If you’ve served as a delegate for General Assembly, you probably know that there are usually several things each year that require a vote. Delegates vote on changes to the bylaws, people to represent the Association, actions of immediate witness, and a number of other issues.
Discussion for each topic is limited (often to 20 minutes). The hope is that people have already been talking about issues in their congregations and among regional groups. So, each speaker that wishes to express a pro or con opinion at General Assembly is given two minutes to do so. (That may not seem like a lot of time, but it’s usually plenty for a thoughtful, succinct comment prepared in advance.)
Speakers at General Assembly this year also consistently began with a self-description. Self-description is intended to create more inclusive space for the blind or visually impaired. It provides information about an individual that non-blind people take in visually, so that everyone participating has a sense of who’s talking. When done by everyone at a meeting or conference, self-description also gives blind or visually impaired participants a sense of the diversity or lack of diversity of those speaking.
If I were to do a self-description right now, for instance, I might say “I am a White, slender, middle-aged gender-fluid person with shoulder-length, curly black hair. I’m wearing a black shirt with a patterned blue-green duster.” Some people describe their glasses or jewelry. Many are light-hearted about graying hair or other features. It takes very little time, and it creates a more inclusive environment.
When one only has two minutes, though, taking time for self-description might seem like a real limitation. One delegate said as much. When it was this delegate’s turn to speak, they announced their name and the congregation they represented, and then declared, “I’ll forego all of that other stuff because my time is very limited.” (I took note that this delegate didn’t actually use the full two minutes allotted!)
After this comment, I began watching the speaker clock more closely. I noticed something interesting. The two-minute timer didn’t start counting down until after the speaker identified themselves and offered a self-description. So, even for those who might take a moment to find accurate words to convey their appearance, space was created for them. Creating an inclusive environment was more important than sticking to a strict time-limit.
I don’t share this to shame the delegate who dismissed the opportunity to offer a self-description. Maybe the individual didn’t realize that the timer would only start after this introduction was complete. Maybe the delegate didn’t understand the purpose of the self-description in the first place. Maybe this person has never given a lot of thought to creating inclusive space. Or maybe the delegate thinks the whole thing is hogwash. I don’t know.
What I do know is that sometimes I allow myself to feel the pressure of time. I can easily make the mistake of considering a deadline to be more important than mindfully creating inclusive space. I can forget that how we journey is as important as where we are journeying.
Where do you allow a little anxiety to give you permission to be less intentional? What opportunities do you miss to create inclusive space—or otherwise nurture wholeness in the world around you—because the clock seems more important? What would happen if we breathed, set our intention, and trusted that there would be plenty of time for things to be done purposefully and well?