Recently I was part of the organizing committee of a community development event to discuss white privilege. The committee includes a passionate, committed, and smart bunch of diverse women.
A few weeks before, the invitation for the event was ready. It included all the information for people to put it on their calendar, i.e. date, time, description, organizers… the usual.
I asked if we could make the invitation, well… more invitational. Additionally, I suggested reconsidering another detail that was brought up during the meeting: the participation of a panel of experts.
Why an Invitation?
My desire to work on these details about the event was primarily motivated by my work with the Six Conversations by Peter Block, and also by my stance as a Narrative Coach, and, even as a yoga teacher.
As a Narrative Coach, I believe in inviting people to see their reality for what it is, rather than trying to dissuade them from it. The coaching journey is a constant invitation to many questions: How does the coachee see their world? How do they act in it? What are the consequences of their actions? What else might be possible? I believe in inviting the coachee into an exploration, at times playful, always brave; welcoming an interest to observe patterns, especially those of self-judgment and criticism that stand in the way of transformation.
I frequently say that I’m not in the business of fixing people. Narrative Coaching is aligned with invitational rhetoric in which we, as coaches, invite people on a different journey of relating and exploring. How do coachees relate to what is happening in their lives? Are they seeing themselves as a broken person? Do they see coaching as a process that will fix their deficiencies? I love to invite people to be curious about unseen possibilities.
Invitational Rhetoric to Bring Diverse into The Room
Sonja K. Foss and Karen A. Foss in their book Inviting Transformation: Presentational Speaking for a Changing World, talk about the importance of invitational rhetoric in today’s diverse world. They say invitational rhetoric is characterized by eight assumptions:
- The purpose of communicating is to gain understanding.
- Participants listen with openness.
- The speaker and the audience are equal.
- Power is shared between the audience and the speaker as power-with rather than power-over.
- Change happens when people choose to change themselves.
- All participants are willing to be changed by the interaction.
- Invitational rhetoric creates a world of appreciation for differences.
- Invitational rhetoric is one more option.
In today’s politically charged world, I hear people saying they want to understand the position of the other. It is challenging to bring opposing views into the room. With a subject as complicated and charged as white privilege, the committee wanted to make sure white people, particularly white males, wouldn’t feel shunned and would, at the very least, agree to attend the event. Thus, some of the chosen panelists were white. They would fulfill the role of ally spokesperson in an effort to bridge differences and difficult conversations.
While invitational rhetoric is just one more option —as described in assumption #8 above— since some contexts and environments would call for other kinds of rhetoric —conquest, conversion, benevolent, or advisory rhetoric— in this case, seeking to bring diverse points of view and experiences into the room to discuss white privilege, invitational rhetoric was precisely the kind of rhetoric that would not only promote participation but also would set the tone for the series of events that we were launching that evening.
It is difficult to let go of other kinds of rhetoric. We are immersed in them; we are brought up with them; many of us were educated with them —perhaps with the exception of those who’ve attended a Montessori school, for instance. And, again, while not every instance might call for invitational rhetoric, only the fact of knowing that invitational rhetoric exists, helps us become aware of how our intention and the language we’re using match. This can be a sobering encounter with unquestioned approaches and new possibilities.