Covenant for Journeys
Every immersion learning program with the UU College of Social Justice strives to help participants become adept at “boundary crossing”. Even when our destination is within the United States, part of what we’re trying to develop is the capacity to thrive in racial, cultural, theological, and social diversity.
Many of us have been shaped by relative social and economic privilege, especially in a global framework. This generates unconscious assumptions which can create new walls of division between us and others, especially those who have been shaped by different racial and class realities.
Therefore, we find it useful to begin our work on covenants by listing some suggestions for how we would like to engage with other cultural groups, and with others who will be with us on this journey.
Be willing to engage others: the host country, your travel colleagues, the mysterious person within yourself. Do so openly, courageously, gently, and with curiosity.
Be aware of your body. Be conscious of how you are moving through physical space (sidewalks, stores, public transportation, or private homes). How much verbal and physical space are you taking up? Think about how you might practice the three G’s: “graciously, gratefully, gracefully”.
Wait for introductions. Don’t assume you have the right to integrate yourself into another person’s or group’s conversation. Have your partner organization introduce you/your group.
Learn to sit with disagreement, even if it feels uncomfortable. Sometimes sharing your disagreement is okay, sometimes it can be perceived as rude. How we share matters: be careful not to “share” through subtle or overt shaming, blaming, or sarcasm.
Assume positive intent. Frame all that you see and hear within the reminder that everyone is learning as we go. We each wish the best for each other and for this experience.
Honor what you hear about impact. No matter how positive our intentions, sometimes what we say or do lands on someone awkwardly, and can be hurtful. When that person is trusting enough to share the impact you have had, try listening without defensiveness to see what you might learn.
Try on new ideas. If someone expresses an idea, opinion, or point of view new to you or different from your own, try it on; try to see it from within that other person’s perspective. Give yourself permission to change your mind when you learn something new.
Respect forms of address and/or social titles as they are used in the host culture. For example, in the American South, generally older people expect younger people to address them as “Mr.”, “Mrs.”; if a person is introduced as “Dr.” or “Rev.” or “Father” or “Rabbi”, follow that pattern as a sign of respecting the integrity of that person.
Try to relax with discomfort. This sounds paradoxical! But any time we cross out of our usual comfort zones we will by definition be uncomfortable at least some of the time. Remember that being without your usual routines, foods, surroundings, and control is a terrific avenue to new learning. Study your discomfort to see if there are ways you might emerge into a new, larger, more liberating comfort zone.
Lasso your enthusiasm! Yes, you want to know, or are intrigued, excited, and bursting with energy, but refrain from assuming your curiosity always has a right to be fulfilled. Listen to what the community sees as its needs and try not to confuse it with what you think it needs.
Work out interpersonal conflict with the person(s) involved, and not with the whole group. Don’t pull in others, or pit one person against another. Talk to a person and not about them to a third party. Seek mediation if necessary.
Practice “both/and” thinking, rather than believing that ideas, situations, or plans can only be “this way” or “that way.” Shy away from “either/or” thinking. Multiple ideas, plans, and points of view can be meaningful, valuable, and true.
Remember the physical challenges people bring to community: hearing, standing, moving, sitting, smelling, and so forth. Don’t assume everyone can manage their minds and bodies in the same way you do.
Respect confidentiality. Feel free to share the lessons you learned from your experiences, but do so without sharing the name(s) of persons involved unless you have permission to do so. Remember, too, that communities can be small, so people are likely to know the “transgender minister serving the congregation in Montana.”
Have fun, laugh, and share.
This is a living document. Be ready to shift and change these ideas as your community evolves.
As you prepare to join a group for what will undoubtedly be an intense and boundary-expanding experience, please consider the list above. On the first day of your journey, you and your fellow travelers will be led through an exercise to create a covenant that will guide you as a short-term community. As you consider this covenant:
1. Think about how you might want to be accountable to this framework. Remember, the task is not to blame, shame, or judge. How can you be a friend to your own growth and that of your companions on the journey?
2. We invite you to use the covenant as a touchstone when discussing challenging topics; when you’re impatient; when someone manages to push your buttons somehow and you feel like telling them off or walking away. A covenant helps you remember why you’ve chosen to be in this place, to pay attention and learn from both the tough and joyous part of your journey.
3. Expect that the covenant will operate as a living document which can be altered as the community deems necessary.