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There are “big P” Politics and “little p” politics.  We are all familiar with “Politics” – the labels (Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Socialists, Communists, etc.), and the issues (Brexit, immigration, war, etc.).  Less talked about, but equally significant in our lives is “politics” – factors that impact our decisions, choices, and relationships.  For example, the decisions you make about where you sit or whether to speak up at a meeting, whether to socialize with someone outside of work, where you rent or buy your home, and what, if any, house of worship you attend, all contain elements of politics.  


Often, we make these decisions without much conscious awareness, but they contain a political element nonetheless: on public transportation, how do we choose our seat?  You can say you just sat in the first available seat, but likely, you first made a quick assessment of whether you would feel safe or comfortable in that seat, based on a range of variables, including the apparent age, size, race, gender and mood of the persons around you.  This makes it a political decision.  Indeed, politics is a part of every decision both large – such as a decision to start or end a war and how it is to be done, and small – such as where to sit in the cafeteria and with whom.


Until we are consciously aware how and why we make these decisions, we are likely to operate out of habit and without full consideration of our options. The fact that a decision is political does not make it inherently good or bad; it does mean that it has potential impact worth considering.  


How does someone acquire this awareness?  It’s not something usually discussed in conversation or taught in school.  Just about the only place that I have found for acquiring this kind of learning has been group relations conferences, which are designed to provide opportunities to examine our expectations and assumptions about authority and about all of us who take up that authority (or choose not to) on behalf of organizations and groups.  They also offer opportunities to study and reflect on how we each participate, both consciously and unconsciously, in the life of the organizations and communities in which we live.

New Orleans was chosen, in part, because it has a population that is trying to function in the face of wide socioeconomic, educational, racial and cultural differences in a physical environment that is regularly challenged by extreme climate changes.  As such, it stands as a microcosm for much of the rest of the world. 


A group relations conference is about encounters we have every day but rarely think about. Examples include but are not limited to: 

  • what do we think and/or do when someone cuts in line ahead of us?  

  • How do we handle the news of an imminent promotion?  Dismissal? 

  • What if the person being promoted is a colleague who is also a friend?  How will your friendship be affected by the promotion? 

  • How do you communicate with people who view the world differently than you – perhaps they are more liberal or conservative or perhaps because they have had a life unlike yours – a different culture, racial or gender identity, socioeconomic status, religion or level of physical ability, for example?


The dynamics at play in these encounters, both overt and covert, have a huge impact on the outcome and our sense of success or failure over how we handle each situation.  Increasing our awareness of our own blind spots and challenges and thinking about more successful ways to communicate can only benefit our future interactions with others. 


We will spend six days this summer examining the politics of our lives, in the hope that we will all learn more about ourselves and how to manage complex boundaries in healthy, productive ways.  Because we will have six, instead of the usual two and a half days that comprise a group relations weekend conference, there will be more opportunities for individual feedback and application of the material to individual situations.  I hope you will join us.


Patricia Kummel, JD, PhD

Conference Director


"Of any of the 7 workshops/conferences I’ve attended this year this was by a long shot the most intersectional/multi-identified… the conference is the kind of experience that took me to another level in my interests of addressing the matters of white privilege head on."

P.E. City Government Executive

Participants' Post Conference Reflections
What is a Group Relations Conference?
                        (12 minutes)

Loyola University