1. Personal Processing
Personal processing is about taking time to connect with ourselves – to reflect on who we are, how we act, and how we relate to others and the world around us. Using a range of activities, this module seeks to provide opportunities to better understand ourselves by thinking about our identity, our relationship to society, our learnt biases, and our needs.
- Deep Reflection: Understanding Ourselves and Understanding Others
- What Happens In Our Brain When Our Views Are Challenged?
- Power & Privilege
- Reflecting on Identity Privilege
- Personal Visioning
- Building Courage
- Understanding Emotions
- Active Listening
Why Personal Processing?
Before working to transform our local communities and connecting with others, we think it is really important to start with ourselves. We are all shaped by our experiences, by the society in which we live and by our identity, the features of which we may choose for ourselves or have placed upon us by society. We, subsequently, engage with the world in a way that is unique and specific to us: objectivity does not exist. The more time we, therefore, take for reflection and for understanding ourselves and the complexity of our stories and identities, the more we will understand and empathise with others.
This process of turning the dialogue inwards will also provide opportunities for us to examine and challenge our biases. Only by critically questioning why we think what we do and why we act how we do, will we be able to hold ourselves to account when we make judgements on others. Such critical reflection can transform the way that we communicate with everyone, particularly those who we regard as different.
Moreover, taking time to understand ourselves will enable us to consider and respond to our feelings and needs. Sometimes it is difficult to listen to ourselves and to acknowledge our needs, but it is vital if we are going to create a sustainable society based on compassion - we need to look after ourselves to avoid burnout and to be able to care for others.
By engaging in personal processing, we can strengthen our ability to build genuine connections with the people we encounter, can make space for ourselves and our needs, and can ultimately grow as people.
Deep Reflection: Understanding Ourselves and Understanding Others
The activities outlined below have all been selected to help initiate a process of self-reflection and understanding.These activities have been adapted from teaching resources created by the educational charity, Facing History and Ourselves. They have been placed in a suggested order, though it is down to each individual to design their journey of self-discovery.
- Reflect on Identity and Values
- Consider Single Stories and Stereotypes
- Acknowledge and Challenge Assumptions
To transform our communities, we must engage with others, but first we must engage with ourselves.
Reflect on Identity and Values
The activities in this section are adapted from the following Facing History and Ourselves’ resources: Teaching Strategy: Identity Charts.
Before we enter into dialogue with others we should be asking ourselves: “Who am I? How does my identity impact my ability to communicate with and listen to others?”. The following activities will help create a foundation for such reflection.
- On a piece of paper, note down a response to the question, Who am I? You might choose to list words or phrases that you, or others, might use to describe yourself.
- Create an Identity Chart.
Draw a circle in the middle of a page and write your name in it. Then draw arrows pointing out from the circle and note down the combination of things that make you who you are (like a mindmap or a brainstorm, see an example here).
Use the following list to assist you, if desired:
- Role in Family
- Profession / Skills
- Hobbies / Interests
- Background / Upbringing
- Heritage / Nationality
- Colour you have been racialised as
- Physical Characteristics
- Beliefs / Religion
If applicable, identify features on your identity chart that:
- You have felt proud of
- You have felt ashamed of
- Others find surprising
- Are central to who you are
- Are labels that others have put upon you
- Have changed over time
Consider the following questions:
Some aspects of our identities change over our lifetimes as we grow up and get new skills or new interests.
- What does this tell us about the concept of identity?
- Why is it important to keep this in mind when we are interacting with others?
Some aspects of our identity feel very central to who we are.
- Why is it important to be aware of this when interacting with others?
- What is the relationship between aspects of your identity and your values?
Some aspects of our identity are labels that others put upon us, but which we do not agree with.
- What labels have others put on you? How have they made you feel?
- Why do you think people put labels on others?
- What are the consequences of such labelling?
Consider “Single Stories” and Stereotypes
The activities in this section are adapted from the following Facing History and Ourselves’ resource: The Danger of a Single Story.
- Watch Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk The Danger of a Single Story
- Create an identity chart for Chimamanda Adichie.
- Which labels on the chart represent how she sees her own identity?
- Which ones represent how some others view her?
- Consider the following questions:
What does Adichie mean by a “single story”?
- What examples does she give?
- Why does she believe “single stories” are dangerous?
- What does she say the relationship between “single stories” and stereotypes is?
Is there a single story that others often use to define you?
- What is this single story?
- What impact does it have / has it had on you?
Can you think of other examples of “single stories” that may be part of your own worldview?
- Where do those “single stories” come from?
- How can we find a “balance of stories”?
Acknowledge and Challenge Assumptions
The activities in this section are adapted from the following Facing History and Ourselves’ resource: Challenging Assumptions with Curiosity.
- Respond to the following questions:
Based on your identity, what assumptions do you think people might make about you?
What questions could someone who holds such assumptions about you ask you to better understand your values and perspective?
If applicable, think about one assumption that someone has made about you
- What was this assumption?
- How did this assumption make you feel?
- What were the consequences of this assumption being made?
If applicable, think about one assumption you have made about someone else?
- What was this assumption?
- What prompted you to make it?
- What were the consequences of making this assumption?
- Watch this video on how the night unfolded as the UK left the EU, which has interviews with people who hold different beliefs and opinions about Brexit. Then respond to the following questions:
About which person in the video do you have the most positive assumptions?
- What about them do you think creates these positive assumptions? (Consider race, gender, clothing, style of talking, accent, opinions, and other factors.)
- What questions might you ask this person to better understand their values and perspective?
About which person in the video do you have the most negative assumptions?
- What about them do you think creates these negative assumptions? (Consider race, gender, clothing, style of talking, accent, opinions, and other factors.)
- What questions might you ask this person to better understand their values and perspective?
Sit in a public place for at least 30 minutes and observe the people around you. Notice the assumptions you make. Record these assumptions and what you think led you to make them. (The person’s clothing? Their age? Their gender? Their body language?) Then, record questions you’d like to ask this person to better inform your perception of them.
COVID-19 adaptation: If you are in quarantine or isolation, consider the assumptions you make about people you speak to, read about or watch on TV throughout the day.
What Happens In Our Brain When Our Views Are Challenged?
Everyone has had a conversation with someone who shares distinctly different views and has left it feeling frustrated, as if there has been breakdown in communication and there is nothing we can do to make the other person understand our perspective. This conflict is more likely to appear when the discussions centre on topics that we really care about, and that we view as connected to our identity.
To help temper future conflict around the communication of strongly held opinions and beliefs, it is important to understand what is going on in our brain:
- Until adolescence, our brain works like a flexible sponge, absorbing information in our external environment to better understand the world and our position in it.
- At some point in adolescence, the brain changes tack, its role shifts from sponge to defender, and it now gives dominance to the internal environment: what we think and believe.
- From this point onwards, if we encounter information that challenges our worldview or a central tenet of our identity, we become defensive and our brains go into flight or flight mode, in the same way they would if we were physically under attack.
- This is due to the fact that we have set ideas about who we are, what we are like and what we believe – in effect, our identity has become ‘fixed’. Information that challenges our identity and understanding of the world, therefore, feels like a threat to who we are and to the reality that our brains have spent so long constructing.
- When encountering opposing views on topics that we regard as central to who we are, we subsequently retreat inwards or expend energy on staunchly defending why our views and beliefs are the ‘right’ ones.
- Indeed, research has shown that when our deepest beliefs are challenged, even if they are challenged with reputable scientific research, our response is to protect and defend these beliefs with such fervour that we end up believing them more than before they were challenged. This response has been termed “The Backfire Effect”.
- Now, this isn’t to say that our identity remains completely fixed over time – we can absorb new ideas, and new features might become central to who we are and form part of our new reality. But the same remains true – that whenever beliefs, values or opinions central to our identity are challenged we tend to feel like we are under attack.
It is really important to keep this knowledge of how our brains work in mind when we are connecting people and trying to build a sense of community because:
- We need to avoid putting people into a state of stress that makes them feel as if they are in danger, particularly if we cannot support them through the state of stress.
- If we want to help someone understand a view that runs contrary to a deeply held belief or a view they possess that is central to their identity, using facts or persuasive arguments is not going to cut it, we need to connect, listen and share. Once we make a bond with people and build trust, it is easier for them to empathise with and understand our perspective.
- We ourselves are fallible – our perspectives and beliefs that are linked to our identity might be preventing us from fully engaging with and understanding what others are saying.
- We might be wrong, but our brain might be duping us into believing that we are right!
Understanding a bit about our own identity and behavioural psychology can help us become better communicators, who are able to engage with potentially frustrating opinions more effectively, and who are open to learning and questioning our own beliefs. Such understanding also encourages humility – we may not be as ‘right’ as we think or feel we are.
If desired, use these questions to reflect on the content contained above:
- Did you find any of the information you read surprising, interesting or troubling? If so, what was it and why?
- Have you ever had beliefs central to who you are challenged? What happened? Did you become more set in your views?
- Have you ever challenged beliefs central to someone else’s identity? What happened? Did you notice this “backfire”?
- Will the information contained above impact how you communicate with others? If so, how? If not, why not?
Want to learn more about the brain and the way our mind operates? Have a look here:
- MIT Press Brain and Culture Blurb
- ‘The Backfire Effect’ Article: You Are Not So Smart
- ’The Backfire Effect’ Podcast: You Are Not So Smart
Power & Privilege
"Without community, there is no liberation.”
What & why?
The concept of privilege - and the power that comes with it - is better understood than ever before. But it remains a sensitive topic in many situations. Members of the UK-based New Economy Organisers Network (NEON) seek to make issues of power and privilege easier to discuss and resolve within a campaigning context, and so produced this guide for organisers and activists to use within their own groups and organisations.
Though written for campaigners who hope to practically tackle power and privilege, this guide may also be of use to people who have a general interest in deepening their own understanding of the subject.
What to expect?
This guide contains some tried-and-tested tools and techniques that will help NEON members who are committed to creating truly inclusive spaces by challenging harmful behaviours (including their own) that reinforce certain privileges. The (by no means exhaustive!) content included comes from a variety of sources and features numerous articles, useful skills, tips on starting conversations around power and privilege, and ideas on using the resources you already have to contribute to liberation struggles. If you know of campaigners and activists from beyond the NEON community who are looking for help on this front, this is for them too. This guide is the start of a conversation, not the conclusion of one - its authors welcome suggested contributions from any readers with practical tips to add.
Who is it for?
This guide is for people who are seeking to deepen, share and open up their existing awareness of power and privilege with others - be they colleagues, fellow activists, or friends and family. We hope to offer another edition at a later date for those who are unfamiliar with the concepts outlined here, but curious to learn more.
A note on discomfort
Power and privilege can be uncomfortable or upsetting to explore when it relates to your own advantages. This is natural and if you stick with the challenge at hand, the feeling can become something much more positive.
Power & Privilege
What do we mean by power?
- The ability or capacity to do something or act in a particular way.
- The ability or capacity to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events.
Here, we use the word power to particularly describe the inherited and learnt abilities and behaviours that help people influence their community and wider society. Power itself is neutral. In an abstract sense power can damage or strengthen a community, sometimes both at once. It’s all about being mindful to how power is applied.
Campaigners are increasingly able to recognise and seek to understand their own power, or lack thereof, and understand how they can use it for the benefit of creating inclusive communities.
- When you speak in a group situation, are you listened to? Do you create space to listen to others?
- When you propose a new idea, is it explored? If someone else offers you a new idea, do you give it room to be heard?
- When people say something you disagree with, do you listen and does the way you address it result in change? When you say something others disagree with, is it heard and does it result in change?
For many of us, understanding power and privilege will be a matter of seeing both sides to this - how we are simultaneously disempowered and empowered by social structures and deep, embedded cultures, and how we can disadvantage others whilst at the same time being disadvantaged ourselves in other contexts.
What do we mean by privilege?
Privilege refers to the collective advantages that a person can inherit from birth and/or accumulate over the course of time.
These advantages aren’t innate - they’re constructed by the society in which they exist, and can be seen wherever there are normalised power relations. Everyone is privileged in different ways - your own privilege may lie within your genetics, upbringing, current circumstances, or luck. Some are within our control, and some are not.
Privilege is also related to context - you can enjoy advantages in one culture or social setting that can easily become disadvantages in others.
It's worth taking a lesson from critical race theory, in part to understand white privilege, but to consider others too. This sees racism as an endemic part of society, deeply ingrained legally and culturally, which means it tends to look normal. Formal equal opportunity projects can remedy extreme forms of injustice but do little to deal with the business-as-usual forms of oppression. In such a context, claims to objectivity and 'meritocracy' act as camouflages for inequality.
Why understanding power & privilege matters
We all know that white hot feeling of injustice - we’re activists and campaigners, it comes with the territory. The grassroots groups, trade unions, faith groups and NGOs that many of us might be members of - or work at - understand that it’s important to call out organisations that use their power to treat people badly. If we don’t call out the Home Office or Shell, who will?
A sharper view of power and privilege will help us spot more injustices to fight. You have to see it first to tackle it. Moreover, always focusing on what's wrong outside of your organisations and campaigns means that problematic power structures in our own movements, organisations and groups often go unscrutinised. We are part of an unfair system, and it takes active work to not replicate it. Luckily, resources and advice that can help us do that are more accessible than ever before - and hopefully this guide will come in handy as a starting point.
Recognising injustices of power and privilege is an ongoing process. We've all spent many years adapting to inequality and it can take a while to challenge it. This isn't a free pass to dawdle, but rather a challenge to keep at it and get used to making an awareness of power and privilege an everyday occurrence. If you’re working through this personally, you might want to keep a diary of times where you catch yourself inadvertently being sexist, racist, taking a cis-centric view, lacking understanding of disability issues, or similar. Even if it's only a mental note, go back to these thoughts and make them every day. If you're working with a group don't just run a one-off diversity awareness training event, but schedule regular discussions where you ask colleagues to check in with an example of a time they spotted power and privilege at play, and an example of something new they are trying to help tackle it. Since the Stephen Lawrence case, we've talked about institutional racism and, on occasion, institutional sexism too, the way in which groups and organisations may inadvertently be structured to exclude, and may, gradually be reformed. Try to work towards a position where you recognise the institutional privileges around you, and try to shift to be institutionally aware of power.
Redressing privilege ultimately means creating a new kind of freedom - feminist Kay Leigh Hagan sums it up for multiple strands of liberation thinking when explaining how evolving gender norms brings benefits:
For both men and women, Good Men can be somewhat disturbing to be around because they usually do not act in ways associated with typical men; they listen more than they talk; they self-reflect on their behaviour and motives, they actively educate themselves about women's reality by seeking out women's culture and listening to women…
They avoid using women for vicarious emotional expression... When they err - and they do err - they look to women for guidance, and receive criticism with gratitude. They practice enduring uncertainty while waiting for a new way of being to reveal previously unconsidered alternatives to controlling and abusive behaviour. They intervene in men's misogynist behaviour, even when women are not present, and they work hard to recognise and challenge their own.
Perhaps most amazingly, Good Men perceive the value of a feminist practice for themselves, and they advocate it not because it's politically correct, or because they want women to like them, or even because they want women to have equality, but because they understand that male privilege prevents them not only from becoming whole, authentic human beings but also from knowing the truth about the world...They offer proof that men can change.
Kay Leigh Hagan in The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, And Love by bell hooks
If you feel like the only person in your organisation or group that cares about addressing power and privilege issues, it’s very daunting and can feel lonely. Here are ways to get the ball rolling before you dive into tricky conversations with those who currently hold power.
Find an ally
Who is the most open to conversations about these topics? Start with them - it’s possible that they feel as strongly as you do. If they’re cautious but open-minded, make time to chat about your shared perceptions of power and privilege. Exploring this may lead to a deeper alliance that enables you to share ideas, support each other and change the wider culture together.
If there have been instances where people have been systematically disadvantaged in some way, get the background on this. Find out about recruitment practices and sound out what most people’s take on diversity is. Is it a sore point? Something they feel they do well already? Or not on their radar? You can shape your approach accordingly.
Use existing procedures
Raise concerns with your trade union representative, staff forum convenor, or a member of your group that holds power over setting agendas and facilitation. See what kind of structured support they can offer you.
Start team-wide conversations
If you feel confident about raising the topic and proposing a meeting to discuss power and privilege within your campaign group, department or organisation, take that leap! Making it a series of workshops or conversations will help develop a sense of shared awareness and accountability.
Skills & practices
Here are some practical things you and others can do to address privilege-related problems within your sphere.
‘The opposite of listening is preparing to speak’ - Three Faiths Forum.
Active listening is a skill in which the listener remains silent until the speaker finishes, then feeds back to the speaker what they have heard - this will help confirm what has been heard and allow both parties to ensure they have the same understanding.
Active listening is a key practice to make sure certain voices are not dominating in meetings, workshop spaces, etc. It’s a great habit to practice if you’ve ever caught yourself talking over someone else, and opting to silently listen to someone is a good way to earn their trust. Here are a couple of articles to help you hone your active listening skills:
Facilitation is the practice of adopting a neutral position within a meeting or workshop in order to help people move through a process together and draw out the opinions and ideas of the group members. When you become a facilitator, you can ensure that everyone in the room has the chance to participate.
The habit of thinking about the words you’ve said and the actions you’ve taken, considering what happened next, and using that experience to improve your response to similar situations in future.
If you have privilege within the group dynamic, use it to make speaking room for those who tend to go unheard. For example, if you are in a group where you’ve contributed lots but there are others that are yet to do so, you actively say ‘I’m aware of how much I’ve spoken already so I’m taking a step back’. At a higher level, it might mean turning down offers to speak on panels with an unrepresentative line-up, and suggesting alternative contributors in your place.
Being an ally
An ally isn't just something you become - it’s something you do! If you actively challenge oppressive behaviour towards marginalised groups that you don’t identify with, you’re practicing allyship. So listening to someone who describes being marginalised is allyship. Educating yourself on structural oppression is allyship. Stepping back from opportunities in order to make way for underrepresented people is allyship.
The following articles on being an ally are very useful:
- [Franchesca Ramsey’s 5 tips on how to be a good ally](http://www.bustle.com/articles/53103-franchesca-ramseys-5-tips-on-how-to-be-agood- ally-pay-attention-privileged-people)
This is basically giving yourself a break - switching off, forgetting the struggle for a little while, and doing whatever brings you a sense of wellbeing, no matter how brief or frivolous it may be. Being tired and stressed leads to illness, mistakes and total burnout.
For example, if you’re working to a major deadline around a planned action, whether a small occupation or a large march, self-care can be as basic as stepping out for a walk or going for lunch with your fellow stressed-out campaigners.
You no doubt know what works for you. Keep making time for it, savouring it, and remembering that ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare’ (Audre Lourde)
You may find the suggestions in these articles a helpful starting point:
Attributes that will stand you in good stead
Learn to recognise when you find listening to the concerns of others difficult, and then learn to manage your reaction. It’s important to acknowledge the validity of people’s thoughts and feelings even when they don’t match your own perspective. Wherever you can, opt not to derail the conversation.
Questioning yourself and considering the way you interact with others gives you a chance to subvert traditional power dynamics.
You might hear the word ‘solidarity’ a lot - it’s the act of standing alongside others fighting for a cause that often you aren’t affected by but wholly support. Understanding what it mean to stand in solidarity alongside others will help you do it better.
We all mess up, make badly judged comments and reinforce crappy power dynamics from time to time. You’ll call people out, and it’ll be awkward at first; perhaps you’ll get called out another time, and it’ll be tough in a different way - but learning to adjust your approach to dealing with calling out or being called out will enable you to make society fairer for everyone.
Tools & techniques
Tools and techniques you can use to understand, confront and challenge the problems that arise. If you have something to add, do let us know – this is just the tip of the iceberg!
The cycle of oppression
You already have a sense of how identity can work in your favour or against it, but it’s possible that this is still unclear to those you work alongside and requires closer analysis. A great tool for exploring this is the cycle of oppression - a simple model that is highly relevant to discussions you have about power and privilege.
For example, if you’d like to discuss whether new recruits require a higher education qualification, you could use this model to explore why employees who have degrees feel uncomfortable about hiring someone who has taken a different approach to learning.
This is a technique used by the interfaith charity 3FF in their education work. The idea is to create space for people (particularly young people) to explore ideas even if their language isn't perfectly sensitive first-time. 'Oops' allows somebody to rephrase something which they realise might be offensive after they said it, while 'ouch' flags up a painful reaction to a comment.
E.g.: Person 1: ‘Oops - I’d like to amend the phrasing I used as I think the term x expresses my meaning more clearly.’
N.B. this technique is designed for facilitated spaces where the group has gone through a process of agreeing ground rules (setting a safe space). Also, the assumption is that people are speaking with good intentions and causing offence accidentally – while this usually holds in 3FF's youth and education work this may not be a safe assumption in other environments.
Behaviour, Impact, Feelings, Future - BIFF framework
A simple method of speaking to someone about a disagreement or issue that you have had with them, making sure you focus on how their behaviour has affected you and how they can do things differently next time.
- Behaviour: ‘When we met to discuss tactics, I noticed that you spoke over me a few times
- Impact:...until it got awkward and I stopped making suggestions.
- Feelings:...To be honest, it made me feel really frustrated.
- Future:...I wanted to let you know so that in future, giving others space to speak will help with keeping everyone motivated to make this project a success.’
More about BIFF here.
Theatre of the Oppressed
Sounds dramatic but is actually pretty good fun, and gives participants a chance to learn through acting out scenarios rather than talking, and identify the role body language plays in power dynamics.
Read more about Theatre of the Oppressed here.
This illustrates the challenges that everyday living presents for disabled people and people with a chronic illness. You provide the participant with, say, 12 spoons - each represents a limited unit of ‘energy’ for a normal day. Ask them what they have planned for tomorrow, and remove a spoon for each activity they mention, and ensure they start right at the beginning - from getting up to eating breakfast.
The goal is to have some left for the next day so they can stay active - so if they run out of spoons, their only option is to rest. You don’t really need spoons to do this - the metaphor is enough for most people!
Making Use of What You’ve Got
There are things you can do with what you already have. Using your resources (financial and otherwise) more efficiently contributes to tackling inequality, both in everyday situations and at a larger scale - within your organisation or group, within your movement, and even within your friendship circles.