Calling to: A proposal for an alternative communication protocol in social change communities

Since it’s pilot stages, the Authentic Allyship Coaching Group, a program I founded to support white allies in cultivating allyship based on the principles of healthy relating, has been intentionally held as a call-out (or even call-in) free space.

I set this initial guideline for the group because I felt that it was extremely important for white people to feel safe around each other. In my early conversations with white people, it was revealed to me that many of them did not feel safe amongst each other to talk about racism because of the possibility of being called out (or even called in). In fact, this was one of the major reasons why conversations around race did not advance in white activist communities despite BIPOC calls for white people to work with each other.

The thing is, triggers are inevitable if we are in community. We will trigger and be triggered.

The challenge with handling triggers in community is that: we are not individually responsible for the emotional load of each other’s personal and cultural trauma – yet, we are responsible to show mutual care, learn about each other, and adjust our behaviour by paying attention.

In light of this, I saw that the problem with ‘calling out’ or ‘calling in’ is that they still maintain the frame of someone who is ‘right’ asking for someone who is ‘wrong’ to change. I believe that, given the price of being wrong in the patriarchal capitalist education and justice system, it is too aggravating to communicate this way, especially if we want to be resilient as a community.

Because of this I wanted to set a protocol that would hopefully achieve these two equally important goals:

  1. New learnings about social trauma are integrated and the person who is triggered feels heard.
  2. The person who might have said or done something that triggered the other person doesn’t become ostracized or shut down.

The problem was I didn’t yet know what this actually looked like. So the group started with knowing what not to do, but not knowing what to do – a very common place to be in social change work.

The group’s commitment to the call-out/in free intention of the group has been nothing short of tremendous. It inevitably brought us to the edge of the unknown whenever someone was triggered by something that someone else said or did. Through these trials, there has been a great collective wisdom emerging.

I would like to take this opportunity to report back to the wider community about the work we have been doing, as well as officially propose a body-centred communication protocol to the current Authentic Allyship Coaching Group.

NOTE: Before I get into this I want to acknowledge that, to the best of my shallow knowledge, the ideas coming forth are reminiscent of how indigenous communities world wide have navigated relational matters. I would like to take this space to honour the deep wells of wisdom around the world. I feel a hope and gratitude that we just might be connected at the depths of our being.

The protocol I would like to propose is ‘calling to’, as in calling to attention what is happening in a non-judgemental way.

Here is a rough outline of what this might look like. Please note, this is simply a guide that can be used to adapt the protocol to different contexts based on factors such as privilege, time, energy and space. Also, I imagine ‘calling to’ as ultimately a practice that becomes integrated into everyday life so that it becomes ‘formless’ and improvised.

  1. There is an experience of discomfort in our body
  2. Let ourselves ‘notice’ the discomforting sensations without needing to change anything just yet. Is it sadness, anger, fear?
  3. Ask ourselves: what experiences in my life are these sensations and emotions connected to?
  4. Offer to the other person or the group, within what is healthy self-disclosure for us, what we are noticing.
  5. It might even help to say: “I am noticing X. This is what is coming up for me.” We can wait for a response or even extend an intentional invitation to be supported.

Essentially, ‘calling to’ is a practice of responding to a situation that would be commonly understood as a conflict by intentionally holding space. While it may sound counterintuitive to respond to hurt with loving kindness, I believe that this is a practice of self-compassion first and foremost. ‘Calling to’ actually starts with holding space for ourselves.

What I have noticed from personal and professional experience is that calling out/in can often come with a feeling of shame: that our triggered emotions of sadness/anger/fear are inconvenient to the other and will, therefore, be rejected. This can add an agitated energy to interactions and contribute to escalation because the emotions start to peak even before they are expressed. This can be very harmful when we are speaking from a position of less privilege – when things get heated it is usually the person who has the lesser amount of positional power that is going to experience the most pain.

With ‘calling to’, we are able to meet the emotions that are rising in us, not as disruptions, but as ‘guests’ that are bringing wisdom to the collective learning.

One of the most powerful aspects of ‘calling’ to is that it can also be a protocol for responding to being called out or called in. The right to speak one’s experience is not based on being right or wrong. It also does not make the other person wrong as it is not a rebuttal (which can often lead to space-taking).

Finally, I want to acknowledge that:

  1. ‘Calling to’ is an incredibly vulnerable and intimate way of communicating. It is certainly something that will take practice and easier to apply in situations where there is already some level of trust.
  2. ‘Calling to’ is a self-practice that we commit ourselves to because we understand it to be a self-compassionate way of communicating. It is not tone-policing (or tone-shaming), which comes from imposed expectations.

Good luck!

Are you a therapist, facilitator, organizer or healer called to a deeper exploration of subjects discussed in this post?

I provide coaching and consulting services for individual practitioners, enterprises, and organizations that are committed to intersectional cultural healing. You can find more information here.