With the future of the planet at stake, we need brave conversations now more than ever.
Sounds dramatic? Perhaps. However, in the United States alone, we are facing intense racial violence, social division, contentious elections, a pandemic, and massive unemployment as of this writing.
We cannot war, bully, or buy our way through. The only way to repair harm, restore relationships, and build social capital is to ignite a “revolution by conversation.” That requires having brave conversations.
Brave conversations are not safe conversations, according to Keisha Allen, executive director of the Black Family Development Inc. (BFDI) Training Institute in Detroit, who teaches a course “Creating Brave Space for Brave Conversations.”
Yet, we cling to our notions of safety and comfort even when this insistence endangers Black lives, as in the United States. We send armed police officers to handle situations better served by social workers. Teenaged gunmen and barefoot couples brandishing weapons respond to political protests under the guise of wanting to keep their communities safe.
I interviewed Keisha about the importance of creating brave spaces and what we can learn from them.
Keisha is a Master Licensed Professional Development Trainer who has led restorative practice training of thousands of organizational leaders, educators, justice practitioners, parents, and youth. She specializes in transforming environments, changing the way we engage and interact with each other, and helping adults shift from punitive to restorative learning environments.
Q: How do you define a “brave space”?
Keisha: Safe spaces are where you are trying not to hurt people’s feelings. A brave space is not a safe space. In a brave space, we don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen. We show up because we are willing to be transparent, authentic, and vulnerable.
Q: What is a “brave conversation”?
Keisha: A brave conversation derives from the “engagement” piece of the Fair Process in restorative practices and a conversation I had with my dad. “Engagement,” in restorative practices, means involving individuals in decisions that affect them by listening to their views and genuinely taking their opinions into account.
When my husband proposed, my father asked me what it means to be engaged. To be “engaged” means to be willing to enter into war for the promise on the other side. The downtimes will show you who you are and what your capacity is.
People shy away from brave conversations. When we are doing restorative questions in schools, the students would say, “I would rather you suspend me than to have this conversation.” There is a deeper connection and deeper commitment when you choose to have brave conversations.
Q: What are the elements of a brave conversation?
Keisha: The elements of a brave conversation are authenticity, vulnerability, openness, mutual respect, and the willingness to show up.
We also use the Fair Process principle of restorative practices, which includes engagement, expectation, and expectation, and expectation clarity.
We talked about engagement. Explanation means explaining the reason behind a decision to everyone who has been involved or who is affected by it. Expectation clarity means making sure that everyone clearly understands a decision and what is expected of them in the future. Fair process wraps up the idea of creating a brave space for a brave conversation.
Q: What kinds of brave conversations are you currently having on a community level?
Keisha: Conversations between police officers and community residents is one example. Each has a perception of the other, and it drives our perception and not in a good way. These brave conversations can transform what you believe about the other person.
Other brave conversations include those between churches and the gay community, racialized conversations, conversations within the Black community, conversations between husbands and wives, and conversations young people are having with their parents.
These are brave conversations because we don’t feel like we have to control the narrative. Like water, these conversations will take the shape they need to.
Q: What is the bravest conversation you’ve had in the past six months?
Keisha: It was with myself a couple of weeks ago. I was in the hospital. I blacked out and hit my head and face against the wood railing of our bed. I felt stiffness in my body and couldn’t move my neck. The pain became so intense it felt like my head was coming off my shoulders.
I went to the hospital. I had to sit there. I had to stop. I asked myself, “What does neck stiffness mean spiritually?” The neck is the balance between the head and the heart. I realized I had been sitting at the computer too long and not drinking enough water.
I had to say to myself, “Ok, Keisha, you talk about others taking care of themselves. Are you taking care of yourself? What are the lies you have been telling yourself?”
I was up until 4 a.m. that night in the hospital, typing away on the computer. I had to be honest with myself for taking on too much. Where did this need come from, and what was I trying to prove?
What was interesting about it was the release the brave conversation with myself gave me. I had been given intense medication – morphine and valium – and I couldn’t get rid of the neck pain. The next morning, I was finally able to turn my head. That was the bravest conversation.