Calling a Time Out helps slow down a potentially confusing or hurtful cross cultural conflict. Calling a Time Out also allows us white people (and everyone) to process our jumbled feelings.
Back to the story of me hosting the multiethnic group of Christian leaders. The next day I began with a second “Time Out,” but this one was to process and learn from our various reactions.
I began with, Let’s brainstorm a list of possible feelings that someone might have had last night. When you experience cross cultural conflict, what feelings might people have? (I chose a question that was a step removed, so that they did not have to own their feelings just yet, but rather could say what other people might have been feeling. I thought this would be a little bit safer way to get everyone to enter the conversation.)
You can see from the photo, our list was quite varied. (Forgive my bad handwriting, but I figured you might like to see the real list we created.) Paula pointed out to me that the list is mostly negative feelings, and I reminded her that the context was conflict and misunderstanding.
How is it possible to have several conflicting feelings at the same time? I quoted Mark 9…when the father confessed to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief.” I related to the father. Often I have belief mixed with unbelief. I am a jumbled set of sometimes contradictory feelings. That is okay. I just need space to call a Time Out and process the jumbled mess inside me.
Now, please pick 3 feelings from the list that you personally were experiencing. Or 3 others that did not make our list. Share with your neighbor.
Okay, let’s invite God into the feelings. It is not enough to just name the feelings. We want to interact with God amidst the feelings.
I confessed to them that my 3 instant feelings in the midst of the conflict the previous night were anxiety, awkwardness, and fear that the conversation would morph into a shame or blame dynamic. By naming my fears to myself in the moment, I was able to not be paralyzed by them. I find that we white people are not very good at naming the feelings we are having in the moment. So we tend to analyze the content of what is being said and try to have a rational conversation, maybe we try to win the argument, or get defensive. We are being highly influenced by our feelings, but we tell ourselves that we are just working out the ramifications of the disagreement.
Or if we know better than to be argumentative or defensive, we are silent. We white people seldom have safe places where we can process our multiethnic confusion and where we can bravely name our jumbled and conflicting feelings.
Paula and I have been the kind of white friends where we can process safely and wisely our white experiences (but we are careful not to turn our conversations into racist gripe sessions where we complain about these people and those people).
Try calling a Time Out on yourself the next time you find yourself having a reaction to a news article about racial conflict (or if you find yourself having no emotions at all…numbness or indifference or apathy are equally important to name and invite God into.) Or if you are an extrovert like me, ask a wise friend of whatever ethnicity, Can you be a safe place for me to process cross-cultural confusion from time to time? Is it okay if I call you, and you could play the role of a peer mentor for me? That way they expect you to call and process with them.