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  • Writer's picturethewaywelead

Setting Ground Rules (Or Agreements) For Talking About Allyship

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

Street art installation that reads, "don't be mean."
Photo by Ashley Whitlatch

It’s easy to forget how different our expectations can be for one another. Our upbringing, values, and environment all play a huge role in the expectations we set for ourselves and others. Setting clear expectations when discussing topics related to identity, race, power, privilege, and allyship are just as important as the limits you might set when building relationships. Because we all have varying perspectives, it’s important that we as a community make sure our expectations of each other are clearly outlined. We like to call these “agreements”, but you can also think of them as ground rules. When we all agree to follow the same ground rules, we can better hold each other accountable.

Usually these agreements would be made together as a group. Everyone would have a say in what the community ground rules should be and discuss the ones they disagree with. That way everyone is more likely to accept those agreements rather than feeling like they were forced upon them. In our case, since it’s nearly impossible to facilitate this conversation with all of you, we are starting off with the five key agreements that we have used to make our relationship stronger. We are sure these agreements will evolve overtime, but our hope is that these will give us a foundation to grow from.

These are our community ground rules for TWWL:

Believe best intentions first, while recognizing impact.

We won’t always get it right. We may slip up, use the wrong word, neglect to mention a pertinent group, or may reveal an unconscious bias (we all have them). But please assume positive intent in these conversations. We recognize that we aren’t perfect. We are here to learn and grow so please give us room to do so.

That being said, there is an important difference between intent and impact. Just because we didn't mean to hurt someone with what we said, doesn't negate the fact that the harm may have been done. The East Bay Meditation group said it well in their agreements, "denying the impact of something said by focusing on intent is often more destructive than the initial interaction." We will do our best to acknowledge and rectify harm, regardless of whether it was intended or not.

Listen to understand, rather than listening to respond.

We use this in our marriage every day. It's important to listen even if it hurts. We don’t mean that you have to listen to our podcast if it’s hurting you or triggering a trauma (we hope that won't happen). When a topic comes up that makes you uncomfortable, upset or even angry, we ask that you first lean into it and try to uncover the message or intent behind the words being said. Rather than immediately correcting someone's language or waiting for your turn to react, listen harder and reflect on why a topic makes you feel a certain way.

Use “I-statements”.

When sharing an opinion on a subject, we want to hear your direct and personal experience. Its good to know and discuss systems of oppression and theories (we both studied them in college), but help us understand your story, how that makes you feel and why you feel that way. This also means that when I speak of my experience, it’s my own and not meant to represent or speak for my entire community.

Share concerns in a way that helps us grow closer together rather than pushing us further apart.

Inevitably, when you disagree with us on a subject, we will want to hear and understand your perspective. In order to do that, we ask that you share your feedback using language that will help us grow. Be kind in your delivery, share with positive outcomes in mind and assume that we want to grow with you (back to #1). We may not always agree in the end, but we can mindfully agree to disagree once we have all of the information in front of us.

Respect one another:

It takes a lot of vulnerability to ask a question or share about these topics. Please engage respectfully with one another on all platforms, social media and in the real world. That means respecting us (your hosts), our guests, and those who share their opinions and comments on the podcast. Statements of hate, personal attacks, and verbal or physical threats are not welcome here and will be removed if necessary.

So what is our ask of you?

First, we ask that you help keep us and our guests accountable to following these rules. As you listen in, if you hear us straying from these agreements, please feel free to email us or send in a voice memo calling us out.

Second, we ask that you all follow these agreements in how you interact with us and your fellow listeners in your comments and submissions.

And finally, we reserve the right to make changes to these guidelines. Who we are today, likely won’t be who we are tomorrow. As we go through this journey to become better allies, we will actively revisit, adapt or add to these agreements.

Do you have other agreements in mind that would be helpful for fostering meaningful conversation around these topics? Share your thoughts and recommendations with us in the comments below!


Donate to City At Peace!

Listen to Episode 2 for the full backstory about where we first learned these tools in an after-school program called, "City at Peace," (now nationally known as The Possibility Project).

Think more young people should get the chance to learn to authentically collaborate, act, think, communicate, and solve challenges through non-violence? So do we! Please consider donating to City at Peace through the Atlast Performing Arts Center in D.C.

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