Taking a Stand vs. Taking a Stance
“A stand is a brave, bold commitment that creates an energetic environment from which we can act.”
Humanitarian Lynne Twist introduced me to a key distinction long ago that has stayed with me: the difference between taking a stand and taking a position.
Lynne explained that “when you take a position, it always calls up its opposition.” Taking a position is important and can move things forward, but to continue to progress one must be in a position to keep moving it to the next position. By contrast, she explained, a stand is not a point of view, but rather “a place where you have vision. A stand honors all points of view, allows them to exist and lets them be heard.”
She went on to describe a stand as the domain of distinction that distinguishes Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and César Chàvez, stand-takers who ultimately changed the course of history. In her definition, a stand is a brave, bold commitment that creates an energetic environment from which we can act. Taking a stand enables us to become instruments of change and to use our lives in ways that matter.
In July 2020, Nebo published the Stand for Justice. Since then, we have been translating our stand into learning and action. Beginning with a staff retreat in July to examine our company culture, we also have been defining the competencies and skill sets needed by leaders and coach-facilitators to support inclusive, equitable conversations and outcomes. We are exploring how our Stand shapes our company, our approach to our work and our community. This work is humbling, calling for us to be vulnerable and real with one another as we find our footing, but it is also deeply rewarding to begin this journey of learning and growing together.
In the spirit of sharing, and accountability for progress, I’d like to share a few insights from the work so far:
1. People are in different places on the diversity, equity and inclusion learning path.
Even in a room of committed, well-intended people, not everyone has the same distinctions about identity and equity, or the same perspectives about the current context. As a society, we have not yet come to a common understanding about the implications of structural and systemic racism in our country’s history. We must begin by creating a baseline understanding and body of knowledge from which people can move together. Those who lead and facilitate must expect this challenge and encourage people in the learning process–inviting and welcoming people into the learning with compassion–allowing their starting point to be a good place to begin.
2. Creating a more just, harmonious and equitable world requires each of us to begin by doing our own “work.”
There are no shortcuts. By committing to actively reading, listening, participating in courageous conversations and engaging in learning, we prepare ourselves to participate in positive change rather than being spectators to someone else’s process. Doing one’s own work is a requirement for leaders and managers today. We must equip ourselves for greater cultural competence and fluency in the distinctions needed to lead a diverse workplace.
3. To talk about racial justice and equity, as well as other dimensions of difference, we must build a new vocabulary.
Leadership occurs through conversation; communication is how we enlist others and move to action. The national conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion is limited by the lack of a familiar, shared vocabulary and set of terms that people from all backgrounds can use with confidence to talk about disparities, injustice, racism and other -isms, and oppression. For greater justice, unity and understanding, we must continue work together in our communities and organizations to learn, and practice, the words, phrases and concepts that are most inclusive, expressive, accurate and constructive.
4. Transforming a culture requires a systemic approach.
Organizations and communities who are serious about developing a culture where all people feel that they belong must take a systemic approach over time, not just a programmatic one. Workshops alone may “check the box” as an action step, but without review of policies and organizational systems that shape employee experience, these programs awaken awareness without creating conditions that support lasting change.
2020 has been a difficult year of disruption, yet it has also created conditions that make transformative change possible. We are grateful for the chance to be part of building a future that is not like the past. This endeavor belongs to all of us, and we look forward to contributing to the paradigm shift that is underway.