Written by Executive Director Claire Louge
I’ve been wrestling with a particular contradiction. It often shows up in group work around systems change. I don’t know if it can be resolved, but I’d like to share in case you wanted to join me in my noodling.
This contradiction can be summarized by these opposite truths:
- There are many problems that are causing harm to children and families right now. We must therefore urgently take action for children and families. In short, we’re in a rush.
- There are many problems that are causing harm to children and families right now. Creating the best solutions requires the slow and deliberately inclusive work of building trust, and that, we cannot rush.
We’re in a rush, but we cannot rush. It’s urgent, but we need to build trust.
Sometimes, the biggest challenge in group work is this divide between urgency and trust. Some people are on Team Urgency. Some people are on Team Trust.
Team Urgency knows children cannot wait for the world to change. Their brains and bodies are developing now, laying the foundation for their future, and our collective futures. Urgency knows that the status quo is harming people right now, and every moment we wait to act is an opportunity lost. Team Urgency knows that getting to a solution requires the risk of failure, but that failure is learning. Team Urgency wants to fail fast, learn from it, and create something better because of that learning.
Team Trust, however, knows that in order to create the most sustained and effective solutions, we need to be inclusive. This team knows that trust is fragile, and we need to do the uncomfortable, slow work of rebuilding trust when it has been broken, and we must seek out the voices that have been excluded or silenced, especially if we’re trying to do things in service of those marginalized people. We must learn from both the stories we hear and the data that we gather, and understand that we can always learn more. Team Trust knows that taking the wrong actions can set us back, and not only that, can make things worse, cause more harm, or completely backfire.
So, who’s right? Team Urgency or Team Trust?
Both, of course. And neither. Each team has their liabilities.
The pitfall of Team Urgency is doing something hasty that causes unintentional harm. Team Urgency might avoid hard conversations, leave people out of decision-making, and waste time and energy creating things that will never work because they didn’t take the time to learn and build relationships.
The pitfall of Team Trust is talking about a problem or a solution and never taking action. Team Trust might work to create a flawless process for decision-making, but miss opportunities to act when it matters, which permits the status quo to persist.
Action can cause harm. Inaction allows harm to continue. Neither Team Urgency nor Team Trust can avoid risk.
So what’s the resolution? I don’t know if there is one. Perhaps we should try to be a member of both teams. We can be patient with our desire to do things deliberately so they can be effective and sustainable, and harness the energy of urgency to do the best we can when we have the opportunity to act.
Because I believe we all want the same thing: to sustainably protect children from harm, and sustainably promote family wellbeing. That takes urgent action. And it also takes sturdy trust.
What’s the solution? I don’t know. Maybe we’re not supposed to know. Maybe the answer is to simply be aware of this contradiction, and to honor the need for both urgency and trust.
I don’t think it’s ever going to feel easy. I don’t think it’s going to feel like there’s one right answer. I don’t think there’s ever going to be perfect trust. I don’t think we’re ever going to know enough to create the perfect answer. But we also can’t waste our time and energy creating solutions that will never work because we didn’t take the time to learn and build relationships. And more importantly, we can’t risk taking action that has an unintended harmful consequence that we could have seen coming if we had Just. Slowed. Down.