Our Edges Are Showing

By: Lina Buffington

our edges are showing.png














What does it take to build a trustworthy organization? I have been pondering this question for the last several years, and even more so lately because trust is a key ingredient to creating a truly diverse community. I’m not just talking about saying the right things and making sure you have shades of brown in your graphics – I am talking about true multiplicity. As someone who has spent portions of my career working in various DEI roles, I understand all too well how difficult this is to do in practice. It sounds nice in a slogan and looks great on paper, but there are real and significant barriers to actually accomplishing this goal.Once you get past the fact that most institutions actually are not interested in any kind of meaningful diversity, you still have to contend with the reality of what it means to exist within a society in which racism and misogyny are baked into the crust. This means that racism and misogyny are baked into our culture, structures, systems, and, ultimately, our institutions. It is simply a part of the way that we organize our world. Within this context, it can be very difficult for people to trust one another, and rightly so. Then we add a nice heaping mound of capitalism to the pie and things become even more challenging because the core tenets of capitalism, individualism and competition, create a system in which we are compelled to compete over “limited” resources in order to survive. At the institutional level and in the nonprofit world, specifically, this means competition between organizations for funders and donors. It also means competition within our organizations as we jockey for power and position.

I placed limited in quotations above because scarcity is more often than not manufactured, but the idea of scarcity is a critical element of how capitalism works as it keeps us all in that hustle mindset. We must work harder, faster, produce more, be better… in order to be competitive, to “win” those precious customers/ grant dollars/ donors/ clients…. In this way, collaboration is made extremely difficult. It is not impossible, but when you have to meet your own organization’s “bottom line” in order to keep your staff working, partnerships often take a back seat. While many funders like to see collaboration, few actually understand what it takes and even fewer structure their grant-making in ways that actually support deep collaboration.

I am saying all of this because it provides a critical context for understanding why trust is so difficult to cultivate within institutions. Not that trust is any easier at the interpersonal level either nowadays, but within the institutional context it becomes even more fraught and we have to name this reality in order to work towards combating it. We cannot pretend that it is simply a matter of will or intention; there are very real barriers that come with existing in a system that actively seeks to dehumanize, subjugate, and in some cases, annihilate some of us. This reality causes major schisms that become chasms that we must traverse. How do we speak across these chasms? How can we trust that any organization can actually hold all of our best interests at heart? Is this possible? To be brutally honest, I am not sure that it is and we need to be honest about that. So, where does this leave those of us who are trying to cultivate diverse communities within this deeply flawed society? Within a discipline (nursing) that is riddled with “isms” and schisms? Within a sector that is beset by legal and political challenges?

I believe that leaves us, as an organization and as a Team, in a deep space of vulnerability. I am speaking to you today, from that space of vulnerability and saying to you that NSRH will not always get it “right” for you, because sometimes we will need to get it “right” for someone else. We will, however, always try our best to do so in a way that does not exploit, exclude, or devalue someone else, and if you feel that we have done so, we will do our very best to be better and do better next time. This is the work of building the kind of community that we are trying to build.We cannot offer perfection, but we can offer integrity, transparency, and humility in the process.We will not try to pretend that we are something other than what we are. We will be honest about our limitations and our failings because we know that is the only way that we can get better. Growth is messy and sometimes uncomfortable and downright unattractive. Because NSRH is comprised of humans who get tired, and have bad days, and experience performance anxiety, and make mistakes; sometimes our edges will show. The proliferation of social media ensures that those edges will then be magnified tenfold. You will see them and call them out, lovingly we hope, and we will do our best not to make the same mistakes twice and sometimes even our best efforts will fail.

So even within the context of this capitalist, racist, sexist, classist, ableist, and homophobic society we are committed to the work of nurturing a diverse community of nurses who are committed to sexual and reproductive health and justice for all. Regardless of the obstacles that we face, we are committed to this critical work, to you, and to being an organization that is worthy of your trust.