Nonprofit on the Rocks - Elissa Barrett - Western Justice Center
SEASON 3, EPISODE 3
“Why is it important for young people to be adept at conflict?
You can’t run a business without that skill. You can’t pass legislation – as we’ve seen – without that skill. You can’t stay in a long-term relationship without that skill. All these things that are about the messiness of the human experiment are really about being conflict adept.
Matt talks to Elissa Barrett, Esq. Executive Director of the Western Justice Center, a nonprofit organization that empowers people to strengthen their communities and build a healthy democracy by growing their conflict resolution skills, providing a much-needed, ”antidote to the politics of division gripping our nation.”
The pair discuss a wide range of complex topics and challenges facing our society such as, bridging the growing divide in our country, the importance of diversity hiring, the evolving LGBTQIA+ experience, and whether or not Gucci shoes can be worn in a Yurt.
We just had an election, we have a very angry country, people are pissed. People don't trust each other, people don't have conversations anymore. … What do we do as a country? What do we do as people?
Some of my best, like airline travel stories, are getting to sit next to somebody from a different part of the country who votes, practices religion, has relationships very different from myself, and just getting to ask the person a ton of questions about who they are, and why do they believe that and how did they come to believe that? And have them in some cases actually reciprocate and do the same for me. And I don't think either of us was voting differently when we got off the plane. But we could be in community with each other without thinking that that other person is less human, or should be subject to violence, or... And I think there's a very important social fabric threading that comes from running into people that we don't agree with, being able to have productive conflict, and come out the other side, agree to disagree, but without being mortal enemies. I think we've lost a lot of that. I don't know whether that's social media, or we have a whole media environment where you don't have to encounter information outside your worldview. I think that's very dangerous.
Liking somebody, respecting somebody or agreeing with what they believe in are all very different things. And I don't know if we know the difference anymore. And I think that that's so challenging to fix.
I think we have to. I mean back to my organization; the Western Justice Center is a conflict resolution education organization. And it's about giving people the skills and capacity to navigate conflict productively as an avenue for youth empowerment, and leadership development. So why is it important for young people to be adept at conflict? You can't run a business without that skill. You can't pass legislation, as we've seen, without that skill. You can't stay in a long-term relationship without that skill.
All these things that are about the messiness of the human experiment, are really about being conflict adept. Democracy does not exist without a population that knows how to navigate conflict, without resorting reflexively to sectarian violence. So, it's both like social emotional learning and understanding conflict and understanding underlying needs. And all the basic lesson plan of conflict resolution education at the micro level, but at the macro level, it really is, are we seeding a next generation with different tools than the ones that those of us who are in leadership are using right now?
So, you said something that I thought was really interesting that I kind of wanted to be like my motto at some days, "Life is messy." And it is messy and I don't think people like that. We all want to color within the lines but life is messy. And it should be because it makes you have these conversations. It forces you to look at other things-- look at things different ways. But it's messy. And-
Is it messy or is it generative? I always think about my own career, you could look at my resume, I think that's messy. Or you could look at it and say, "What a creative interesting person." So, it's all framing. Yes, let's normalize messiness. Messy is good. Coloring inside the lines is fun but finger painting is also fun. And finger painting is messy, but it's not bad. It's just a different way of approaching visual art.
I really appreciate you saying it the way you did, because when COVID goes away, and we can hang out again, I just want to be able to have those conversations, and we're not there. And I hope that we can be because life is just so sad without it.
Well, you know this, I mean, you're the co-founder of Envision, and I should say, full disclosure, Western Justice Center hired Envision for our strategic planning process. And one of the wonderful things working with you and your team is that we had a long strategic planning process, it was 15 months. We had some big organizational shifts happen, some planned, many of them not planned in the middle of strategic planning. And we were in that messy middle for a long time.
And it has taken me many, many years as an executive director to embrace the messy middle. I used to hate it. I used to think the messy middle meant that I was failing, I was a bad leader, I didn't have a clear vision. But what I've learned over time is a messy middle is a gift. You could just breathe and let it in because it's a generative space, it's a creative space, new ideas come about in the messy middle. You might think I've got to go direction A to B and then you're in the messy middle and you're like, "There's a direction X? I had no idea about direction X. I love direction X, let's talk about what it would take for us to move toward direction X." So again, embrace the messy, messy is good.
Not everyone drinks alcohol. For those who don’t, Bubbly is a great alternative! Elissa thinks so!