Last night we hosted Awkward Conversations with Mosaic City as a part of the 2014 Spirit and Place Festival. Our hope was to bring people together in a welcoming space to have real conversations about hard stuff. You know, those not-so-simple things like race, culture, sexuality, gender, the times we’ve felt or have been treated differently than we’d like to be.
Honestly, we weren’t sure how many people would show up. But when the published event time arrived, there was a full house in the Phoenix Theatre‘s basement. And more people just kept coming through the doors.
For the first piece of event we asked for volunteers. In no time at all we had a stage full of people game for whatever was in store, and we began a privilege exercise–a series of questions not directly about race, gender, or sexual preference, but about ways we’ve been treated and experiences we’ve had such as: positive reinforcement from parents; exposure to the arts as a kid; interactions with others in work and educational environments.
Things that are deeply a part of who we are and the way we approach the world, but things most of us probably don’t think about all that often.
After the exercise, the floor opened for reactions, and we knew then that there would be no shortage of conversation in the hour ahead. The group of volunteers took their seats and another group came forward.
While we had intentionally invited this second group ahead of time to be our conversation starters, we had no idea what they were going to share.
What followed was good and hard. We heard things that were sobering and things that made us laugh. And yes, there were parts that you might’ve been inclined to call awkward.
But we learned, and we hope others did, too.
As a group we disagreed on and discussed and mostly came to terms with some better ways for us to interact with differences in ourselves and with those we meet.
Of course, we didn’t completely solve anything in those two hours, but here are a few of our own takeaways:
- We need to be aware that even the most well-intended question may be disruptive. Example: Where are you from? can be a totally loaded question.
- When you’re meeting someone new, ask questions that allow them more control in the conversation. Example: Tell me about yourself.
- Assuming you’re the smartest, most-experienced person will never get you as far as an open heart and honest desire to understand and appreciate people.
- Listening is better than talking.
Anyway, it’s safe to say we’re infinitely grateful to everyone who joined us and definitely believe there’s more conversation to come.