Tag Archive for: reflections

2020 Resources – Reflections on mindfulness

I went on my first 10-day silent meditation retreat 34 years ago. Back then, I didn’t dare tell anyone at work that I was meditating. Even telling friends and family was a challenge. They wondered out loud if I was going to shave my hair and head to India, or renounce my worldly possessions, or whether I could levitate (yes really).

I too was under some major misunderstandings back then. I thought that I could achieve a higher consciousness (if not enlightenment ) after those 10 days and that I would be impervious to the stressors in my child welfare job as a result. However, after the first 10-day retreat, I came back to Earth and learned that my mind was incessantly narrating my life and focusing on stupid things. I was a lot more judgmental about others than I had known or was comfortable with. And although meditating all day was painful, I became present and more fully alive through the experience.

It did not make me impervious to life’s challenges, I was just in my life in a more mindful way. I loved it and I sustained a daily practice of sitting meditations and annual retreats for many years. But then work got really demanding, children arrived, divorce happened, and there no longer seemed to be a way for me to get back to my daily practice of meditation.

Fast forward many years. I began to notice that meditation and mindfulness practices were becoming more mainstream in the Western world. Jon Kabat-Zinn brought Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) into the realm of health care and demonstrated that participants suffering from a wide array of chronic and serious medical conditions and stress-related illnesses experienced significant improvements in health and wellbeing through simple mindfulness practices over an 8-week program. Brain Imaging has enabled researchers to see the ways in which the brain works both when highly stressed and when practicing mindfulness. This has demonstrated that the parts of the brain responsible for ‘higher order thinking’ (aka executive functioning) are more active when people engage in mindfulness and meditative practices. Long-term mindfulness practice has been shown to thicken the cortical regions related to attention and sensory processing, and may offset thinning of those areas that typically comes with aging.

We are continually learning about the science of mindfulness. For example, mindfulness enhances the neural circuitry and neural integration leading to more balanced self-regulation and flexibility. Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel (whom many of you will know from his work on the “developing mind” in children and youth) states that: “being mindfully aware, attending to the richness of our here and now experiences, creates scientifically recognized enhancements in our physiology, our mental functions, and our interpersonal relationships. Being fully present in our awareness opens our lives to new possibilities of well-being” (2007, p. xiii).

Research suggests that mindful leaders are able to see things more clearly, cope more effectively with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), “disentangle itself from premature conclusions” and routinized behaviours, generate creative ways to solve messy problems, make better decisions, and be more effective in their relationships at work (and elsewhere). Increasingly, we see health care providers, corporations, academic institutions, governments and schools embracing mindfulness practices to enhance wellbeing, reduce health care costs, and improve performance. Meditation and mindfulness are now mainstream in the Western context.

Although I still don’t get to the cushion and meditate for an hour a day as I used to, I have found that I can still weave mindfulness practice into my everyday life in a helpful way. In the hopes that you might be willing to explore mindfulness further—to enhance well-being, nurture relationships, develop your leadership, address stress or simply to practice the pause—I offer a few Q’s and A’s and some recommended resources below.

Q. What is the distinction between meditation and mindfulness?

A. Contemplative meditation traditions and practices have existed in all faiths and in diverse contexts and countries for thousands of years, and I can’t possibly represent all forms and intentions of meditation here. However, the tradition of insight or Vipassana meditation that I am most familiar with is the practice of training our attention to see things as they really are; to enhance awareness of both internal and external here-and-now experiences. It requires that we focus on a single object (often the breath to start), and as distractions arise we aim to let them go and re-focus on the object. This gives us a ‘centre’ to come back to when things get hairy in our minds. Meditation requires that we be still – or at least very intentional in our movements as in the case of a walking meditation – in order to bring a high quality of attention to our practice. This is where ‘time on the meditation cushion’ matters, as by being still we become aware of the incessant chattering, distractions and interpretations that our minds fix on, and gives us an opportunity to see them for what they are and let them go.

Meditation cultivates concentration, mindfulness and compassion. As Sharon Salzberg states, “Concentration steadies and focuses our attention so that we can let go of distractions. Distractions waste our energy; concentration restores it to us…Mindfulness refines our attention…” (2011, p. 11-12).  As we enhance our capacity for mindfulness through some kind of meditative practice, we can then take it into every aspect of our daily lives. It enables us to become more aware of sensations, thoughts, feelings, reactions, and create a space for the “nonjudgmental acknowledgement” of experience. This gives us a bit more space to shift from habitual reactions to seeing different options.

For example, if you are having difficulty with a colleague and are dreading the meeting you are about to go into, mindful awareness might allow you to see the habitual patterns that the 2 of you are locked into, or the way in which your mind creates a whole storyline of how awful your colleague will be and why you have every right to be disappointed and frustrated – before you even get into the meeting!  Mindfulness helps us catch ourselves in the spiral and disentangle ourselves from the judgments and stories so that we can try something different. As Salzberg suggests, “mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening” (p. 13).  I love the story she shares about a student who, after a particularly stressful day, was in the gym locker room and tore a hole in her pantyhose. She said to a stranger, ‘see, I need a new life’, to which the stranger responded, ‘no, you need a new pair of pantyhose’. 

Q.  How can I bring more mindfulness into my days?

A.   As noted above, our capacity for mindfulness is enhanced if we do some meditative practice – even 15 minutes a day can be very beneficial. However, can also practice ‘mindful moments’ in which you are stably present and attentive to one thing for a minute or more, including:

  • Sensations – such as the smell of your toothpaste or morning coffee, the sound of the rustle of leaves in the wind or a child’s giggle, the different tastes in your meal, the sensation of your back against the chair or the way in which you are holding your jaw.
  • Thoughts –noticing what thoughts are arising, how they evolve in your mind and how your body responds to the thoughts.
  • Feelings – noticing what different emotions (from pleasant to unpleasant) arise in particular situations, and how your thoughts and body are affected.

You may find it difficult to be aware and focused for even a minute, in which case, just notice that and be aware of the way you are distracted. It helps to bring curiosity, openness and a sense of humour into these mindful moments.

Q. How can mindfulness support my leadership?

A. Research suggests that mindfulness enables us to detach from habitual judgments and responses and see things as they are. Instead of mindless inattention to the small things that can become big things if ignored, we are more alert to early warning signs and can take appropriate action. As our capacity for concentration and awareness grows we can become more flexible, innovative, productive, and make better decisions. Further, mindfulness enhances our capacity for compassion and empathy, which helps us as leaders (see Langer, 2014). 

Michael Carroll, in his book, The Mindful Leader, suggests that the primary act of mindful leadership is “to open – to fully appreciate our circumstances before we seek to influence or act upon them. When we are willing to open to our world before we act, we not only learn what we need to know, but equally important, we express a vital, innate intelligence that is sharp, flexible and unassuming…We grasp directly the full measure of our present circumstances, recognizing opportunities, appreciating other’s views, [and] acknowledging difficulties” (2007, pp. 23-24).

Recommended references:

Carroll, Michael (2007). The Mindful Leader.

Focuses on ten key principles of mindfulness and how they apply to leading groups and organizations.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon (2012). Mindfulness for Beginners.

Kabat-Zinn brought mindfulness into Western medicine and remains one of the best teachers of mindfulness practices. This book is a series of short reflections and stories that can be used to stimulate practice. A CD of guided meditations is included.

Langer, Ellen (1989/2014). Mindfulness.

This classic written by a Harvard psychologist in 1989, concluded that ‘pervasive mindlessness’ was costing us dearly (limiting mindsets, unhealthy aging, loss of control and self-regulation, burnout, etc.) and proposed a way out through mindfulness.  It is still a great read.

Salzberg, Sharon (2011). Real Happiness – The Power of Meditation.

Offers a thoughtful, balanced 28-day program that introduces the basics as well as different forms of meditation (e.g., walking, eating, hearing) and simple mindfulness practices; includes a CD with guided meditations. 

Siegel, Daniel (2007). The Mindful Brain.

For those interested in the research pertaining to mindfulness and neurobiology and how they interact.

Stahl, Bob & Goldstein, Elisha (2010). A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook.

If you are interested in developing mindfulness practices to relieve stress, anxiety and health concerns, this workbook does a great job of presenting MBSR techniques and practices.    

Online resources:

Palouse Mindfulness, MBSR Program

Dave Potter is a certified MBSR facilitator and psychotherapist and has created a free 8-week MBSR program, modelled after the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s program (which was founded by Jon Kabatt-Zinn). A number of 2020 participants have gone through this program and found it very helpful.

Dr. Tara Brach is an author and meditation teacher (her books True Refuge and Self-Acceptance Acceptance are powerful) and she shares many guided meditations, as well as how to meditate articles on her website

2020 Reflections – Living into reconciliation

Last week I attended the Federation’s Spring General Meeting and Social Policy Forum. Leadership 2020’s core faculty member, Chris Corrigan, led the 120 participants in Open Space (see sidebar on Open Space) and a beautiful array of topics were proposed by the participants for deep discussion. You can find the raw proceedings here. I called a conversation on the question of “How do we live into reconciliation fully and in our day-to day practice” and an amazing group of people leaned into the conversation. Gratitudes to the participants for being open to the exploration, for sharing examples of living into reconciliation, and for the willingness to continue the discovery and action-taking over the coming months.

I called a conversation on the question of “How do we live into reconciliation fully and in our day-to day practice” and an amazing group of people leaned into the conversation. Gratitudes to the participants for being open to the exploration, for sharing examples of living into reconciliation, and for the willingness to continue the discovery and action-taking over the coming months.

Here are a few take-aways from the conversation:

  • Reconciliation is not a program or a formula – it is a way of being that influences our personal actions that in turn inform and influence organizational and societal actions. Reconciliation is a personal responsibility.
  • “We don’t think enough ourselves about the importance of our work and the difference our actions can make.” In support of reconciliation we have to attend to the finer details of our practice and know that we have to challenge inaction and indifference – our own and others – in order to live into the possibilities.
  • It is important to know about our own culture (as non-Indigenous peoples)  – whatever that might be – in order to have empathy with what it would be like to have this culture taken from us, and what it would feel like to be unable to connect with culture.
  • “As Indigenous advocates, we have had to take a strong stance, and have had to be fierce, which has scared some people [but was necessary]…Before the TRC there was the shear weight of holding space for our history [despite the indifference]; post TRC the space is everywhere and we can have the conversations we need to have now.”
  • We have to shift the narrative from separation to connection and overcome our histories of boundaries and distance.
  • “We don’t know what to do or how to reconcile, but we can figure this out together” – we need to host conversations for discovery. “Ask, where is my role to collaborate and build relationships?”

Ideas that were shared included:

  • Forming a ‘reconciliation committee’ within the organization to consider how to live into reconciliation.
  • Creating space and time in our teams and agencies to ask: What are we doing in our organization that is causing a problem or getting in the way of reconciliation (this could be policies, practices, etc that explicitly or implicitly create barriers and challenges)? What are we going to do about it? It is important that we bring curiosity to everything we do to see with fresh eyes what the experience of people accessing our services is.

At the end of the Social Policy Forum, ten people stepped forward with ideas they wanted to turn into action – plans and next steps that they would each be willing to champion. Those ten projects are listed here. Find one that could benefit from your energy and get involved!

2020 Reflections: Another step forward

I know many of you have already been inspired and encouraged by last week’s decision from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The Tribunal concluded that the Federal Government has been discriminating against First Nations children living on reserve by failing to provide the same level of child welfare support as is provided to other children. This is a meaningful story on many different levels for Leadership 2020.

The decision itself is profound: It states that the Federal Government’s management of First Nations child and family services and its funding model has “resulted in denials of services and created various adverse impacts for many First Nations children and families living on reserves.” It follows that the government must “cease the discriminatory practice and take measures to redress and prevent it” suggesting service redesign, increased funding, and support for FN’s to deliver their own culturally appropriate child welfare services.

Interestingly, the decision also states the “the fate and future of many First Nations children is still being determined by the government” – comparing the situation to that of the residential schools. If you have not already reviewed the short news clip of Cindy Blackstock, ED of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS) of Canada, I encourage you to do so for both content and delivery – Cindy is compelling

And this clip leads me to another reflection on the case – that of vision, persistence, engagement and leadership. After 10 years of trying to get the government to understand and address the inequities, the FNCFCS launched their case in 2007, and the effort that it has taken to prepare the evidence and make the case has been huge. Cindy herself was being ‘watched’ by the Federal Government – presumably for daring to speak out about injustice! This is a long time to wait and wonder if the investment of resources, energy and heart will be worth it, and if fairness and justice will prevail. Yet, Cindy says, “It is our job as adults to stand up for kids” and the FNCFCS and allies continued to pursue this because it was an opportunity to “reset the conscience of the country” by laying out the facts of the situation. I am so moved by that concept; it particularly resonates at this time, so close on the heels of the TRC reports.

We talk a lot in 2020 about the importance of leaders having a vision that they can communicate clearly to others, and ‘walking their talk’ with congruent actions. The best visions are aspirational but also personal – people see how it connects to a value or purpose that has meaning for them. Cindy’s words – and perseverance – are expressions of her vision and of her commitment to ‘walk the talk’ even when it is a very, very uncertain and long journey.

The other learning for me in this case is the power of engagement. FNCFCS created the “I am a Witness” campaign that invited people to follow the case before the Tribunal in the media or by attending the 70+ days of hearings: “As a caring Canadian, we invite you to follow this historic case and then decide for yourself whether or not you feel the federal government is treating First Nations children fairly today.” It is an invitation to pay attention and to make a decision for oneself. It is not telling people what to think but to be engaged as a caring Canadian. They transparently offer information, resources, ideas, and videos in order for people to thoughtfully consider the issues. For me, this is an example of congruence in beliefs and actions – of inviting, not telling and oppressing; of being transparent, not secret; of trusting in the caring nature of others and the potential for Indigenous and non-indigenous people to act in solidarity for children. The Campaign is also brilliant in that it is not about Cindy as the hero-leader out front (although in my view she is heroic), but about thousands of caring people in circle. This is leadership in action – vision, persistence, invitation, engagement, inclusion, and above all – passion. Check out the FNCFS website for more information and their suggested actions.

Melanie Mark’s story is also a powerful one about resilience and perseverance. She grew up in very difficult circumstances, experienced trauma and disruption throughout her young life, lost her siblings into foster care, and then fought to reunite the family. She also went to school, pursued higher education, volunteered within her community, advocated for children and youth and eventually joined the Representative for Children and Youth’s office. She was elected this week to sit as the MLA for Mt Pleasant. I can’t describe the joyful feeling I had watching her be drummed into the Heritage Hall after her victory. (She has also agreed to come on as a 2020 speaker in the future).

So what inspires people like Cindy, Melanie and many of the people we work with to keep working through the challenges and growing? Psychologist Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindsets sheds some light on this.

“Think about your hero. Do you think of this person as someone with extraordinary abilities who achieved with little effort? Now go find out the truth. Find out the tremendous effort that went into their accomplishment—and admire them more.”

2020 Reflections – Thinking about the other

We believe that Leadership 2020 is much more than a leadership training program. Sure, it builds the leadership capacity of individual participants just as other programs do. But more fundamentally, the program builds collective capacity to work differently with complexity and in the ‘spaces between’. 2020 aims to build stronger, more resilient, and effective teams, organizations, networks and systems. We do this, in part, by breaking through some of the limiting judgments and beliefs that we hold about ourselves and each other (e.g., MCFD vs. agencies; Indigenous vs. non-Indigenous).

We believe it will make a big difference if we can embrace the real complexity of our work, engage with our diverse communities, and enact new ways of practicing and continuously learning together. So how can we get better at working in this way? For one, we have to unpack how we see ‘the other’.

In several communiqués released in December, I talked about the implicit judgments, biases, and prejudices that can cloud our view of ‘the other’ and limit our ability to be open and curious, understand, embrace and engage.

Stick with me while I share a little story. I am currently in Oxford UK for two weeks of intensive learning for the Global MBA Program that I have been in for the past year. This is primarily an online program so my interactions with others have been through Skype, Whats App, and course discussion boards. I am now spending 12 hours a day with 17 other students from 15 different nations and I have come up-close and personal with my judgments and biases! I hate it when this happens!

For example, through the online posts and occasional team projects, I had unconsciously created whole stories about people based on age, ethnicity, experience, occupation, country of origin, etc. And sometimes these stories weren’t very flattering. But now that I have met some of the other learners, I see that their stories are not at all like the stories I wrote for them. That ‘accountant-type’ is an incredibly generous human being, who is so passionate about his calling that he tutors young people in his African nation who want to learn about numbers. And the strong, multi-credentialed woman from Asia is trying to figure out how to be the best parent she can be to her 3 year old while navigating cultural, organizational, and ethical challenges that make it really difficult.

So what does all this have to do with 2020? I offer it as an invitation to consider how you might create stories about others without really knowing them, and in so doing, make it more difficult to work together. I also offer it as an example of how important it is to work on our self-awareness and cultural agility as an ongoing leadership practice.

We are human and humans have historically benefited from creating in-groups and out-groups. However, in this time of reconciliation we have to ask ourselves, how beneficial is it to perpetuate us and them or ‘other’ thinking when we need so many perspectives to address complex issues?

For the Weekly Read, I offer a guest article from Tess Charlesworth on how we can catch our implicit biases and work through them to become more open, inclusive and culturally agile. She shares some new research on ‘cultural metacognition’ and then suggests concrete things you can do to reduce bias and judgments. 

Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make sense any more.


2020 Reflections – October Alumni Gathering

The Alumni gathering and social impact summit was designed by a small group of graduates and participants and we are grateful to them for their thoughtful ideas and contributions that made the event a success: Rebecca Ataya, Sheila Best, Maria Cargnelli, Connie Epp, Dayna Long, Lynne Mansell, Maureen Mackell, Wedlidi Speck and Annemarie Travers. The event brought together 80 people, drawn from every one of the eight cohorts we have hosted. We also welcomed three guests who served as ‘witnesses’ to the process and learning. Thanks to Stacie Prescott from Options Community Services (and one of the original 2020 advisors), Trilby Smith from Vancouver Foundation’s Fostering Change initiative and Al Etmanski, social innovator.

Unfortunately our live stream coverage to 25 additional registrants did not work due to problems with the company we retained to provide this service. We are so sorry that this did not work and are now trying to salvage recordings from Al Etmanski’ s presentation to at least share this teaching. Apologies to those who tried to make sense of the live stream!

We had three intentions for the gathering: connection, learning and action:

  • Connect people across cohorts into a broader 2020 community.
  • Provide people with some tangible learnings, skills, practices that will enhance or affirm their leadership toolkit, and with a vision/inspiration and strategies for broader systems change.
  • Engage people in collective work for social impact and build the movement.

To support this, we convened an array of world café discussions, knowledge ‘camps’ and action tables. Over the next week we will complete the proceedings and share this broadly with the broader 2020 community. A number of people wanted to continue connecting to explore ways to work together and differently to bring about positive social impacts in areas that are important to them. The intention here is to work within our spheres of influence and try out small probes that will help us identify ways to – for example – embed trauma informed practice in our work, re-imagine foster care, extend 2020 opportunities to youth leaders, etc. We hope to support the leadership movement by living into the 6 patterns that Al Etmanski referenced in his talk at the gathering and that are detailed in his book Impact (see communiqué 7 for a summary). More next week!

2020 Reflections – Bittersweet endings

We have had an extraordinary 6 weeks of 2020 learning and connection. In October the Blended 3 and 4 cohorts completed their final residencies and graduated in style. The Blended 5 cohort launched in early November, and we also hosted our first Alumni gathering and social impact summit on October 21-22.

The ‘endings’ of cohorts are always bittersweet. It is an honour for the design and hosting team to see how people reconnect in the final residency and to bear witness to what has happened for them over the 10 months of learning. Sometimes the shifts are significant and obvious – new roles and jobs, new communities served, new learning and degree programs initiated, etc. Just as important however, are the less obvious shifts, such as increased confidence and belief in self as a ‘leader’, new perspectives and openness, new and positive ways of working and supporting others, volunteering for special projects and committees, trying out new ideas, failing in something and recovering, revitalized connections, improved self care and wellness, greater mindfulness, etc. These shifts speak to the three pillars of great leadership: it is personal, participatory and practice-based. Participants continually affirm through their actions that all three domains matter and that the journey is ongoing.

As much as we love the second residencies, it is also sad to end this part of the program, and the bi-weekly connections with such amazing leaders in our field. In some ways we are just beginning the work together – as we explore social impact and changemaking in the final residency it feels like we have to keep going. As we build our graduate community and create cross-cohort connections I do hope that each of you that have graduated (recently and in the past cohorts) can make the space in your schedules to stay connected and to “ask for what you need and offer what you can” from this broader community.

2020 Reflections – Finding Fellow Travellers

This week I spent three hours with my friend and mentor, Al Etmanski. Al is a social activist and innovator extraordinaire, author of the recently published book Impact (see the weekly read below), world leader and connector in social innovation – and he will be with us for the 2020 Social Impact gathering on October.  I have known Al since 1986 when I was a naïve but earnest public servant working as the Provincial Coordinator for Deinstitutionalization. Al was a larger than life and passionate leader in the disability movement that had, with others, raised awareness about the state of institutional care, painted a picture of positive options, and successfully poked, prodded and inspired the government to close the three institutions of the day and develop a community-based care system.  Our working relationship was difficult at times – me being in the middle of a government bureaucracy with limited resources and high expectations, and he being a progressive leader in the community and a passionate parent. I often didn’t know what to do or how to do it, but Al was a good teacher and there were lots of amazing people involved.  We figured some stuff out along the way. However, as is often the case, I didn’t really grasp the depth of the learning until much later. 
Fast forward a few decades and I am the ED of the Federation. Al calls to invite me onto the Premier’s Advisory Council on Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. I am sceptical of government’s intentions – is this about offloading responsibility or unrealistic expectations for the community sector? We talk and he understands my fears, and I trust him and his intentions.  What happened on the Advisory Council is an interesting and positive story for another time, but what has been most important to me is re-kindling a relationship with Al, and in the process learning to give voice to ideas, fears and questions.
What Al does brilliantly is listen, question, connect and reflect. He readily admits that he wasn’t always this way, and that in the past he fractured some working relationships, but he intentionally cultivates these practices now. He has learned that it is critical to creating positive social impact. He has an immense depth of knowledge and experience, but he never makes you feel anything but interesting. He asks wonderful questions and seeks to understand, and in so doing, has helped me give shape and form to some of the ideas and questions that I carry. He is also humble – willing to share stories of his own crises of faith and in so doing has given me permission to share my own doubts and frustrations.  This is not done just to feel better about ourselves, but rather to think bigger about ourselves. To his core, he, and his wise partner Vicki Cammack, believe that the tough, complex, and intractable social, economic and environmental issues that we face can be addressed. And they don’t just talk about it – they are out in the world wrestling with the work, generating and testing action, failing, floundering and trying again.
In 2020 we talk about great leadership being participatory, and I gained a more nuanced understanding of this after my conversation with Al. As leaders and change-makers, we need to be skillful engagers and collaborators as we cannot do this work alone. However we also need to create bonds with people who are, as Al says, ‘wise travellers’. These are the people who: can challenge and disrupt our thinking and practice; who can accept us in the times when we are excited and flushed with the delight of seeing an idea come to life or some good happening in the world – and make it even better; who accept us when we have fears, anger and doubts, and can craft a safe container for exploration of it all; who connect us to our ideas and to others and their ideas.  He notes that innovation often arises from and at the margins – with people who hold different views and have had different life experiences and are not often welcomed into the centre. This is one of the key teachings in the final residency of 2020 – as leaders in this field we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to set the table for diverse views and perspectives in order to co-create social impact. It has been interesting to consider who the wise travellers are in my life, and who I need to ‘set the table for’ to challenge my thinking in these times. What about you?  

2020 Reflections – The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report was released in the week just before the start of the Indigenous focus cohort 3 in June and I was both profoundly moved and disturbed by the findings. I was also anxious. The TRC report was a call to action, but how could we respond, and what did we need to be mindful of and do within Leadership 2020 – and with the upcoming Indigenous focus cohort – to honour the TRC’s work and most importantly, the testimony of the thousands of survivors who told their stories? What does reconciliation look like and what could I/we do to live into this spirit? These are questions I invite our Leadership 2020 community to explore and discuss.
The opening paragraphs of the report reflected my anxiety and questions: “Now that we know about residential schools and their legacy, what do we do about it?

“Getting to the truth was hard, but getting to reconciliation will be harder. It requires that the paternalistic and racist foundations of the residential school system be rejected as the basis for an ongoing relationship. Reconciliation requires that a new vision, based on a commitment to mutual respect, be developed. It also requires an understanding that the most harmful impacts of residential schools have been the loss of pride and self-respect of Aboriginal people, and the lack of respect that non-Aboriginal people have been raised to have for their Aboriginal neighbours.Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered” (italics added, p. vi).

The TRC calls for us to become more aware, as a start, “Too many Canadians know little or nothing about the deep historical roots of these conflicts. This lack of historical knowledge has serious consequences for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, and for Canada as a whole. In government circles, it makes for poor public policy decisions. In the public realm, it reinforces racist attitudes and fuels civic distrust between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians. Too many Canadians do not know the history of Aboriginal peoples’ contributions to Canada, or understand that by virtue of the historical and modern Treaties negotiated by our government, we are all Treaty people. History plays an important role in reconciliation; to build for the future, Canadians must look to, and learn from, the past” (Italics added, p. 8). 

The TRC report is a heart- and gut-wrenching read – but I believe that it should be required reading for any of us working in this sector. The truth-telling of the 100-year story of the IRS and the resulting cultural genocide, as well as the ‘sixties scoop’, helps us become more historically and culturally aware. It positions us to better understand the diverse contemporary experiences of Indigenous people and communities. It is also a humbling and significant call to action. The recommended actions in the section on Child Welfare (pp. 137-144) are of particular importance, although the child welfare interests cannot be separated from health, education, justice, and culture.

The TRC also suggests that “reconciliation as an ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships. A critical part of this process involves repairing damaged trust by making apologies, providing individual and collective reparations, and following through with concrete actions that demonstrate real societal change” (p. 16).

So now what? Certainly the different levels of government have work to do, but so do we as individuals and as leaders in this field. As we prepared to welcome the Indigenous focus cohort to Bowen Island in June, the hosting team spent a number of hours talking about the TRC report, what it meant to us, what was being called for now and how we would ‘show up’ for the participants and for each other. Through this dialogue and intention, I gained a different level of presence and mindfulness and am grateful to Wedlidi, Caitlin, Chris and Annemarie for the dialogue. I have a long way to go on my journey from cultural awareness, to understanding, to competency, to humility, and to cultural agility and wise action, but it is clear that it cannot be a solitary journey.

In the Fall we would like to host some online dialogue circles on reconciliation and invite your ideas. What questions are you carrying? What do you need to learn, discuss, or practice in order to live into the spirit of reconciliation?