We begin today with a quote from Yogi Berra, famous for his use of paradoxical or contradictory images that convey both humor and wisdom – both much needed here at General Conference and in life. Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” While the delegates are busy talking and listening and discerning, the monitors are watching to find patterns in your participation that might enable or hinder full participation of all persons. So first, thank you for including us and also for soliciting our observations and allowing us to share with the group what we have seen. Many of the delegates have made notable changes to their participation based on our ideas, and we have been SO impressed.
We also must humbly offer a correction. In yesterday’s report, we lifted up Bethany Amey as a star of inclusion. While reports are that Bethany has been a great chair, leading with both calm and firmness, trying to make sure everyone is heard, it actually was Bill Junk of Oklahoma who should have been noted for taking such care with everyone’s names. In case anyone missed it yesterday, Bill made a notable effort to correctly pronounce everyone’s name and ask for forgiveness when he made mistakes, making everyone feel included as full members of the conference. Today we ask for that forgiveness – SO sorry for mistake in naming – it was Bill who deserved the recognition yesterday.
The data collected from the legislative committee monitors indicate a common pattern: some people (most are men) speak quite a lot and end up dominating the conversation, while others say little or nothing. It’s not that the chairs are or are not recognizing people. It’s that the same people ask to be recognized over and over again. Bishop Harvey said in the morning plenary, when calling on one delegate for a second time, “I usually refrain from calling on a person more than once in a session,” but she felt she needed to do so for a point of order. In general, her comment points to a good practice – that chairs try to call on people only once in a session, or a second time only after many or all others have spoken, and even more, that delegates themselves try to limit their contributions to one or two per session. Of course, depending on the issue being discussed, someone might have quite a lot to say, due to professional expertise, or even deep personal interest. That is fine. But there are precious few of us who can or should speak to EVERY issue. And in fact, we undermine our own effectiveness if others tire of hearing from us before we even get to the mic. One delegate in the Ministry and Higher Education legislative committee actually moved his chair next to the mic so he could be recognized to speak more quickly. Yeah…no, not cool.
Also related to the problem of too frequent and/or missing voices is the size and style of the discussion. In a number of committees, smaller groups were formed to discuss certain topics, and translators were invited to sit at the table as well. Both the small size of the group along with the proximity of the translators seemed to make it possible for some delegates to speak more easily. In fact, some delegates ONLY spoke in such sessions.
With that in mind, today’s first star of inclusion is Kimberly Reisman of Indiana, chair of the Judicial Administration legislative committee. Kimberly specifically reminded the dominant speakers that there were had not yet spoken, thereby inviting new voices into the mix. Thank you Kimberly! There was another star in that committee as well – Lidia Gulele of Mozambique South. When the self-monitoring question was asked about adequate time for translation, a delegate asked if the question could be directed at the Central Conference delegates alone. Lidia got up and in French, said, “No, because you are supposed to be using headsets to understand us – it is not just about us understanding you.” Indeed, a number of the monitors have reported that when non-English delegates are speaking, many English speaking delegates are NOT using the earbuds. Totally not cool – everyone MUST use the headsets! Et merci pour votre observation Lidia; merci beaucoup! Vous êtes la deuxième étoile d’inclusion aujourd’hui.
So, in our attempt to include and hear all voices, perhaps another Yogi Berra-ism would help. He once said, “It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.” Indeed – do you have a real conversation going in your committee, or is “everyone” talking too much? More pointedly, are YOU talking too much? And are you listening to everyone who DOES speak? A little more self-monitoring would help.