we were to take part in a game where someone inevitably
wins and everyone else loses, most of us wouldn't want to
keep playing unless the rules were changed. That's how many
people feel about the current economic system in which wealth
and power are becoming increasingly concentrated. This concentration
is all too often at the expense of the vast majority's immediate
needs and the long-term interests of us all.
dare to change the rules of the game, we need to step beyond
the walls of isolation, deference and pretense that keep
the "haves" and "have nots" on opposing sides. The pieces
that follow suggest ways to move past the roles and rules
that often keep us apart, to build respectful alliances,
and to take action.
into Honest Partnership
up, my family had five houses and employed up to 45 people
to run them. When my parents traveled I was left with one
or two domestic workers in a house with 30 rooms. It was
easy to be tremendously arrogant, a little princess.
grew, my parents prepared me to follow their tradition of
philanthropy and community involvement. The messages I got
from them were, "It's important to work well with everybody"
but (unspoken): "Always maintain your superiority." Over
the past twenty years, my life's work has been to turn around
that legacy of distance and to create respectful ways for
people with wealth to work as real partners in social change.
assisting over a thousand grassroots projects and hundreds
of women with wealth, I clearly see that class patterns
have tenacious momentum. Instead of relegating the responsibility
for sharing power to each individual's initiative and awareness,
we need to create structures that support people of all
classes in working across differences.
year, I participated in such a structure: a work group with
ten women from widely different racial and financial backgrounds.
Our job together was to research potential nominees for
the "Resourceful Women" awards. We started by each telling
our own personal story. This simple sharing helped us go
beneath the assumptions we had about each other.
we wouldn't slip unconsciously into typical roles, where
the verbal, assertive rich women facilitated while the working
class women took notes--we explicitly assessed our own skills
and stated our goals to the group. My goals were these:
to arrive on time, to give 100% of my attention to each
person who spoke, and to follow through on whatever commitments
I made to the group.
goals may sound basic, but they contradict obnoxious, unconscious
behavior I have been trying to change in myself for years
(and behavior I see repeatedly from other middle-and upper-class
people.) We wander in late and make promises of assistance
we don't follow through on. We're used to people tolerating
us not returning their phone calls because we're "important"
and busy and our time is so precious. In meetings we're
either dominating the conversation or distracted, rarely
listening closely to others when they speak. It's embarrassing!
Whether from early neglect or early spoon-feeding (or both)
we tend to get very demanding and insulting to others about
what we need and deserve.
end of our eight weeks working together, my nominations
group had an evaluation where we asked each other, "How
did I do on my goals?" I certainly didn't do perfectly,
but many of us felt it was one of the best experiences we
ever had working across class difference--honest, and genuinely
sharing of power.
ago I assumed I joined groups in order to offer my expertise
and help out. Over time I recognized that I'm coming to
be part of a diverse community, and that I have as much
to gain as to give. The self-awareness I gain through the
process itself, although sometimes uncomfortable, is one
of the most precious gifts I receive.
- anonymous author
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