The Importance of Constructive Conversations

Symbol and shape of heart created from hands.The concept of unity, cooperation, partnership, teamwork and charity.

For the last several weeks I have had the honor of engaging in what we originally dubbed Virtual Check-Ins with my friend and colleague Suzanne O’Connor, Senior Advocate for Trauma Informed Care at United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.

Every Friday those who have participated in courses provided by Lakeside Global Institute (LGI) have the opportunity to hear some helpful reviews of key LGI concepts. Using the Zoom platform, we reach between 40 and 90 people live and there are many others who play the recordings of each episode.

When the world’s attention shifted from a focus on the pandemic to the recognition of generations of racial injustice after the murder of George Floyd, we decided to shift from our Virtual Check-Ins to what we call Constructive Conversations.  Taking a lesson from ABC’s The View, Suzanne and I invited two of our LGI trainers and supervisors to join us. Together we focus on key aspects of the current crisis around racism and social injustice and discuss our responses, questions and concerns. We invite our attendees to use both the chat feature and to unmute their microphones to join in the conversation.

Laptop screen webcam view diverse people engaged in group video call

We were very intentional in choosing this title. In times when there are so many negative, blaming, attaching and sometimes highly toxic conversations, we wanted to stress how important it is to be able to exchange ideas, perspectives and viewpoints. The goals are to provide a safe and respectful forum for sharing these in the hope we can broaden our awareness and understanding of what is happening and how we can try to make sense of it.

My encouragement to readers of this blog is to participate in your own constructive conversations. Hopefully you can have important dialogues with others to enhance and enrich your awareness and understanding of what is happening. We need to look at what history can help us learn, to understand how deep and wide the issue of racism and social injustice is and how we each can do our part to explore the changes that are so clearly needed.

We need to maintain respect for the opinions and perspectives of others. We need to be diligent in doing our research, in being careful consumers and critical thinkers, making sure that our resources and those used by others are credible and based on facts.

This also is an amazing opportunity to model for the children in our lives how we can be civil even when we don’t see eye to eye, and that we need to be in dialogue with each other to support greater clarity and to inspire action.

It can be an easier choice to turn away and not have our own constructive conversations. Our brains greatly resist change. Some of us may not want to see the truths about how non-whites, especially those who identify as Blacks, have been treated for hundreds of years because the realities are heartbreaking, sickening and morally wrong. We may struggle to explain to our children the many racial biases that have led to so many losses in the lives of people of color. We can use constructive conversations to model how we need to explore the facts and face the injustices with a resolve to make the changes that are needed.

In the words of Eldridge Cleaver, writer and political activist in the 60’s; “There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem,”

Having constructive conversations is one way we can all participate in addressing the many issues that have been brought to light and can help us find meaningful ways to take responsibility for what needs to change. 

Invitation for Reflection

  1. Consider recent conversations you have had with others around the current focus on racism and implicit biases. To what extent would you consider them to be constructive?  What made them more or less constructive? Are there things you wished you had said but held back for fear of contradicting or offending someone?  
  2. Consider ways you can be intentional about having more constructive conversations with others, including the children in your life, other family members, friends, colleagues and even those you know who hold opposing viewpoints.

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Lakeside Global Institute