* a bell chimes *…….

This is a universal sound. Babies, adults and even animals recognize and respond to this sound all the same way. But on a daily operational basis we mostly don’t communicate with bells or nature sounds unfortunately. We use spoken words and written words. We use images, graphs, videos, texts, hashtags, mathematical numbers.

There are a million different ways to communicate with each other. Turns out I am mostly good at conveying and digesting information in written form. The truth though, is that not everyone is wired the same when it comes to communicating ideas and information. I had a humbling experience and I found this out the hard way when I ran CreativeMornings in Portsmouth and I uncovered some hidden biases that I didn’t even know I had.

CreativeMornings is a monthly breakfast lecture series for the creative community. I was in charge of lining up speakers. The first year we just reached out to our known circle of colleagues because we didn’t really know how else to get speakers. The series exploded and began selling out fast. Great, right? Best case scenario in even our wildest dreams. Second year we were getting requests left and right to be a speaker, and we realized we needed a “system” to vet speakers. So we came up with a fairly complicated questionnaire and series of steps we put each speaker through - and if they checked all the pretty little boxes, then they could be considered for a speaking slot.

This is where the trouble started though - and I didn’t recognize it until about 1/2 way through year two. I looked at our speaker line up, and it kind of looked all the same. It was all 40 something white women - all interesting, and all intelligent, and all giving great talks - but something was missing. That was the first clue that I ignored. Everything sort of came to a head when I was really interested in having this one video artist that I met be a speaker, and he was interested as well. He was very different from me. Young hip guy with little kids. African American. Super cool and talented. Tons of charisma. Like I said - totally different from me. :) So I sent him an email link to our little system. Kept waiting for him to send it in since we were so excited to have him. Didn’t hear back. Months passed, still didn’t hear back. I ran into him and was like - dude - we didn't hear from you - what happened?? He said - “oh you know I really want to speak, but that form you sent - I just couldn’t get around to filling it out.” Huh. Weird! That was the second clue I ignored.

Then a few other things happened with this person that opened my eyes - I’ll save the details for another conversation - but sufficed to say, I had a truly humbling EUREKA moment at one point. I realized that even though my intentions were good, I had created a system that I would succeed at. And people just like me would succeed at. But as I learned, not everyone could succeed with this system and we were severely limiting our growth as a community because of this hidden bias. A hidden bias. Me! I consider myself very liberal and open, yet I had made so many assumptions about people based on how I grew up and how I was educated and my path in life that… were...totally and completely different from how other people picked up information in life. It really was a big and very humbling moment for me - one I continue to unpack every day. So from that moment on we tossed out the system and formed a committee of people who were all different and communicated in different ways to do the speaker canvasing. Almost overnight our speaker line up changed and became much more diverse and exciting and continues to this day. Still not perfect, but much, much healthier and growing.

It’s humbling to find out that our world - including schools, churches, governments, businesses - are largely set up with these types of well meaning systems with hidden biases. These systems are most successful for people who are just exactly like us. Which can seem productive for a little while, but ultimately, we are stronger with different voices and approaches. Next time you are in a meeting, or on a committee, or a even in a pew, ahem, with different people - assume some of them are not digesting information or approaching life the exact same way you are. Some will not answer your calls to action because you didn’t ask for information or input in a way that allows everyone to contribute. Believe me, I still struggle with this almost daily - it’s a process of growing. There is some good news though. There are some things in life that don’t require any words. Like the “feeling" I get from this church. That doesn’t require any words. The feeling is like this sounding gong to me. The feeling is expansive, yet deeply intimate. The feeling has no deadlines or pressure. There is no right or wrong way to hear it. This community, right here, is a deep bass-tone in my life that will always be there like a guide in the fog. I wish everyone could hear the wonderful sound our church makes.

.* Bell Chimes *

Jennifer Gray