This is Not the Time to Give Up

As we look around us – a coronavirus spreading uncontrolled; hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires; federal troops provoking peaceful protesters in cities throughout the U.S.; unemployment rising and homelessness for many on the horizon – we see attacks coming from every side. This is not, however, the time to get scared or throw up our hands in despair.

Having strategies for dealing with setbacks is crucial. It does no good to dwell on what we did wrong unless we also look at how we would do it differently next time.

In this week’s blog, we are sharing an excerpt from Linda’s book, Collective Visioning on “Setbacks and Attacks.” It suggests how we can come together to prepare for this, and how to overcome these situations when we work together.

Whether our efforts are individual or collective, we often experience setbacks and attacks and other disappointments in our work. But when we’re grounded in a long-term vision, we can see these setbacks as ways to learn and continue to move forward instead of giving up or thinking we somehow did something wrong.

The first step after experiencing a loss or what we might think of as a failure is to evaluate what happened. I don’t use the traditional type of evaluation: examining only what went wrong. While this is an important part of the process, the first step is to look at what worked and what we learned from the experience. Then it’s easier to look at what didn’t work and what we can learn from that as well. This allows us to constantly learn and change our methods.

So not only might we need to address setbacks by doing something differently, but we also have to be aware and ready for planned attacks. Some forces want to keep the status quo and are threatened at the idea of change, even if it’s a positive change. We’ve seen this over and over with false media attacks on groups working for change for poor people, for workers, and for the environment.

The situation has changed tremendously over the years with corporate control of media messages and more corporate ability to fund political candidates, more sophisticated attacks on change groups and leaders, and other kinds of issues we face, like loss of revenue. With the dire predictions of continued cuts in social justice funding, more environmental disasters, possible financial collapse, and more economic hardships coming our way, we must be prepared and plan for the long haul.

Preparing for these kinds of setbacks and attacks takes many different approaches. Many organizations and foundations are collaborating to protect groups with coordinated rapid response systems and simple tools to counter attacks. Unlike when I was first doing this work, some organizations are devoted to helping people understand how to both plan for problems and deal with them once they arise.

Having a long-term vision can both inspire us and keep us on track as we face many obstacles along the way. Collective visioning allows us to stay focused on the bigger picture despite the setbacks we experience. I’m not about to get disillusioned and give up, and I want to keep as many people working in their different ways alongside me and the many others I work with.

You can’t really practice dealing with issues of crisis and setback. The response has to be developed in the moment. The important points are to get the group to revisit the vision, pay attention, ask questions, and develop a strategy to deal with the issues that the group is facing while staying connected to the vision.

As our communication, technology, and society change, so our work must also change. We need to be prepared to adjust to the needs and changes of our groups, communities, and organizations.

Collective Visioning Tip

We used to have guidelines for our Piedmont Peace Project weekly staff meetings. We asked each person to say an “appreciation” and then a “concern or complaint.” If someone did have a concern or complaint, we asked the person to follow it with suggestions for a solution, even if it was as simple as “we need to meet and talk about this more.” This kept people from just complaining or blaming without thinking about being part of the solution.

Here are some guidelines for dealing with a crisis:

  1. Try to be prepared as much as possible. Have a plan for what you will do if you were to be attacked by a media source or lost your biggest funding source. Practice together and role-play how you would handle these situations.
  2. When a crisis arises, bring your groups together immediately to talk about the issues, whether internal like a financial setback or external like an environmental crisis or a media attack. Do not try to hide or keep secrets from your group. This tactic almost always comes back to harm you and your group.
  3. Before starting to address what’s happening, remind people to review the vision, why they work for and love the organization, and what accomplishments the group has achieved. Review agreements. In a time of crisis, these are more important than at any other time. If you have a habit of opening with a song, a reading, or a moment of silence, do what you would normally do. This grounds people and keeps them from panic or blame.
  4. Lay out the full issue, problem, or situation for the whole group, inviting others to speak from their side of the story.
  5. Start problem solving with the group. Keep the vision and the goals in mind as you come up with the new strategies. Once you have the ideas for what the whole group wants to do, you might consider breaking into small groups to address different parts of the plan, such as communication (internal/external), outreach, and fund-raising.

If the crisis is within the group, I strongly recommend using a third-party facilitator – someone experienced with group dynamics. It can make the difference in whether a group implodes or moves forward.

Read the story about how the Piedmont Peace Project dealt with setbacks and attacks in my book Collective Visioning.  Check out the Blog section of the Spirit in Action website for Collective Visioning tools updated for online use.

If you would like to receive a free copy of my book Collective Visioning, email Spirit in Action with your full name and postal address and we will send one to you, one per person or organization, while supplies last.  We are only able to send them to addresses in the United States.