Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Robert was not Invited

Yesterday was the official United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CWS) Non-Government Organization (NGO) consultation day. This experience included a plethora of the most book-smart, degree-acquired, experientially-qualified women from all over the world speaking about issues that they hold dear. We heard from NASA experts, former country presidents, UN officials, and grassroots organization leaders. The morning was not only informational, but it was also inspiring. I am extremely grateful I was able to hear these women speak.

However, not meaning to disrespect the insight, knowledge, and prestige associated with cavorting smartly across the professional stage…the best part of my day was lunch time. Okay, laugh, “lunch” is such an elementary answer. But to me, it was so much more than that; lunch was Three Cups of Tea. It was like a Catholic SEARCH condensed into one meal. However, the awesomeness of my experience resided not with the food—even though I do give CSW thanks for the veggie options—it was the people with whom I enjoyed this time.

Just before the (delayed) lunch, the emcee told everyone in attendance that because there were so many people—roughly 400-600 at any given time—that we would have to take lunch in 30 minute shifts in order to comply with fire codes. I thanked the English alphabet cosmos which rescued my stomach, as last names starting with A-G ate first. I scurried down the snow-covered steps of the Salvation Army building, out into the bone-chilling wind, and next door to the “cafeteria.” I surveyed the stereotypically prepared conference box lunches and quickly grabbed my choice. Boxes our hands, I stood with many of the women whom I already knew and walked into the makeshift dining room filled with alphabetically blessed people. Even though there were seats for us all to sit together, I insisted that we split up and each sit at different tables, for networking, better conversation, learning etc.

I found my place among three women, after asking their permission to sit via the rule: “is this seat taken?” It wasn’t. I sat. Shortly after, two more women engaged in the same convention. Thus, our group, our random, spontaneous group was formed. Young and old and in-between, different races and religions, histories and people, we promptly begin properly introducing ourselves. After five minutes of polite typical conversation, we began to stop formalities. For what ever reason, we decided to talk “for real.” I’m not sure how that happens; it is rare that one finds oneself in a situation where personal barriers are broken and one becomes raw and vulnerable. While some argue this type of discussion is easier with strangers, it is nonetheless exceedingly rare.

These women and I talked about ourselves, our lives, our passions, and our impressions of the conference. We discussed heartbreaks, successes, relationships, motivations, frustrations, families, and dreams. Nancy, Anneke, Lucia, Nina, Amy and I bonded in a vein similar with conscious raising groups in early feminism. When we told stories, we literally and metaphorically leaned in to each other; we scooted our chairs closer and understood. We opened ourselves to each other. We discovered we were published authors, film makers, educators, parents, children, spouses, environmental researchers, editors, world travelers, and so much more.

I remember when Amy shook her head in disbelief, squirming excitedly in her chair, as Nancy grinned, pecking away notes on her iPad. Anneke, who embodies the vision of a 1970s poet—and she is—removed her earthen scarf, put her hand in her hands, and stared into the eyes of Nina, another author. Nina was gesticulating wildly, talking excitedly, and uncensored. Lucia scribbled notes, nodding emphatically. I leaned back in amazement, knowing that these were relationships coming into being.

We exchanged our research, book recommendations, our stories, news stories, best practices, statistics, and little pieces of ourselves. Over the next HOUR AND A HALF our relationship and our bond intensified.

We connected.

I don’t exactly believe in fate, but I do believe in the connectedness of people and the powerful communication patterns that occur when women talk, really talk. When real talking occurs, it leads to sitting in a circle for an hour longer than one is meant to do, and missing markedly important sessions at the UN. In that moment, a circle of women engaged in conversation is more important. I offer my story as a testament to that fact. We don’t always agree on everything nor should we, but we can talk. Sometimes knowledge is different from information; I’ve learned that. Over box lunches—the kind where there is too much bread, and not enough inside, and the cookie is too hard (get it?)—we wrote history. We learned.

“Are you just talking, or are you really saying anything?”
--Djuna Barnes

We typically engage in small talk…small talk is anything from the weather to stories that we think prove ourselves vulnerable to others but really never can. We do what is convention and what is safe.

Small talk isn’t bad; it has its time and place and I certainly won’t disparage its validity. We need that too because really talking can be emotionally exhausting and I think, is occasionally inappropriate.

But to change the world, to change people, to have meaningful relationships, really talking is necessary. It’s interesting to me that much policy making is formalized small talk. It’s passionate occasionally, sure, but people have their sides and real engagement rarely occurs. Policy making is usually rigid, a facade-laden means to an end. It’s statistically based and formalized. Robert’s Rules of Order Apply. But what if Robert isn’t there? What if we don't even invite him? What does it look like when women engage in discussion, listen to one another and make policy decisions?

At CSW, must ask ourselves these questions. The UN is about that connectedness; CSW is all about how women can come together to create real change. We don’t always need big titles to give big speeches (although that helps with learning and with funding), but we do need them in the room, sitting and eating lunch with everyone else. We need each other and each others' experiences.

We need to cut through conventionalized formalities, national/emotional boundaries, mental barriers, and sometimes personal comfort. To get anywhere, we need to talk. Everyone must come to the table.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Annie,To me Connecting with people and networking is the most important aspect of CSW . WomenNC has emerged from this aspect of CSW and is funded by the power of networking !!!!