It’s that time of year again—when we reflect on the past twelve months and consider what the next twelve might bring. If you are like me, there is usually a time, after putting up the tree or wrapping presents, when my thoughts turn to what the past year was like and what the next year might bring. For many people, those thoughts turn into resolutions for the new year that lies ahead. “I’m going to save more of my paycheque.” “I’m going to go to the gym.” “I’m going to travel.” “I’m going to stop smoking.”
Maybe you have made these kinds of resolutions in the past. If you have, you are probably among the 90% of people who fail to achieve the goals they set for themselves. Most of us slide or forget or lose track or give up. And most of us do so rather quickly—within the first month.
Despite what some may say, we don’t fail to see these resolutions through due to a lack of dedication or some personal flaw. Rather, the way we make resolutions is somewhat flawed. And, perhaps surprisingly, our commitments to reconciliation—both personally and in our organizations—often fail for the same reasons.
Resolutions: Big Leaps
In my experience (and according to experts and psychologists), there are three reasons that resolutions often fail. And they don’t have anything to do with the various excuses we often make—getting busy at work or having to take the kids to soccer or having the in-laws visit or whatever.
New year’s resolutions fail because:
- They are too big or ambitious (focusing on the destination, not the journey).
- They are separate from any habits we have already successfully established.
- They aren’t connected to or informed by our personal values.
When it comes to the work of reconciliation, it may seem like the problem is that we never have enough time in the day to follow through on something new, that it lands on the side of our desk, or that something else more urgent or important emerges.
But if we’re being honest, there will always be something else, we will always be busy, and there will always be new problems—just as there will always be kids to take to soccer and there will always be visits from the in-laws. These things are context, not constraints.
The challenges people and organizations have around reconciliation often line up with the reasons that new year’s resolutions fail:
- Our reconciliation goals are too ambitious too soon and thus become daunting.
- It becomes a separate initiative rather than embedding it into existing work.
- We haven’t connected our goals to our values so reconciliation feels like something we ‘should’ do rather than something we ‘want’ to do.
Reconciliation: Small Steps
I think that our commitment to reconciliation waxes and wanes, it comes and goes. We strive to make change and keep reconciliation at the forefront of what we do, but we slide and forget or lose track or give up. Let’s be clear, the work of reconciliation is not easy. (If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.)
In the cultural safety workshops that I run for The Federation, I talk about how reconciliation can seem overwhelming and daunting. That is a reason many people struggle in this work (or don’t begin in the first place). As a whole, it is too big. The goals people set for themselves are often too ambitious to start out with. That’s why it is important to think about reconciliation as a process.
Reconciliation requires many small steps over years and years. We need to work at reconciliation daily in various different ways over and over and over. By thinking about reconciliation as a series of small actions over a period of time, the overall journey becomes easier to understand and recognize—the task becomes less daunting and we can see what the steps are and how we can take those steps.
- Learn what First Nations are in your area.
- Find contact information for the First Nations.
- Reach out to the First Nations and introduce yourself.
- Follow up; invite them to events or ask if there are ways to support their community (donate books for a library or sports equipment for a team).
- Set up dedicated contact people in your organization and a plan to maintain and grow the relationship.
And when we are identifying the small steps along the path of reconciliation, it is also important to connect those approaches and embed those changes into our existing work and processes. Adjust things that are already underway, modify an existing process. The resolution “get more exercise” is vague and ephemeral compared to “walk for 30 more minutes than I usually do.”
Take something your organization is already doing—team meetings, annual conferences, vendor contracts—and find a way to embed Indigenous values, history, businesses, people, or culture. Add to your existing meeting check-ins a simple, rotating land acknowledgement. Book an Indigenous presenter for each of your annual conferences. Contract with Indigenous vendors for your catering or apparel or facilitation. Review your hiring process and look for ways to remove racial bias.
The third challenge has to do with our values—the guideposts that determine what is important to us and how we live our lives. There are many elements of Indigenous culture, Indigenous values, and Indigenous worldviews that we do not recognize or have the privilege of seeing. There are likely some values or aspects of Indigenous culture (e.g., connection to the land, problem-solving, attitude to elders, ways of handling emotions) that, given the opportunity or permission to explore, we may recognize or share.
But there are barriers that prevent us from closing that gap—from finding the way that our values can align with this work. Maybe the gap is the history we weren’t taught. Maybe it is guilt or prejudice or fear. Maybe you just don’t know where or how to start. (If this is you, consider signing up for my Cultural Safety workshops.) The good news is when you are able to bridge that gap—when you find a way to align the path of reconciliation with the guideposts that are your personal values—reconciliation stops being a thing forced on you by societal pressure and you realize that it has actually been intrinsically important to you this whole time.
A little help from your friends
I think we all know that simply wanting to make reconciliation work or talking about reconciliation is not going to do anything. In order for us to make real, meaningful change, we need to do the work and follow the steps. Hopefully making the steps smaller, connected to your existing work/life, and aligned with your values will help you along the path.
One final piece of advice: share your thoughts, ideas, and actions with other people. Whether you think of it as accountability or support or encouragement, we need to keep talking about what we are doing and how it is going. Keeping our goals and ideas to ourselves is how resolutions fail. It is also how reconciliation fails. Reconciliation is about creating relationships of mutual respect; it is relational. By definition, you can’t do it on your own or in your head.
So when you reflect on the past year and look forward to the year ahead, think about how you can make your resolutions more meaningful and think about how you can make your commitment to reconciliation more meaningful.
Mark a path of small, baby steps that start you in the right direction. Adjust and expand things you are already doing. Think about little changes you can make and ways you can show up differently. Enhance your understanding of Indigenous history, culture, and worldviews. Explore ways to align your reconciliation work with your values and beliefs. Share your commitment and your goals with your friends and colleagues. Encourage and support each other.
You’ll know you’re making progress when you are including Indigenous people where they had previously been ignored or left out, when you are standing up and speaking out when you witness discrimination, when you know and acknowledge whose land you are on and use that acknowledgement to inform how you live and work and behave on that land.
These are big and important goals. I wish you good luck and a happy new year.
Riley McKenzie, Indigenous Advisor