Subject: Urgency – A Harmful Practice Rooted in White Dominant Culture
By Michelle Tsutsumi
The irony of believing that I would have lots of time to write this blog and then be rushing at the last minute is not lost on me. As I have developed more intentionality about checking my sense of urgency, I strive to build more ‘cushion’ time in my days. This provides me the space to focus on tasks with less pressure, engage in passive thinking (where the mind wanders and creative ideas seem to emerge out of nowhere), prioritize relationships, and design meaningful processes. I can do this because I’m a contractor and can set boundaries around my time (or try to, anyway). I recognize that this can be a significant challenge within organizations, particularly when there is a culture of urgency and busy-ness.
My life over the past week was thrown into turmoil with my partner beginning a two week stint firefighting, which meant being away for 12 hours a day. This created a real sense of urgency because of both the concern about the wildfire encroaching on a friend’s home (layered with worry about climate chaos, drought, and heat waves) and the crunch time this created for me to manage parenting, a small organic farm, organizing a new employee, and my off-farm work (why did all of this happen in the same week?!?). The ‘cushion’ time described earlier was critical for me to be able to navigate all of this. I can’t say my stress levels remained low, however they were much lower than they would have been if the ‘cushion’ time hadn’t been there.
Urgency is rooted in white supremacy/dominant culture characteristics, wherein priorities and timelines can create a false sense of urgency. This contributes to being in a constant state of hyperarousal, potentially activating trauma responses, and impacting the process of decision-making – often rushing the process. When a process is rushed, the potential is great for missing out on: hearing every voice, gathering relevant information, developing long-term plans, or considering consequences. The most damaging aspect of a false sense of urgency is how it can hurt or disrupt relationships, particularly relationships with people in equity-deserving communities, as power dynamics will favour decisions that benefit the dominant culture.
Thankfully, there are some beautiful antidotes to living with a false sense of urgency:
- Learn from past experience about how long things take. Find a way to document and/or preserve these learnings. Factor this into writing realistic funding proposals with realistic time frames, as well as practical work plans that set up people for success.
- Understand that things take longer than anyone usually expects (yessss!). Build in flexibility during times when urgency seems to pervade the workflow and/or workplace culture. One step further is to allocate time for the unexpected, so that folks have space to address what comes up in the moment – the ‘cushion’ time that I mentioned earlier. This can be a challenge organizationally because it might look like ‘empty’ time and bumps up against the pressure to be productive all the time.
- Dedicate time to support individual and organizational learning, and collectively work towards structural changes that give rise to equity and inclusion.
- Realize that rushing decisions often takes more time in the long run because consequences that weren’t considered need addressing or relationships will need repair because people who didn’t get a chance to voice their thoughts and feelings could resent or undermine the decision because they felt unheard.
- Be transparent about how decisions will be made in an atmosphere of urgency.
We invite you to reflect on the following:
- Has there been deep reflection and careful planning around timelines for projects and deadlines? Who is setting the deadline(s) and why?
- Has the organization taken the time to conduct meaningful consultations with team members and/or the community?
- Are there mechanisms for regular moments to pause and reflect so that feedback is received at reasonable intervals?
In our next Equity & Inclusion in Co-ops Community of Practice on September 28, we will focus on Systems of Oppression. Sign up here, come and learn alongside other people in the co-op sector, discuss how different characteristics of the dominant culture show up, and explore antidotes to them. We are also excited to announce that members of City in Colour will be present so that we can launch our collaborative video together! This video, one of a series of four, focuses on adapting systems and structures in service to equity and inclusion.
Credits & further learning:
White Supremacy Culture in Organizations, by Dismantling Racism Works adapted by The Centre for Community Organizations
[Video, 3m46s]: White Supremacy and a Sense of Urgency: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1CQ_OdOQGY
[Video, 6m11s]: BIPOC Executive Transition in White Dominant Cultures (urgency is discussed at 5:50, but the whole video is rich with information related to white dominant culture characteristics, highly recommend): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpetvgs3L5A&t=371s
Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock, Jenny Odell