Building a New Way by Erika Hewitt

Erika Hewitt, my colleague in Maine, published this on Facebook today. I have seen what she describes as "armoring up to proactively protect themselves from" criticism among others who produce projects and programs for Unitarian Universalism. UU's are tough to please. During l'affaire logo, I coined a hashtag #thanklesstask which I think describes much of the working conditions for many who take the lead in organizing UU life. An unnamed staffer of the UUA said that it would make a good tee-shirt.

Let's hear Erika.

Building a New Way
April 30, 2014 at 1:45pm
In December, a colleague and I began collaborating on a Very Large Project for Unitarian Universalists across the country. Eager to partner up and even more eager to bring our imaginations to the UU arena, we were buoyed by love, creativity, playfulness, and a fierce commitment to Unitarian Universalism.
Increasingly, we’ve caught ourselves “armoring up” — consciously and unconsciously — to preemptively protect ourselves from our people: Unitarian Universalists. The very people we serve.
Our people, who “stand on the side of love.”
Our people, who aspire to live in right relationship.
Our people, who have grounded themselves in covenant since 1648.
We find ourselves bracing for criticism not because our Very Large Project is controversial nor because we have paranoid temperaments, but rather because of the cultural patterns that we witness in the larger UU world (much of it online):
Often, our people respond to brave risk-taking by shaming the risk-takers.
Too often, our people respond to the vulnerable expression of creativity or vision by criticizing the creation or vision, and naming the ways it failed to suit their personal taste.
And far too often, our people respond to leadership — which is to say, an invitation to see, do, or experience something new — with crossed arms, narrowed eyes, and out-loud wondering what gives that person the right to extend such an invitation.
Unitarian Universalists, is this the people we want to be?
I’ve done all of these things, friends, and I’m ready to stop. It’s fraying the fabric of our faith.
Do we want to want to punish courage, diminish creativity, and shame one another into dimming the gifts that we bring to the world?
Or are we ready to cultivate a new way of being together?
I want us, as a people of faith, to make each other strong, not take each other down.
I want us to be a people who not only talk about trust, but express that trust by making room for one another's gifts.
I want my people to encourage creativity, with all the courage it demands;
to honor vulnerability rather than shame the vulnerable;
to respond to new ideas and invitations with curiosity;
to create connection -- and live from connection.
The culture change that I want to be part of is, like anything, a continuum.
It goes something like this*:
Criticism ——-> Assessment ——> Curiosity ——> Appreciation ——> Trust
Should you get tangled up in my labels, here’s what each of these sounds like internally:
What do I dislike about this?
How does this fail to meet my needs?
Why should I listen to them?
When do I get to tell them what’s wrong with it?
How can I disconnect from this?
Do I like this?
Does it suit my needs?
Does it satisfy my tastes and preferences?
Are they worth listening to?
Is it worth connecting?
What love/energy/time/vision went into this?
What would I lose by listening to them?
Are they taking a risk by sharing their gifts?
Whose needs or preferences matter as much as mine — or more than mine?
If this doesn’t serve me, who might it serve?
What would connection look like?
What can I learn?
What gifts can I see?
How does this invite me to be brave or vulnerable too?
Who’s transformed by this (even if it’s not me)?   
How does this strengthen the larger “we”?
I found a way to connect.
We’re all doing our best, all the time.
When one of us is fed, the whole is stronger.
Creativity and courage are contagious.
When others share their gifts, it gives me permission to share my gifts too.
I respond to vulnerability with my own.
Connection is already happening.
*Yes, I’ve been spending lots of time reading BrenĂ© Brown; much of her language is reflected here. And yes, I see the unfortunate acronym.


  1. For the most part, I agree with Erika's post. It certainly has the requisite number of paragraphs & syllables to be authentically UU.

    Unitarian Universalists often confuse disagreement with disrespect & make confrontation into a negative. It doesn't have to be! I have seen amazing work done by groups utilizing confrontation & dissent in a positive way to build to consensus.

    One thing I've witness firsthand in online discussions is a post being thrown up on Facebook with a prompt asking for opinions. Folks, if you don't want opinions that oppose your thesis, don't post the idea & ask for them! If you know you are the type to get defensive, & are convinced your idea is absolutely unassailable, please, don't invite the deluge.

    What Erika proposes is very useful, provided the author of a post & everybody commenting abides by the same directive. Any limitation on free discussion is problematic though- I can easily see threads becoming lost in the details of where a respondent failed to utilize the process.

    Nothing, including new ideas, is born into this world without pain. Some confrontation is inevitable when challenging a status quo in which some have grown quite comfortable. What I like about Erika's post is the idea of remembering we're working toward the same goal in the end. That means always asking, "How can we work together?"

  2. Covenant 2.0
    I feel so much gratitude for my little B&M church and for my world-wide, wonderful CLF! Both congregations work tirelessly (!) to teach discourse and dissent, as well as the like-mindedness. Together, we are learning to "Love Alike."
    Ministers in right relationship with their congregations model and encourage honest, vulnerable discussions.
    "I don't have to win a discussion."


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