Slowing Down to Show Up

By Erin Okuno

cny7Lunar New Years and Tết (Vietnamese New Year). Lunar New Years is a really big deal to many Asian communities. In Chinese culture, it is customary to hand out red envelopes with money. It is also bad form to work on Lunar New Years, so if you scheduled a meeting with me on Lunar New Years please feel free to hand out red envelopes.

Its been a few weeks since I’ve written. The writing break has been nice since it allowed me to slow down and read what Heidi and Jondou have written which I greatly enjoyed. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to slow down and why we need to do this to achieve equity. Often I’m working with the pressures of external timelines – grant deadlines, legislative and policy schedules, school calendars, two-hour street parking limits, etc. These timelines are there for reasons and they keep us moving forward which is important. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about what is the fakequity I need to stop perpetuating with timelines if I’m going to achieve personal equity and justice.

“This is what it means to slow down”

People who know me in real life, know I’m a classic introvert. I’m also an introvert in a job that requires me to be an extrovert. When I’m extroverting, I find it taxing and after a while my brain and my soul goes into overdrive trying to process and eventually, it screams “Abort! Get me out of here.” For me this is the equivalent of fast-food engagement – lots of people fast without a lot of substance. I can’t find equity in fast-food engagement.

Several weeks ago, I was watching Jondou facilitate a group. He started the meeting with a check-in question. I don’t remember the question and in some ways the question itself isn’t important. What was important was taking the time to slow down and connect with each other. In listening to people answer the prompt we really took time to connect with each other and to have deeper and more meaningful conversations. We saw each other as people, not as roles in jobs or not as the object of an interaction. We took time to listen to each other and reflect. Because we took time to reflect and take space to listen to each other we connected differently. At the end of that meeting CiKeithia said something that stuck with me “This is what it means to slow down,” she went on to say how it felt good to slow down and reflect and listen, fast-food interactions wouldn’t get us to deeper soulful conversations.

Slowing down to build a relationship meant I attended to a relationship that will sustain me for the long run. In some measures I am penalized for taking this time, it means I stay up late to catch up on email and filling out my timesheet that was due three days ago. It means I will probably say no to some other invite to sit in a meeting because I need that time back to do something else. But slowing down means I am more deeply connected to someone and that sustains me.

How to slow down

When we slow down we attend to different power dynamics. Power is all around us and use of time is one way power shows up. CiKeithia often says “Agendas are only suggestions,” meaning we have agendas, but really if we need to take more time on one item then we should. Too often dominant society tells us we need to abide by time schedules that force us to skip the “getting to know each other” phase, but how can we work towards common goals unless we understand how people are seeing the common goal.

There are many ways we can slow down to create more space for equitable practices. At meetings I facilitate I sometimes call them relationship building questions. I often give a prompt question and try to relate it to a personal experience and invite people to talk about race as they answer. Today I used this prompt: “What is a holiday or a celebration that is meaningful to you or your family? How is it a reflection of your culture?”

Another really important way to slow down is to force people to slow down to check for meaning or to stop bad behavior in meetings. When I facilitate meetings, we use the Color Brave Space meeting format developed by Heidi. We read them out loud as a group and talk about a few of them. I often acknowledge as the facilitator I have a lot of power and one of the powers is to stop or slow down a meeting if I feel we need to attend to power dynamics, if conversations are drifting away from the common goal, or if I think we need to get out of a loop of thinking. Slowing down is a way to disrupt problematic dynamics and to keep us focused on moving forward together. Stopping or slowing down also is important for leveling power which allows for greater participation.

Enjoy your slow down. This is one simple way we can all help to fight fakequity and maybe achieve some personal justice and equity.

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