Only One Right Way
As leaders of our small company, we shape Picture Impact. We are aware that our own embodiment and mindsets infused with white supremacy culture are evident and influence how our company shows up in the world and ultimately the impact(s) it has. To that end, we seek to be intentional about our practices, our choices, and behavior and are seeking to learn to see white supremacy culture; to unlearn the ways of being, doing and thinking we have been brought up within; and to actively choose to live beyond the narrative it demands of us.
These creative prompts invite the two of us into a conversation of how we experience this in our work life and company. We hope to share with you snippets of this conversation and ways we have identified to create more space within, outside of, and beyond the bounds of white supremacy culture.
Read more about the series here…
Ode to 1 Right Way
I’ve always wanted to succeed. To receive praise for a job well done, to know that I am OK.
I’ve always wanted to learn the secret. The super fancy, special knowing that “those” people know so that I, too, can be in on the right way. It couldn’t be as simple or as messy or as unknown as it looks from where I sit, surely there is a right way and I am just on the outside for not knowing it.
I’ve always wanted clarity. Strong defining lines.
(I’ve never wanted to play inside those lines. They miss the point, they pinch me.)
I’ve always wanted access to The Answer.
I’ve never wanted the smallness of a single way — the way it feels like a lie and so dull and lackluster next to the beauty outside my window.
I’ve never wanted to be right all the time. The joy having someone topple your tower of blocks from behind to reveal a jungle is unparalleled in its discomfort and the worlds it creates before your eyes.
But, I’ve always wanted security to rest in, of being sure and right.
As someone who often thinks just a bit off in the messy (colorful!) lands outside of the bounds of “one right way” I came at this from that space of seeing the seeming ease and comfort that one right way gives people who conform (fit) within white, Western (and particularly educated) cultures. And yet, is there an understanding about the trade-offs and the things that are left out when there is only one right way?
Ode to one right way
I’ve always wanted to be right, righteous, the one the king or queen of it all
I’ve always wanted to be so sure of myself that there was no doubt, no question, no lingering shadow to cast a doubt, no back door to other options, nothing to unsettle or unseat my assurance.
I’ve always wanted to walk (or perhaps saunter, or swagger, or march) into a room so cock sure of myself, high on my own ego. What would that feel like? I wonder as I slip in hoping not to be too awkward, too much, too strange.
I’ve always wanted to be a blaze of glory, a hero, a light so bright others are awed at the sight, hanging on every word as if gold is falling out of my mouth.
I’ve always wanted the clarity, the certainty of knowing that my way was the right way, sure that where I was going was the path to success.
I’ve never wanted the mess of other ideas, that confusion of direction where I can’t find my way, the complexity that tangles me and makes me stumble.
I’ve never wanted to be overwhelmed with people’s emotions, with attending to relationships and feelings. This seems beyond my ability to control.
I’ve never wanted to stray from the path, to be derailed. That wildness, the untamed forest is scary. We might get lost!
I’ve never wanted to pause — we might not have time and still meet our objectives!~ for things that I cannot see as relevant: music, movement, your tears, your heartbreak, beauty, a poem, or even the story and sweet taste of your grandmother’s cookies.
I’ve never wanted to take time out of this pursuit to get to know another. Team building is a chore, a box to check, not a way to operate.
I’ve never wanted to consider I might not have the best, or the only, right way.
What Dr. Okun says about only one right way
- the belief there is one right way to do things and once people are introduced to the right way, they will see the light and adopt it
- when they do not adapt or change, then something is wrong with them (the other, those not changing), not with us (those who know the right way)
- similar to the missionary who does not see value in the culture of other communities, sees only value in their beliefs about what is good
- accept that there are many ways to get to the same goal;
- once the group has made a decision about which way will be taken, honor that decision and see what you and the organization will learn from taking that way, even and especially if it is not the way you would have chosen;
- work on developing the ability to notice when people do things differently and how those different ways might improve your approach;
- look for the tendency for a group or a person to keep pushing the same point over and over out of a belief that there is only one right way and then name it;
- when working with communities from a different culture than yours or your organization’s, be clear that you have some learning to do about the communities’ ways of doing;
- never assume that you or your organization know what’s best for the community in isolation from meaningful relationships with that community
A snippet from Anna & Katrina; Some places that we hear this characteristic in our work
- RCT’s! The search for THE WAY that works and proving it in a particular manner which includes ruling out other ways. An RCT is designed to control for all the messy ways of the world and to eliminate them all the way down to the one right way.
- Evidence-based. Yes, let’s have evidence for what we’re doing. Although, we have to ask ourselves what has evidence behind it and why? Just because something does not have the “evidence” generated doesn’t mean it isn’t valid or will not work or isn’t offering some wisdom we are all in need of. We feel cautious about sticking only to evidence-based and wondering what other ways are not included in this.
- The myth of “best practice” is the desire to move to one right way. The idea that we could have a best set of practices that are always on top of the hierarchy as “best” (supreme), as opposed to being context, time, and people dependent. Trying to determine or use a “best practice” begs so many more questions; best for whom? When? For what? In what circumstances? Says who?
- Linear logic models, impact/outcome studies measuring against pre-determined indicators, seeking causality are all evaluative practices that woo us toward simplifying complexity and zeroing in on or towards one right way.
- The foundation of the industry, really its birth, is on the export of the ONE RIGHT WAY (knowledge, development, civilization).
- Agricultural extension is the export of the one right way.
- Public health interventions are the export of the one right way. The western medical model.
- In general, the training and capacity building throughout virtually any international development intervention is about knowledge transfer and embedded within in that is not an exchange of multiple ways (“hey, we use this way you might find it helpful, how do you do it?”) but it is a gifting and saving of others with the one right way that we own. Heavy power dynamics that are not neutral and definitely support one right way are tied up with knowledge transfer.
- General devaluing and erasure of non-academic, non-white, non-Western ways of knowing. We recently did a webinar about illustration and situated it here within the larger sphere of knowing. Notice how much of this ecosystem is devalued, erased or invisible within international development.
Internal to our company we attempt some of the following:
- Process is more important than outcome. IF you attend to process then the “right” outcome will happen without needing to be tight about it. This feels good to us. This is what we hold up.
- Don’t manage people, they don’t like to be managed. Manage timelines. Manage shared expectations of goals and milestones. However someone chooses to travel to the together point is their business.
- An abundance of curiosity. This means seeking things and ways that we find curious. And it means responding to unexpected things, differences with curiosity and interest not disdain and distrust. (Until we’re stressed and overloaded and then the ugliness can surface, we are human).
- Practicing noticing. IF something is uncomfortable or feels “wrong” how can we lean in and be interested and open to what there is to learn and how it could be different, rather than something to be managed or changed or fixed to a more right and comfortable way.
This article is written by:
Anna Martin, Evaluator, Social Worker, Facilitator, Complexity Coach, curious mischief maker and co-founder of Picture Impact.
Katrina Mitchell, Designer, Urban Planner, Strategist, Maker, relentless seeker of beauty and co-founder of Picture Impact.