Inclusive Community Building:Is it Safe?

The blog this week was written by Deborah Warfield, Community Broker at The Arcadia Institute. "In skating over thin ice our safety is in our speed. " Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Arcadia Institute works hard to identify, create and maintain environments that are safe for all. Last week Jennifer referred to the value of talking and the role that taking time to insure that others are hearing and being heard. This makes all the difference in the world regarding authentic work towards enlisting and enrolling community members who are striving for a more beloved community.

One of the first and foremost skills that any communicator, seeking to be understood, should have is the capacity to create a safe environment for their conversations. Safety or the lack thereof make or break a learning atmosphere. Being safe requires introspection. Each communicator must be willing to take the time to truly think before they speak. Be conscious of their audience. Take into account factors of diversity. Weigh the desire and urge to be right over the urge to understand and be understood.

Each of us can attest to the fact that when we don’t feel safe we don’t participate fully. We move into protection mode and often check out of the discussion. Others may opt to shift into defense mode and discussions go left in the impending tug of war that often ensues between the offended and the offender.

In the work we do as Community Brokers safety is everything. If we do not facilitate safety at the onset of the process, the process ends up aborting itself.

There are many challenges associated with creating safety that may include:

1. Adjusting the pace of your conversation.

2. Opening up to alternative ways of communicating.

3. Examining your values and their history and origin.

4. Being conscious of the role that power plays in communication.

5. Periodically checking in to make sure folks have not checked out.

6. Thoughtfully responding rather than overreacting to “different”.

7. Mature enough to admit ignorance and inadequacies.

8. Taking time to develop trust.

As we at The Arcadia Institute move among our community members, organizations and partners, our ability to achieve our measurable goals can only happen in safety.

The benefits of the time taken to ask yourself along the way, is it safe? far outweighs the risks and challenges of creating safe spaces for authentic inclusion across the board to occur and reoccur over and over again.

Factor the role that safety plays in achieving the following outcomes for successful community participation:

Choices – An individual will make choices about matters that affect his/her life.

Various Environments – An individual will experience participation in a variety of community environments in the same manner as people without disabilities.

Relationships – An individual will have opportunities to develop a network of relationships that ranges from the more intimate to the more casual, everyday interactions.

Competencies – An individual will gain the competencies necessary to participate in community life.

Respect – An individual will gain respect from others and enhance self-respect.

Contributions – An individual will add value to the common life of all citizens by making contributions that are valued and that would require someone else to do them if he/she did not make those contributions

Daily newspaper, radio and television headlines provide examples of a world that struggles daily with the issues of safety. Imagine how magnified that becomes for persons with disabilities.

It is our honor and privilege to be part of an organization within such a great community that prioritizes safety as vitally important to both our growth and our sustainability.

Next time you find yourself attempting to facilitate change, ask yourself the question. Is it safe?