Whose permission do we need to respond to systemic issues?

It was a real honour to be one of the many hosts at the Climate Coaching Alliance’s (CCA) second global 24-hour climate crisis conversation marathon on 1 October 2020, and a very rich and thought-provoking experience.

And the CCA’s – and its co-founders Eve Turner, Josie Mclean and Alison Whybrow- award for Contributions to Climate Coaching in the Coaching at Work Editor’s Awards 2020, announced on 26 November, was very well-deserved.

One of the major themes at the CCA global conversation was permission. Whose permission do we (think we) need (as coaches, as professionals, as human beings) to respond in our practice to the climate emergency, for example?

What crystallised for me that day, however, was:

how can I possibly think I have permission to NOT act, given what we know?

We can apply that thinking elsewhere. Take racial inequality and discrimination.  Catherine Wade’s research for her MSc. in Coaching and Behavioural Change at Henley Business School, published in the November/December issue of Coaching at Work (a magazine I edit) suggests female coaches and coaches of colour are more likely than white heterosexual male coaches to recognise unconscious bias and proactively address it- believing that doing so is crucial to high-performance coaching. Increasingly, it’s becoming apparent that however well intentioned, those of us who are white coaches, or white anybody/anything, don’t know what we don’t know. But that’s no excuse.

To truly wake up to our part in systemic wrongs- take your pick- is to embark upon a painful journey. In my experience, it’s one that’s marked by a sense of guilt, shame, sorrow, grief, anger and frustration, amongst other feelings. We need to go forth gently and self-compassionately.  It’s all too easy once we’ve woken up from our slumber of denial to get judgemental and holier-than-thou. And in becoming so, we risk contributing further to the societal divisiveness we seek to tackle.

These are journeys that are also punctuated by compassion for others, a sense of community, of interconnectedness, of passion. But easy they’re not. However, permission to turn a blind eye we should give ourselves no longer.

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