In 2022, in response to calls within the community, CMN began a process of reckoning with the need for greater attention to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the organization. A core group of members came together for this purpose, and after several weeks of difficult work, the group produced a set of guiding principles for CMN and a Code of Ethics. Grounded in CMN’s social justice roots, these are intended to guide interactions among members as well as interactions with children, parents, workshop presenters, and other individuals outside the organization. The group also produced a collection of Community Agreements that establish specific practices for creating a safe and brave space welcoming to all.
In this article, three members of the core group share their reflections on this groundbreaking process.
I’d like to start with some gratitude: First, for our DEI consultant, Peter Andrew Danzig, who stepped up to work with CMN on a very expedited timetable because the need was great. Peter’s humor, patience, and encouragement helped ease a difficult process.
Then there was the gentle energy of Sarah Pirtle, who brought wisdom from CMN’s founding and spent many hours listening to various perspectives on these issues. As always, she was filled with love and kindness, even as she reminded people of difficult truths.
I have enormous gratitude for the courage and perseverance of Nikki Rung. Nikki advocated strongly for this work and received significant pushback. She could have easily taken a walk on CMN. Instead, she stayed. Not only did she stay, she joined the CMN Board. She rocks! She kept the faith that CMN’s members might do the work to repair the real harms that have taken place.
Also in the mix were the practical and wise voices of newer folks, such as Cindy Haws, Christine Petrini, Carrie Ferguson, and Harold Fyütch Simmons, and the continued probing questions and insights of longtime members Jacki Breger, Kim Wallach, Susan Picking, Tim Seston, and Jenny Heitler-Klevans.
And of course, I have a particular special place in my heart for my old friend Jane Arsham, administrative director of CMN, and for the amazing Alice Burba, president of the Board. They helped hold this all together.
This process took place not over many months, but in the space of weeks, as we aimed to finish before CMN’s fall conference. People met on Zoom, edited and re-edited Google docs, met on Zoom again, and then went back and did it all again, several times. We participated in tough discussions about practices and about language. We began an ongoing discussion of how we should implement these plans among CMN members. We produced documents that will guide CMN in doing this work.
Yes, this work is an ongoing process. We don’t simply shake ourselves off and say we’re done.
So, I’d also like to offer a challenge: Step up, CMN members. This work is not easy. But it must go forward, and it must keep going. It involves seeking to understand different perspectives, being totally honest with ourselves and others, building empathy, and learning how to hold hard truths that challenge the people we thought we were.
This is an essential task for those of us who are dedicated to the well-being of the next generation. It’s an essential task for this organization if it’s to survive and thrive. And it’s an essential task that simply makes us better human beings. So that’s my challenge to all of us in CMN, whether it means dropping defenses, or being especially brave, or committing ourselves to relearning things we thought we knew. I challenge each of us to bring our whole heart and mind to this ongoing process of learning and growing.
For myself, this particular moment was a learning and growth process that deepened my understanding of how we regard folks who identify as nonbinary. Two of my close family members are nonbinary. I’ll admit I’ve stumbled over getting pronouns right. But I’ve come to realize that stopping to think about and respect pronouns is just the beginning of fully accepting these wonderful people whom I’ve known all their lives. I have new appreciation for the way they’ve come to know themselves, and their determination—even though they face extreme challenges in some parts of our society—to be simply and exactly who they are.
In a larger sense, this learning process is what we are all being called to do in CMN, to be fully accepting, respectful, and open to every person. It’s especially urgent for me as a person of privilege to develop empathy and always be mindful of challenges faced, often daily, by people on the margins. I’ll repeat: this work doesn’t end.
In the process of creating guiding principles for DEI, I learned so much about current inclusion policy across our society in general. I am incredibly proud to have worked with such a dedicated group of folks who care so much about this organization and saw the value in making sure that everything we do, formal or informal, is done with the intention of being welcoming. My commitment to making sure that anyone who comes in contact with our organization feels like they will be treated with respect and dignity drove my determination to see this process through to the end—despite some significant pushback at several points. Seeing how much other folks care about and believe in creating an equitable space was truly incredible, and it led me to a place of being very hopeful for the future of CMN.
I was surprised by the sheer amount of time that this all took. Like many others in this core group of incredible change-makers, I spent numerous hours researching, reading, revising, and thinking about everything in these documents. I hope these documents will make those from marginalized communities feel that this organization is truly for everyone!
I wanted to be part of building the CMN agreements because teaching children how to talk things out has been the focus of my work for forty years. The section of the writing that I worked on describes how people can meet together in dialogue if there is a breach.
Back in 1981, I was part of a national group of peace education pioneers. We shared activities and songs to help children learn how to talk instead of fighting or ignoring the problem and letting it fester. I wrote this song to acknowledge that this can be difficult and there can be a hurdle to get over.
I chose a lively Cajun style and worked with a Cajun band to represent the agitation in the process and the joy and relief when the communication works. Although I’ve created simple songs with lyrics such as “Speak up when something’s not fair,” I wanted to have a song that let children know that we adults know it’s not easy.
A key step is creating apologies that aren’t glib. Children know something is missing if you toss off an apology or say, “I’m sorry you feel bad,” without taking ownership of problematic actions. We work on what it’s like to make a sincere expression of choosing to do it differently and what it’s like to figure out what helps create repair.
When I bring this song to elementary-age classrooms, I start jokingly. I ask, “Why would you never want to have to talk out a problem with a friend?” They say things like, “It’s embarrassing,” or, “It might make things worse.” By speaking of a common human feeling of resistance, this song helps open doors. The essence of talking it out is exchanging understanding. In classrooms, we get into facing lines and act out the song.
Talk It Out
words and music by Sarah Pirtle
© 1993 Discovery Center Music BMI
on the recording Magical Earth produced by A Gentle Wind
I’m so angry I can’t see straight.
I’m mad as a bull breaking down a gate.
You and I are in this fight.
Gotta find a way to set things right.
Talk it out. We don’t wanna do it.
Talk it out. Do we have to go through it?
Talk it out. There is no doubt.
Gotta jump back, come back, talk it out.
I walked up to talk to you.
But you turned your head. What can I do?
I try to talk, but you go away.
Gotta jump back, hear me out today.
I didn’t give up. I said, “Come on.
This fight’s going on too long.”
“I know,” you said, and you nearly cried.
Jump back, come back, we both tried.
Talk it out. Talk to me.
Talk it out. Now I see.
Talk it out. We can mend.
Jump back, come back, friends again.
I’ve been part of a hundred talk-it-outs, and what I love is seeing the moment of “a-ha” when people feel heard and can come back together.
The basic steps of a talk-it-out are these four:
- Agree to talk together in a way that works for both of you. Do you want someone else with you?
- Take turns talking and listening. Seek understanding of the other.
- What would help now? This might involve an action, or it could be a discussion of how we’d do it differently next time. It might include making amends.
- Choose a plan together or agree that it feels settled for now.
This is what we are about in CMN: making sure to take time to speak our truth, give each other chances, and grow together. The glue for social agreements is how we use them in daily life, and the hope is that the agreements create an “inner tuning fork” of the inclusive ways we want to be living so that we can all refer to this felt sense.
Someone once said at any moment we can defend ourselves or grow—and what I like is the emphasis on giving each other this very chance to learn and grow.
Some people preserve endangered species. In CMN, we help preserve endangered human values and abilities: cooperation, mutual regard, changing oppression, talking things out.