1. It is impossible to do anything which will not offend or negatively impact someone 100% of the time, because largely we can’t always plan for the way others will interpret what we do. Instead of hunkering down to avoid conflict, there are two options:
• You can boldly mean what you intend to mean and see what happens. When and if something happens you can be prepared ahead of time to just listen. You knew there was a possibility so no need to get defensive. Boldly stand with your choices and listen for impact.
• Think outside yourself and see what you might be doing that really isn’t thoughtful. You may think you are being inclusive, but you may not really know what you are doing for others. This brings us to the next piece.
2. Often, we don’t notice our own perspective and that is why when something is challenged we get defensive. When surprised, you may even feel guilty or ashamed you hadn’t previously noticed whatever it is which surprised you. Chances are you have shared a venue with another event at some point. It can be comical to have professionals navigating the morning coffee line with pre-teen beauty pageant contestants and their stage mothers. Dance competition sequins and pashminas for arctic breakout rooms can coexist and even tolerate each other inside of a venue, and this is a great reminder of what our perspective is as it clashes with another. Christmas red and green (to represent holly bushes and berries) often exists with Hanukah blue (representing equilibrium between the sky and the sea) largely because it is winter in the northern hemisphere, not because these holidays have the same weight.
Jazz dancing toddlers, stage parents, and members of the jack hammer lawyers association can occur at the same time, but they don’t include everyone.
3. Tis the season for some holidays, but not all. Several important holidays in many faiths and cultures occur in the same geographical context and even similar times of the year. Christmas and the Christian based calendar of holidays dominate US Culture. Yet, there are lots of other practices and belief systems. You just may not know about them. Passover, Ramadan, Solstice, Navaratri/Dassehra, Diwali, Holi, Purim, etc., are just a few examples of other celebrations that carry the weight of Christmas, but occur at different times of the year. No, neither you nor anyone is expected to know everything about everything. Instead of worrying about “killing Christmas,” ask what other high holidays should be taken into account during your planning. It is important to plan ahead for what you don’t know.
4. Ask yourself when planning and decorating, or landing on a theme, if you are meaning what you think you are meaning. If there is something someone else can see or interpret, take responsibility for it and stick to your guns or come up with a new idea. Once, when planning a conference, we designed a logo of a mountain with a snowy cap. We spent hours on the right hue of purple we were going to use, and we were mostly in love with the final product, and some in love with being done with the project when a straggler from a meeting in the room before us glanced at the logo and asked if we were doing something for breast cancer. She saw a boob. There was no argument that we could find to move forward with Boob Mountain, so we started over. Outside perspectives can help you with the planning, if you are open to hearing it.
5. Ask your team what this time of year means to them. Are there other times of the year these elements are meaningful too? Or instead of right now? Listen and decide how to honor everyone on your team when the timing is right.
Being prepared for unexpected complications allows you to plan ahead, ask questions, and seek out the unknown. When confronted with something this becomes a gift instead of an attack. It is also important to think about food choices, schedules, etc., and what your participants may need at any given time, which you may not be thinking about or familiar with. Questions work! Asking them is even better. Really wanna ‘take the cake?’ Listen for answers. We all want to feel included and share joy with one another, and surprise, we do that in different ways, at different times, for different reasons.
Go ahead, deck your halls! See if you can create a similar space of celebration at different times of the year when community and revelry have meaning for others as well. Oh, and one more tip, don’t assume everyone knows why practices are done, even dominant cultured traditions, feel free to explain, learn, teach, and engage across differences. Remember, your work matters.
Go ahead and ask,
Wanna ask Jess a question? Good she wants to answer them! Text (202) 670-4262 or email her at Jess@GoodEnoughNow.com and she will get back to you ASAP. All questions will be responded to, with some used to inform potential future articles.
Jessica Pettitt, M.Ed., pulls together her stand up comedy years with 15+ years of diversity trainings in a wide range of organizations to serve groups in moving from abstract fears to actionable habits that lead to teams who want to work together. With a sense of belonging and understanding, colleagues take more risks with their idealization, conserve precious resources through collaboration, and maintain real connections with clients over time.