December Retreat Reflection: The Moral Roots of Psychological Safety

One of the most pressing issues impacting our country today, is divisibility, especially as a result of the conversation of what’s “right” vs “wrong”, and the self-righteousness that is associated with it.  Maintaining the assertion that certain experiences, certain qualities, and certain backgrounds give you the privilege to be more “right” than another, has driven a wedge between various demographics in the country that need to be working together, rather against, to address issues facing our country, such as race, poverty, climate change, and animal cruelty. “What’s the Story”, teaches beyond just listening to opposing views on an issue, and feeling like you have justly considered all sides of the debate, but instead delves into moral humility, and instills an appreciation for what it means to be human, along the beauty that can accompany collaboration between a group of different-minded people.

All throughout our retreat this past weekend, it snowed, and while we remained comfortable in the warmth, and golden light of the Common Ground Center’s buildings, I couldn’t help but compare the snow that surrounded us, to the chaos that I feel our country is experiencing right now. And in the midst of that chaos, to witness the determination, and  passion that filled the small, rustic room we met in, was a truly hopeful experience, which couldn’t have occurred without the open, genuine, and vulnerable conversation that emerged. The climate that was created within that weekend relied heavily on Psychological Safety, or the ability to feel safe with honesty, and open discussion within a group. We considered an article written by the Harvard Business Review, on the importance of Psychological Safety in successful, or high-preforming teams, and it really encouraged me to question my previous approach on the veal and dairy industries.

I had originally approached the issue with a mindset that I had to create a “villain” in my argument, someone that the audience could feel anger towards, and lay the blame on, in order for them to feel connected to the issue, and advocate for the calves’ mistreatment. I want to say that this mindset quickly changed, but it really wasn’t until our first retreat of this year, that I really saw the fault in this belief. It was really during the Ruha Benjamin’s Key Note Address, that I fully understood the flaw in what I was looking for. During her talk, she mentioned a deficiency that she found in many peoples’ ideologies in which they believe that their empathy is a limited resource, and they can only express empathy towards one group of people, one person, or one object, while disregarding the other people involved as antagonists, stripping them down, and dehumanizing them, so that you can consider them to be the “bad guys”. While it is true that there are definitely people in the country (and in our government) who are continually racist, sexist, and oppressive, the key to psychological safety revolves around knowing (even beyond understanding), what it means to be human. So while I was trying to make a claim that farmers are bad, I realized that I too was limiting, and rationing my well of empathy. I know (though very little) about the struggles, poverty, and ostracization that farmers in Vermont experience, and instead of expressing the empathy that they are very much deserving of, in my mind, I saw them alongside consumers, as the antagonists.

Moving forwards, instead of focusing on confronting someone with the blame of the issue, and dehumanizing an “antagonist” in my work, I will focus on collecting the most genuine, and real information I can gather, for people to interpret as they want, rather than be forced into reacting a certain way.

In conclusion, the convoluted range of emotion that entered the second WtS retreat of the year at the Common Grounds center in Starksboro, left overflowing with the most powerful qualities found in young people, passion, compassion and determination, and for the first time since the election, I have observed what could be a clear, inspiring, and hopeful path to the future.

Lena Ashooh

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