have to say why you are doing this – just do it.
  • Have a simple, fun contest for staff. For instance, ask them to bring in photos of themselves as babies or very young children, or in a Halloween costume, put the photos on the bulletin board in a common area and ask people to say who they think each person is. Or staff can bring in photos of pets they have, or have had, and staff can guess what animal belongs to what staff member. Or have a weekly staff award, like most tenacious, or most congenial, or person with a work situation that would make the best reality show. The winner could get a gift card. Again, this creates fun, friendly, non-political conversations and help employees and volunteers again see each other as real people.
  • Consider posting appropriate quotes in the break room that encourage humanity and kindness. For instance, from Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. Or this quote from Carlos P. Romulo: Brotherhood is the very price and condition of man’s survival.
  • Organize several activities over the course of coming weeks that will remind staff and volunteers of the mission of your organization, such as a Q & A with frontline or program staff, a video of clients talking about the difference the organization makes, etc. This is good advice anytime, not just after a contentious election.
  • Remind staff in various ways that, at your organization, people matter, and in the workplace, we need to take care of each other, we need to have each other’s back. Cite individuals in front of all staff that have demonstrated this, or any teamwork, in some way. Have a brainstorming session on what kinds of words your staff would like, ideally, to be able to say about their workplace culture.
  • Note in an all-staff meeting that your organization’s staff has the right and responsibility to ensure that the work environment is free of hostility aimed at employees, consultants, volunteers or clients because of protected classification, such as race or gender, and that there are federal and state laws that prohibit hostile work environments on the basis of sex, race and religion. It’s better to do this in-person, in a conversational tone than a memo, as it feels less like a cold command, but certainly, you can also send out a written memo as a reminder of what you discussed in a recent meeting on this topic.
  • Remind staff – employees and volunteers – that, in the workplace, political discussions should never interfere with work, should be avoided with clients, and among staff, should never be allowed to devolve into debates over race, national origin, gender roles or religion, as such talk could be construed as creating a hostile work environment, even by someone not participating in such debates but just hearing such. Remind staff that such discussions should not happen in the workplace and, instead, should happen outside of the organization. This may require a written memo to drive home the point if things are getting out of hand.
  • Immediately take aside any employee, consultant or volunteer who seems to be crossing the line regarding political comments and remind them in specific terms what they have said that is inappropriate and in violation of your policies. Take appropriate action for repeat offensives, including dismissal.
  • If your organization, as a part of its mission, is focused on issues that came up frequently in the election, such as marriage, immigration, refugees, veterans, safety, government transparency, women’s health, insurance coverage, etc., make sure all staff, including non-program staff, know where the organization stands on these issues and knows how to properly refer any questions or criticisms of such.
  • Be absolutely strict on senior staff demonstrating the behavior they want out of subordinates and volunteers in all of the above. If they aren’t walking the talk, all of the aforementioned is for naught.
  • Be prepared to say goodbye to employees, consultants or volunteers who cannot let go of hostility about the election and are letting such affect their work and the work place.
  • Welcome questions or discussions from staff about any of the above.

If you try anything at your organization, or are struggling with staff cohesion, share your experience in the comments below.

Also see

For Nonprofit Organizations: How to Handle Online Criticism

Survival Strategies for Nonprofits , a guide for nonprofits facing critical budget shortfalls.

Volunteering & social cohesion in a post Brexit world

social cohesionOn 15 September, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) National Volunteering Forum met in Manchester, England to talk about the potential implications of Brexit for volunteering, and to discuss evidence and real life examples demonstrating the role that volunteering can play in improving social cohesion. The slides from the event are shared online, and the associated tweets, here.

The tweets are SO worth reading, a mix of comments said at the forum and comments from people following online. GREAT questions and comments that will give you pause, because you shouldn’t think of obstacles to social cohesion as just a British phenomena: all over Europe, as well as the USA, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Mexico, and on and on, societies are struggling with divided socio-political landscapes. Emotions are running high, driving nationalist movements and, often, racist and xenophobia movements as well. In many places, neighbors aren’t talking to neighbors because of differences in politics, religion, language, values and more.

As I note in my paper “Internet-mediated Volunteering in the EU: Its history, prevalence, and approaches and how it relates to employability and social inclusion” for the European Commission in 2014, researchers for vInspired, in exploring the contribution of volunteering to employability for young people, found that volunteering contributed to young people’s feeling of social inclusion:

  • Volunteering helped young people to develop their networks and mix with a more diverse social group. It also increased their ability to work within and across authority structures. This suggests that providing volunteering opportunities to a wide range of young people will help to break-down social barriers and lead to greater community cohesion and personal well- being.
  • The positive contribution made by young people to the organisations and communities with which they were involved, helped to overcome the negative stereotypes often applied to them, and improved perceptions of young people amongst adults such as staff, volunteers and service users.
  • Many young people are currently in a precarious economic position with the high level of youth unemployment, and some commentators are warning of a lost generation. Helping young people to stay connected to society and their communities, to develop leadership and employability skills that will shape their future, is one of the most urgent and critical tasks of the next decade.

As I note in that paper, this and other research demonstrates that volunteering can play a crucial role in building the personal resilience and capabilities that young people need to prosper in the work place and in society in general.

However, garnering those benefits from volunteering, as well as using it to encourage social cohesion, multi-cultural understanding, reconciliation, etc., is a tall order giving the current landscape in many countries:

  • War and dire economic circumstances are driving immigration at a historic rate, with desperate people seeking to migrate to more peaceful, prosperous countries, straining resources and emotions of those living in areas immigrants want to travel through or to.
  • Different ethnic, socio-economic and religious groups, among others, are clashing over everything from perceived threats to their culture and values to police relations to access to jobs to perceptions of crime rates and quality of life compared to the past.
  • Certain people are being excluded from participating fully in the societies where they reside, or from receiving the same employment, educational, societal and other benefits others in that society may receive. These people feel they are marginalized, that they have limited access to decision-making bodies, various institutions and employment.
  • Some people’s religious and ethical values clash with public social and working life, where others that have different ethical values also socialize and work. Not everyone embraces ideas of free expression, equality for all humans in all aspects of life (employment, education, marriage, etc.), democracy, non-traditional roles for women, and the value of diversity and inclusiveness. When these people are living in a society that insists on these values, by practice and laws, hostilities can arise, with ideas of tolerance and multicultural understanding clashing with deeply held beliefs and legal practices regarding human rights.
  • Change is rampant and is frightening to many people, particularly when economic situations are fragile, or perceived as such. People are hearing different languages than the one they have grown up with, they are seeing people dressing in a way that’s different than what they believe should be the cultural norm, and technology is rapidly changing employment, education and how services are delivered. The popularity of a restaurant serving food that isn’t perceived as indigenous or is perceived as being from a country local people don’t like, a poster in a church that isn’t in the official or unofficial national language,  a woman not wearing what local people believe she should be wearing – all of these acts can be perceived by a community as a threat to their local culture and values, and lead to hostilities.

The result of all of this is people feeling more and more powerless over the decisions and forces that affect their day to day lives. Fear and uncertainty is sweeping many communities, misinformation is rampant, and everything in the environment feels politicized. Many communities are becoming more segregated, with people choosing to live and socialize with people they perceive as like them in terms of culture and values, and choosing to stay away from festivals, neighborhoods, even restaurants where they believe a different culture prevails.

Can volunteering help bridge divides, increase understanding, reduce hostilities and nurture respect and social cohesion? Certainly there are organizations and researchers that think so:

What’s lacking is research showing that these efforts have, indeed, lead to multi-cultural understanding, a lessening of hostilities, etc. 

In my paper about Internet-mediated volunteering in EU countries, I identified challenges to promoting online volunteering as a pathway to social inclusion, and I believe it is, in fact, the biggest challenge for ANY volunteering as a pathway to social inclusion: resistance to including social inclusion goals into current volunteer engagement at an organization. In other words, most managers of volunteers don’t want to make social inclusion a part of their goals for volunteer engagement. Most organizations that involve volunteers have no stated reason relating to contributing to greater social inclusion for volunteers. They may not see the benefits of adapting their volunteer engagement to contribute to such. They may not have the expertise in how to do this. And they may not have the resources needed to build their expertise to do this. Agencies may resist adapting volunteer engagement schemes to include a social inclusion element, for fear of it draining resources or focus from their primary missions which may have nothing to do with social inclusion. In short: any effort to leverage volunteering as a path to greater social cohesion has to include money to pay for training of those in charge of volunteering engagement at various agencies. Otherwise, such efforts will, every likely, be doomed to failure.

Also see:

Managers of volunteers & resistance to diversity – my blog about comments that are generated when a discussion breaks out about diversifying volunteering ranks.

This lesson plan from the University of Nebraska Extension office, “Engaging Intergenerational Volunteers“, offers practical tips on having volunteers from a variety of age groups working together, as does this how-to guide from Bridges Together.

The Victoria Volunteering Portal (Australia) offers an excellent free guide on encouraging diversity among volunteer ranks.

I also offer my own free guide on Recruiting Local Volunteers To Increase Diversity Among the Ranks.

Addressing criticism, misinformation & hate speech online

angryjayneEvery program, agency or individual will face criticism online. Every organization and person will have to address misinformation online as well. We have always lived in a world of criticism, hate speech and misinformation – with the Internet, that speech can be instantly widespread.

No matter how large or small your nonprofit, NGO or government program is, your communications staff needs to be ready to address criticism and misinformation – and worse – online. Here are five resources, some by me, that can help:

  • How to Handle Online Criticism / Conflict. Online criticism of a nonprofit organization, even by its own supporters, is inevitable. It may be about an organization’s new logo or new mission statement, the lack of parking, or that the volunteer orientation being too long. It may be substantial questions regarding an organization’s business practices and perceived lack of transparency. How a nonprofit organization handles online criticism speaks volumes about that organization, for weeks, months, and maybe even years to come. There’s no way to avoid it, but there are ways to address criticism that can help an organization to be perceived as even more trustworthy and worth supporting.
  • Recommendations for UN & UNDP in Ukraine to use Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and Other Social Media to Promote Reconciliation, Social Inclusion, & Peace-Building in Ukraine (PDF). This is a draft document I submitted to UNDP Ukraine just before I left Kyiv in October 2014, having completed my term there as a “Surge” Communications Advisor. This draft document offers considerations and recommendations for social media messaging that promotes reconciliation, social inclusion, and peace-building in Ukraine. It provides ideas for messaging related to promoting tolerance, respect and reconciliation in the country, and messaging to counter bigotry, prejudice, inequality, misperceptions and misconceptions about a particular group of people or different people among Ukrainians as a whole.
  • UNESCO’s Countering Online Hate Speech, a free publication from UNESCO (pdf), spends most of its time talking about what is and isn’t hate speech, but does have some good information about countering hate speech and misinformation, without censorship, in the chapter “Analysing Social Responses”, specifically the sections on Monitoring and discussing hate speech, Mobilizing civil society, Countering online hate speech through media and information literacy, Citizenship education and digital citizenship, Education as a tool against hate speech, Development of critical skills to counteract hate speech online, Educational goals of media and information literacy to respond to hate speech, and Assessing media and information literacy and education initiatives (pages 33-41, and 46-52).
  • I have also been gathering and sharing examples for a few years now of how folklore, rumors and urban myths interfere with development and aid/relief efforts, as well as recommendations on preventing or responding to such.
  • List of my blogs related to conflict, free speech, reconciliation, etc. – my blogs that talk about conflict, extremism, extremists, hate speech, words, offensive, offended, hating, haters, reconciliation, toleration, free speech, apologies and inclusion.

On behalf of a Forest Grove family

I am working with the family of the student that instigated the “Build a Wall” banner incident at Forest Grove High School yesterday. On my blog, I am sharing the apology letter from the student that was emailed earlier today to the main address of Forest Grove High School. It was addressed to:

Ms. Karen O’Neill
Ms. Tami Erion
Mr. Brian Burke
Mr. Doug Thompson
Ms. Yvonne Curtis

 

I am sharing it here on my professional blog because the family urgently wants this apology to get to the community. It is being shared with their permission.

Again, this content is from the letter student to Forest Grove high school earlier today, and these are the words and sentiments of that student:

Dear Forest Grove and Cornelius Community,

On May 18th, I hung a banner in Forest Grove High School that said, “Build a Wall.” I don’t actually believe that a wall needs to be built along our border. I wanted to do something provocative to protest what I see as restrictions on freedom of speech. I was feeling like people weren’t open to discuss  sensitive issues, because no matter what is said, no matter what words I used, someone says, “That’s offensive!” I was angry, and I thought this would be a great way to express my belief in freedom of speech.

But I now understand that I chose a really bad place and way of expressing my belief on free speech. In trying to be noticeable, I used a message that held a strong, threatening connotation. I did not see that it was as strong or as negative as it was – but now I do. I understand now why it is being called racist and that I’ve made some students feel they and their families are not wanted at Forest Grove High School. That was never my intention.

I am truly sorry for anyone that I have hurt. Because my words did hurt – I understand that now. I will think more carefully in the future about my words and my actions. I still passionately believe in freedom of speech, but I also understand that just because it’s legal to do something doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.

I will work to learn about other cultures and how different people perceive different messages. I am going to learn much more about the issues of immigrants in the USA, especially Forest Grove, and learn about why they have come, what their life is like, the challenges they face and how they improve this community.

I may be present at the walkout that I have heard is happening later today. I may not. I haven’t decided yet. I haven’t decided yet what’s best for the school, and what I should do regarding my participation. And to anyone that would like to have a formal and sincere conversation accompanied by a verbal apology I would like to make myself available.

I would sincerely ask that people not threaten violence, or engage in violence, over this incident. As students yelled and drove by my home today, I was scared not for myself, but for my family. I love my family very much – a family I have disappointed and that did not raise me this way – and I want them to be safe.

I am withholding the student’s name, but it is known to all school administrators. The family will be working with others to explore ways to further educate this family member, and all their children, about the consequences of words and actions, about racism, and about community responsibilities. Respectful, meaningful suggestions for this family regarding such action are welcomed in the comments section of this blog.

This blog was originally posted at 12:39 p.m. on May 19, 2016. This edit is from 4:34 p.m.:

I did not write the letter. The student wrote the letter. I did edit the first draft of the letter regarding grammar, and later, encouraged him to add some sentences based on things I heard him saying verbally in discussions with his family I was able to observe. The words are all his.

For the press: if you want to confirm that this is the content of the letter that was sent to the school, please call the school – they will confirm for you.

This edit  was posted on May 26, 2016 at 9 a.m.:

For folks that want to understand the many circumstances that lead up to this banner being put up and to the protest in Forest Grove on May 19, 2016, there are three media stories that, altogether, provide a good overview of how complicated the issues and feelings in Forest Grove are:

Unlikely allies agree hurtful language cuts both ways

Trump supporters feel the hate

Student protests about more than just a banner

And on a related note is this article about a commencement speaker at California State Fullerton getting booed. What I like about it is that students on both sides of the issue are interviewed.

Using social media to promote respect, tolerance, reconciliation?

The Center for Disease Control in the USA uses a special Twitter account, @CDCSTD, to help people” to be safer and healthier by the prevention of STDs and their complications.”

The initiative @EverydaySexism uses Twitter to create awareness about the every day harassment and sexism that women experience. This organization does this both via its own tweets and using this hashtag, #everydaysexism, which they encourage others to use with their own tweets; they monitor use of this hastag and, often, retweet messages using it.

These are two examples of organizations using social media – Twitter, specifically – as a part of their program delivery. They aren’t using Twitter to point to a press release or provide updates on programs; Twitter IS the program delivery or, at least, part of it.

I’m looking for examples of organizations using Twitter, Facebook, even just simple, old-fashioned text messaging, to promote:

  • tolerance
  • respect
  • reconciliation

And to counter:

  • bigotry
  • prejudice
  • inequality
  • misperceptions and misconceptions about a particular group of people or different people

I’m not looking for just organizations that are promoting tolerance, respect or reconciliation among different groups; I’m looking for examples on Twitter or Facebook of organizations actually using social media as a way to build tolerance, respect and/or reconciliation – they are sending out messages that somehow encourage two groups that have previously been or are currently in conflict to respect each other, for instance.

I’m going to be gobsmacked if some organization somewhere in the world isn’t trying this…

Reconciliation

I need a better word than reconciliation.

It’s become a loaded term, a political term, an undesirable term. To many, it means appeasement to an oppressor or abuser. It means to relinquish any demands for justice for atrocities committed. It’s not a word most people want to think about during the heat of conflict or in the immediate aftermath of such.

What reconciliation is supposed to mean is peacefully co-existing with those with whom you have been in conflict, and laying those conflicts aside. It is an acceptance of the past, without agreeing with it, and a mutual understanding that, in the future, there will be reciprocated respect and cooperation.

Even when one group militarily defeats another, many of us expect reconciliation, as happened with the Allies and Axis countries after World War II (a war many believe was caused because of the lack of reconciliation and, rather, the focus on punishment, after World War I). Isn’t reconciliation the 21st Century goal for every conflict now, whether in the Middle East or Ferguson, Missouri? Yet, to say the word in regard to the eventual resolution of conflict – and all conflict must resolve at some point, even if only because one runs out of ammunition and funding – can produce immediate resistance, an utter dismissal of the idea. You don’t get a too soon! response, you get a NEVER response.

But what is the alternative to resolutionI don’t think there is one. At least not one we can live with.

The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) is a non-governmental organization and think tank in South Africa. It was forged out of the country’s now legendary Truth and Reconciliation process in 2000. It’s allowed South Africa to move forward in a way I never dreamed I would see in my lifetime. South Africa has so, so far to go, so many massive challenges, many of which make my stomach churn. Yet… what would have been the alternative to attempting even this incomplete reconciliation?

Reconciliation is an ongoing process. For many countries – for many individual people, for just their own daily relationships – it’s a never-ending process. It’s a constant struggle. Rarely do you hear of a person that has completely reconciled with an abuser or oppressor, with someone that has done a grave injustice to that person. Rarely do you hear of two formerly-warring factions, or two populations – one the oppressor, one the oppressed – that have achieved complete reconciliation. You hear that they are still struggling, still debating, still trying to respect and understand, still bristling at the lack of respect and understanding. But even just that ongoing process, that struggle – isn’t that what we should strive to reach after every conflict, whether its a civil war, a war between two countries, or a divorce following a horrific marriage?

I need a better word than reconciliation.

Further reading:

From Resolution to Reconciliation in Postconflict Societies, by Daniel Bar-Tal, in World Politics Review (you get the full article for free if you’ve never visited the site before, so be sure to download it and read it offline, because after a few days, it goes away and asks for a subscription – and if I could afford to subscribe, I would).

Reconciliation After Violent Conflict: A Handbook, from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance 2003, available from the United Nations web site.