For the first three months of the year, I met once a week at 7am with police officers from District 1 to talk about homelessness, their concerns, issues, ideas and suggestions on what can be done to work more effectively with the homeless shelter where I work.
At times, the discussions became heated, tense. At times, their comments bordered on what I judged to be -- the ridiculous, the hard-nosed, hard-lined, hard-hearted perception of the agency I work for and the people we serve, that did not provide a common ground upon which to create a cooperative working relationship.
My judgements did not serve my purpose well. My judgements did not create harmony -- and had I stayed mired in their sticky mass, my 'mudgements' would have kept us working on two sides of the fence. They would have held us pinioned to the 'us and them' thinking that did not serve anyone well.
Something had to give -- it may as well be my judgements.
After three months of meeting and talking and listening to their frustrations, their perceptions of what we do and why we do it and how we could do it better, we found a common ground. In our conversations I discovered places where, because we did not understand the parameters of their job, we were actually making their job harder. In our procedures we were contravening the tenets of the lawful execution of their job. And so, we made changes. On both sides of the fence. And in those changes, the fence lowered, common ground appeared and we found ways to work cooperatively and effectively together.
As I told the officers in each session. "You work in the black and white landscape of the law. Our world isn't even in the grey. It's a multi-coloured rainbow of humanity swirling together in a big vat of hues mixing up everything we do."
Since those meetings we've created Standard Operating Procedures that are working to align our services and our attitudes.
This morning, I begin the round of talks with another district. This district is across the river from the shelter. One of their beliefs is.... their problems are stemming from the people on 'our side' of the river, moving over to 'their side'. As police crack down on drug dealing on 'our side' of the river, the 'bad guys' are moving over to 'the other side' of the river, causing discord and criminal activity in their neighbourhood to rise.
In these sessions I have one major purpose. To listen.
I am not there to judge. To even try to change their minds. I am there to hear what is said, and to find a way to create openings for us to work together on common ground.
And, because the sessions begin so early, I must run!
Wish me luck. As we begin this round of talks, emotions can run high, extremes, intransigence, rigid backs can appear.
I must remind myself throughout the sessions to breathe, to open up to expansion, to be open. Their opinions are not 'about me'. Their feelings are not personal -- about me. They are, their thoughts, their words, their ideas. My job is to open up the common ground and let it begin with me.