So what does Goodman really want?

I know that's the question going through the minds of so many. Some of you call me. Some write me offline. The burning question seems to be, "Well, what in the world does this guy want?!"

The answer is plainly and emphatically DIALOGUE.

I had the opportunity of sitting in on a diversity seminar at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy at Princeton University in early September. Many of those Master's level students have plans to work in government as elected officials and policy makers. It is important for them to respect and celebrate diversity. Irrespective of their own heritage, they must represent the needs of ALL in their careers.

The presenters helped us throughout the day come to terms with the need to understand each other through dialogue.

One reason we need dialogue is that a variety of perspectives inform relevant and responsible choices. The choices you eventually make are better after you have brought more people's ideas and views into the discussion than your own. My high school choir director, Gwen Foster, was famous for saying "All of us are smarter than any one of us."

I am certainly not the paragon of perfection on this, but we are going through a process of dialogue at my church. We are stretching it out over five Sabbath afternoons. Some folk have said to me, "Just tell us what you want and let's see if it works." No way! We all need to wrestle with this thing. While I have the vision, it only gains clarity in dialogue with all stakeholders.

When administrators set themselves up to act, even with the best of intentions, on behalf of everybody, they limit the outcome by failing to engage in true dialogue.

Dialogue helps us put ourselves in others' shoes. Administrators have to reprioritize. When we are too busy to facilitate dialogue with those we lead, we are too busy. In order for an organization to be healthy, administrators must remember that everyone has a voice.

The facilitators pointed out that those who lead must be willing to slow down and take the time to create an environment where others feel comfortable to safely express their ideas and opinions.

Administrators don't have all the answers. Members don't have all the answers. Neither do pastors have all the answers! However, we can all learn from each other. Michael Broom says "Differences are the only source of learning we have. Neither you nor I can learn much at all from a room full of people who think the same or have the same opinions and background as we do. Only if someone arrives who is different will we have any opportunity for learning."

This is a flaw of our system. Those who serve at the "highest" levels of our church are career administrators often only in dialogue with other career administrators. When a person gets to be a GC VP, he or she has been in the corporate structure of the church for decades far removed from the place where individuals meet our Lord and learn of Him.

So what did the facilitators of that diversity seminar recommend? The Aikido Model of Awareness, Dialogue, and Action. I'd like to see us really spend some workers meetings with professional facilitators applying this model.

How do I label myself? What values do I find important? Do I judge or discriminate? Do I view everybody equally? Do I treat everybody equally? Why or why not? These are questions that we must ask ourselves to ground ourselves.

After becoming aware of our own stance we then engage in dialogue with the other. The goal of this second step of the Aikido model is simply to understand the other. We don't have to agree. Neither is it our aim to disagree. We just need to understand each other. In the dialogue phase we ask each other open-ended questions.In the end, the more I understand you, the wealthier I become.

It is only after dialogue that we can move to action.

That's what I want -- I would like to see true dialogue happening in our work. Administrators should cease and desist from taking actions on behalf of their workers without truly engaging them in dialogue. As a part of the team, each worker, each member has a voice. All of us are busy, but if we're going to win as a team, we need to huddle AND DIALOGUE. Everybody doesn't fit into the same mold. Each preacher is different. Our churches are different. Our cities are different. Our needs are different. I want dialogue because dialogue will allow us to collaborate and explore possibilities that none of us could dream of on our own as individuals.

Some of the concepts in this note were taken from CARE Ethiopia L'andafta Newsletter, Issue 33, October 2010.


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