What kind of community leader are you? – part 4, by Dr. Dominick Hankle

A top reason people cannot come together and find middle ground is the fact doing so means both groups have to compromise. Each group in the community has to say, “Okay, we’re willing to give up on trying to get everything we want in order to get something that benefits all of us.” Compromise is a trade-off in which no one gets everything they want however everyone gets something that works.

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Compromise is the very thing our nation was founded on. Thirteen individual colonies came together and through compromise, they formed themselves into a nation. They become thirteen states united in their existence. Compromise is in the American DNA and it is actually one of the great strengths of our nation. Without compromise, we fail. This has happened to us numerous times in our nation’s history. When we can no longer compromise, no one wins. Everyone loses and the nation struggles and limps along until a compromise can be reached.

Are there times when a group should refuse to make compromises? Yes, there certainly are times when compromise is unacceptable. When we’re asked to do something that is morally wrong we shouldn’t compromise. When we’re asked to stray from our values and guiding principles, we shouldn’t compromise. The problem is if you ask most people in your community or organization what their guiding principles are, they have no idea. If the people in your community or organization have no idea what their guiding principles are, then you have no leadership. One of the most important functions of leadership is to advocate on behalf of a uniting vision. The uniting vision is the rallying point from which everything the group does flows. Once there is a common uniting vision, the groundwork for compromise is made possible because what is essential to the organization’s existence is clearly outlined, and second-level priorities can be negotiated.

I’ve spent many years as a marriage therapist. In order to get a couple to understand the importance of marriage, I usually provide them with a concrete example, otherwise, their current pain and negative attitude toward one another inhibits them from seeing how their behaviors are killing their relationship. To get their attention I tell them they’re both gardeners in a garden. I remind them they’re responsible for a garden, and in particular, a special tree in the corner of that garden. One of them has the soil and fertilizer to bring to the tree and the other has the water and tools to till the soil appropriately. Each has to give up some portion of what they have in order for the tree to thrive. The tree requires them to find ways to compromise in order for it to begin to sprout leaves and eventually give them tasty wonderful fruit. Marriage works in the same way. Each partner brings with them important characteristics, dispositions, and talents that make the relationship thrive. You can’t just do what you want with your own assets, you need to share them so that the marriage, something bigger than yourself, can thrive. That’s how a marriage works. That’s also how the community works.

Each subgroup in a community has talents, gifts, ideas, concerns, assets, and a multitude of positive experiences that make them who they are and allow them to do what they do in a way that’s uniquely their own. These talents, gifts, ideas, etc can be considered their strengths and can be very useful to the larger community if shared appropriately. However, they can’t simply bring these into the community and exercise every aspect of what they like to do just because it’s something they like, are good at, or makes them feel special and unique. The husband in a marriage who has a new shovel can’t just go digging in the garden and ignore what needs to be done to the tree. He needs to use that shovel to help with the common task and quit being selfish. If two groups within a community simply try and exercise their gifts in ways they want without regard to the other group, the two never merge and become one community. Each group has to find ways to compromise if they are going to be united in something bigger than themselves. They can’t ask each other to compromise on those things that are a core aspect of who they are or something that’s morally important, but they can ask one another to compromise on secondary things.

Here is the key point to consider. If two groups within the community know what unites them and are able to exercise their individuality while preserving community unity, they will compromise in order to serve and protect the common good. People are always stronger together than apart and most groups within a community know that. However, if leadership is more focused on division rather than communicating a unifying message, no one will share their tools to make the garden beautiful. The garden will become a mess of weeds and overgrown plants. If no one in leadership steps in to advocate for a unifying message the people in the community will not work together to make something beautiful. Instead, they will use their tools to beat the crap out of one another. So ask yourself this if you are in the position of a community leader; do you want people to use their gifts and talents as tools to build something beautiful or do you want them to beat one another over the head with their shovels. What kind of community leader do you want to be?

If you like this post and want to be a part of an organization that works to heal communities check out my friends at A Race To Healing.


Antidote to Division- Building Communities

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In the last post, I discussed how giving other people psychological space and having gratitude for the diversity they bring to the community is a powerful step toward forming healthy organizations and neighborhoods. Making psychological space and appreciating diversity is the first step in forming relationships between diverse groups. If we create a common psychological space where Native Americans, Caucasians, and African Americans can understand one another we have a common psychological place where relationships can develop. However, while this diversity is a strength any community should embrace, it’s going to be difficult to develop relationships with one another if we’re not intentional about doing so regardless of how diverse we are. We don’t naturally draw together with people we perceive as different from ourselves even if we’re more than willing to be friendly towards them. Simply stated, a friendly exchange isn’t enough if we’re truly developing a vibrant interconnected community. A real community finds ways to develop intimate relationships between its members.

This ability to connect with others on an intimate level is exceptionally important for people. One of its key benefits is that it helps us develop a sense of identity. In fact, some psychological research indicates our sense of self is intimately tied to our group memberships. Along with developing an identity is the desire to affirm respect for who we are through seeking respect for the groups in which we belong. We are validated because the groups in which we are members are valued by our community. Because of this dynamic, you can see the subgroups of our community are strong and intimately tied to our very sense of identity. In short, our group memberships define us.

The process of grouping is the result of a number of psychological factors. It allows one to conserve mental energy and infer characteristics of the “things” grouped together. When one applies this benefit to categorizing people, it becomes more complex and becomes more of a liability than an asset. For example, the act of categorizing individuals into social groups often is all one needs to produce intergroup prejudice and discrimination. Human beings are not objects. When people categorize them as such, they infer characteristics that easily lead to discriminatory and prejudicial behaviors. These behaviors are more commonly known as stereotypes; cognitive shortcuts allowing individuals to justify behavior and simplify the world. The problem is that stereotypes are over generalized inferences, inaccurate, and difficult to change because they cause the one who creates them to be resistant to new information countering the stereotypical beliefs. Prejudice is an attitude that becomes difficult to contend with because it includes beliefs, emotions, and inclinations to action; core aspects of human behavior

While it sounds very cliche, the way we build intimate communities is we come to love those who are a part of the community. We find a way to love them so that they become a part of who we are. The “You and I” become the “we.” This is a unique experience of love that comes from an intentional type of interaction with one another. Mortimer Adler, a well-known philosopher writes of this love as a benevolent impulse that causes us to give to the other without concern for a fair exchange. We give without counting the cost. Love is for the benefit of the other and is expressed in goodwill. Yet for Adler, this is only the beginning of the exchange. He indicates this type of love exists for the benefit of the other and fosters a desire for the lover to also be loved. The desire to be loved then leads to the ultimate wish of love which is the “closest union” with the one who is called beloved.

There are profound ramifications this kind of love has on the effects of division and prejudice. If two groups are no longer self-interested and reach beyond themselves to embrace the other as they want to be embraced, the union that intimate communities thrive on can become a reality.

Psychological studies of prejudice and division prove we have a natural tendency to pull away from one another as an attempt to understand our universe and develop an identity. Yet this isn’t what we have to do just because we unconsciously do it.

To overcome this problem psychology provides a few answers. One of the most effective answers is to have diverse groups work toward a common goal. It has been found that prejudiced behaviors toward different groups are reduced when two diverse groups work to achieve a common goal (Watch the movie “Remember the Titans). Personalizing the “other” by having different groups interact more frequently is also helpful. This has been demonstrated in the desegregation of schools and public institutions.

While these are indeed very good approaches to developing intimate relationships within a community, the most effective, however, is to do these with a spirit of love. In a document named “Caritas in Veritate” by Pope Benedict the XVI we read the following: “Love is “divine” because it comes from God and unites us to God. Through this unifying process, it makes us a “We” which transcends our divisions and makes us one until, in the end, God is “All in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).”

Do you want to maximize the relationships in your community? Learn to love one another and work together for a common good. You may be surprised at how quickly your community transforms itself.

This post was originally published on “A Race To Healing.” If you like this material and are interested in building better communities feel free to check them out.

Shared Psychological Space and Gratitude – Building Blocks of Community

Communities are groups of people connected in some way. The connection could be as simple as living within the same geographic region or as complex as having a shared vision and mission that draws everyone together. Regardless of why people are part of a community, being so means finding a way to appreciate and make space for other people. While there are many ways to do that, I want to focus on two primary practices for developing the glue that makes communities work. The first of these is creating psychological space for the “other.”

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When we speak about the “other,” it often seems like we’ve relegated people in the community to be something less than human. That’s certainly not what I’m implying in this post. However, we often like to say that someone with a different cultural background, race, or ethnicity is “just like us.” Honestly, that’s not healthy either because it ignores crucial distinctions. Diversity is an essential strength within a community, so to overemphasize “sameness” ignores one of a community’s strengths. However, if we focus too much on individual differences, we not only profoundly divide the community into subgroups, this extreme individualism impacts the cohesiveness of the larger group. Communities need to find a balance between group cohesiveness and diversity. Extremes are never good. So by speaking of the “other,” I’m doing so from a position of respect and regard for those differences.

When we speak about creating psychological space for the “other,” we mean that we allow for that individual’s presence and their difference to reside in our minds in a positive connected way. The other is not unconnected to us but instead connected as an extension of who we are. They’re not the enemy or an appendage to our community; they’re someone we consider a part of our life. You will find this on a microcosmic scale in successful marriages and as an essential part of developing a connected community. John Gottman, a famous marriage and family researcher, tells couples they need to create psychological space for one another to thrive as a couple (which is, in a sense, a small community). Giving someone psychological space means providing them a place in your mind; your internal self. When they aren’t immediately with you, you think of them, appreciate them, are mindful of the place they have in your life, and maintain an emotional connection to them. It also means that you’re aware of what the other individual needs from you and consider them in your decisions whether they are immediately present with you or not. Psychological space is an essential aspect of a good marriage but it’s also vital for communities to develop. When you’re mindful of other people in the community and what they need from the community you’re making psychological space for them. When you care about how they contribute to the community and how the community can embrace them, you’re creating a type of collective psychological space the whole community shares. If we can’t do that for one another, we can’t gel as a community. Think of how often city planners develop a strategy and forget that their plans infringe on a particular group. New highways may go through traditionally black communities without any representation from that community. Then, when this group asks for a place at the table, they’re viewed as getting in the way of progress. If we had a shared psychological space for one another, the group would have been represented from the start.

To develop this shared psychological community space, it’s essential to have and express gratitude for one another. Are we grateful to have Native American communities as part of our broader community? Are we appreciative of the unique gifts and talents this group of people contributes to our community? This sense of gratitude is the gateway for creating a psychological space that allows the larger community to adhere together. The two or three groups of “others” find a way to become an “us” that is inclusive and grateful for its diversity. Community leaders can start creating this communal psychological space by encouraging ways for each set of community sub-groups to appreciate the diversity each group brings to the more substantial communal experience. This appreciation must include ALL groups, not a select few. We often believe by merely appreciating the least represented, we’re doing what is best, but encouraging appreciation for all groups is essential and avoids resentment that emerges from ignoring one group over another. How one shows appreciation for the different groups should be left to the communities involved. Still, I encourage those in leadership to develop this appreciation and gratitude to make the appropriate psychological space for everyone who is a part of their larger community.

In closing, let me say this: We like to force inclusion and diversity on our communities, and in doing so, we make the individual groups resentful of one another. If we encourage gratitude for the gifts each of us brings to the table, we will find that the path to including one another in our minds and hearts is much easier to travel and will undoubtedly help us make the world a better place.