by Ingrid Spetz
I just had a most interesting conversation with a man I met tonight over pizza. He is a board member from a land trust in Riverside -- a biologist by training, a Roman Catholic by religion. He asked me about my background in Tibetan Buddhism and we talked about the similarities in the ceremonies, the esoteric meanings behind them and how the traditions have meaning in our lives. It was the most in-depth conversation I’ve had about religion in a long time, and was quite energizing and refreshing. It wasn’t exactly what I expected when I accepted an offer to go out to dinner with my colleagues from land trusts across California.
But then again, none of this diversity training has been anything I would have expected.
A couple of months ago, seemingly out of the blue, I was asked to join a team of SLT staff and board to attend a diversity training being organized by the California Council of Land Trusts. They call it the “Early Adopters Learning Circle” -- we’re the test subjects for a training they hope to do with all of their member land trusts over time. Its purpose is, ultimately, to help land trusts continue to be relevant to their communities as the demographic makeup of California continues to become more diverse on into the future.
The group of about 30 people is meeting for two-day sessions once a month for three months, April through June, in Sacramento. I don’t know what the other people expected when they signed up, but it has been nothing near what I thought it would be. I came prepared for a very intellectual, abstract look at demographics and a roadmap for how to design programs that would be inclusive of diverse audiences. I brought my laptop and my notebook, and was ready for a crash course. Nothing could have been further from my expectations.
We arrived moments before the 10:30am start time to the ringing of a Tibetan singing bowl with a spry-looking Chinese man taking center stage. No introductions, no overview of what we would be doing or what objectives we would achieve — just a leap straight into the heart of it. What are ways that biases can be applied and how well do we do at noticing them? We learned by example and observation, with explanation and analysis coming only at the end of exercises in which we didn’t realize at first we were participating.
Again and again, over the course of three days now, we are being taught how to really speak with each other, how to really listen, how to acknowledge differences, and embrace and honor our diversity — and to use these points as ways to enhance and deepen our connections with each other. This is all being done through practice, through direct conversations with each other, through being vulnerable and through being present.
I’m still not sure where this is all leading to. We’re not being spoon-fed the magical answers. But I do know that by submitting myself to this process, I am finding moments where I learn more about myself -- and I am truly enjoying learning more about the people around me.
You can learn more about facilitator Lee Mun Wah at stirfryseminars.com.
Ingrid Spetz is Sonoma Land Trust's outings manager.
Sonoma Land Trust is a local nonprofit based in Santa Rosa, CA, that conserves scenic, natural, agricultural and open lands in Sonoma County for the benefit of the community and future generations. This blog focuses on SLT's stewardship team, whose members do hands-on work to directly protect, restore, and safeguard the land for generations to come.