Growing up with a strong commitment to both my Judaism and my desire to help others, I knew that after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2019 I wanted to serve with Repair the World. Before I began the Fellowship, I thought I had a good understanding of what it meant to serve my community and encourage others to do the same. I was wrong! There was more to learn about interacting with my community, especially while serving and engaging volunteers and community members.
I have been serving with Repair the World Pittsburgh since August 2019 as an education justice Fellow, where I first was on a team with four other Fellows and served alongside nonprofit service partners. Now, in my second year as a Fellow, I am coordinating and facilitating our PeerCorps program, which provides meaningful service opportunities for Jewish teens. Repair works to mobilize Jews and their communities to take action to pursue a just world, igniting a lifelong commitment to service.
At Repair, we have complex conversations and we are constantly learning by pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones to address the world’s injustices so we can better serve our communities. In order to have productive and respectful conversations around challenging topics, Repair has developed a best practice of Community Agreements. This practice involves thinking of and agreeing to a list of guidelines that all participants abide by during a conversation, enabling room for all people, thoughts, ideas and mistakes.
What I slowly learned through these conversations and, by extension, Community Agreements, is that while the practice aids in productive conversations, even more so it supports how we show up in our service work.
I want to share five community agreement principles that have helped me not only in my work at Repair but also have enhanced the relationships I hold with my family, my friends, and the community at large.
- Speak from an “I” place. Speak YOUR truth and YOUR experiences. When engaging in conversation with anyone, it is important that you don’t speak for anyone else. Show up with your own point of view. We know ourselves better than anyone else and it is important that we respect each other enough to not put words in their mouth.
- Make space, take space. If you have not shared your thoughts and experiences, move up, and participate in the conversation. If you have been speaking up a lot in conversation, take on the role of the active listener. In society, White people have dominated the conversation for hundreds of years. As a White person I had to understand that we have controlled the room, the conversation, the narrative, and have benefited from racist institutions. It is imperative now that we step back from the conversation and listen.
- Own your impact. While you may have not intended harm, you may have caused harm that impacted someone else. Even if you had the best of intentions, it doesn’t matter if you can’t take personal accountability for how your actions impacted someone else.
- Lean into discomfort. In life, we need to try new things, have difficult conversations, and admit mistakes in order to learn. It is hard to move forward in life if we do not try anything new or challenge ourselves. Ask for help, practice, and pivot when something is not working. It won’t always be easy, but the results are worth working for.
- Finally, attend to your needs. Take care of yourself first, before you can do the work to care for the people around you, your community. This will help you show up with the greatest resilience and deepest truth. This is not selfish and it doesn’t mean that you don’t care about others or want to help others. If you burn yourself out and do not take time to rejuvenate you can not effectively help others to the best of your ability.
There are many more community agreements that are useful and important. To me, these five are the starting point. As you practice incorporating these into your life, remember one thing. Practice, practice, practice. (I guess that was really three things)! No one is perfect and conversations will not always go smoothly. But, if you try to integrate these community agreements into your daily interactions, I truly believe that the practice will only strengthen your relationships with your family, friends, and your community.
Alyssa Berman is a Senior Fellow, coordinating and facilitating Repair the World Pittsburgh’s teen programing. She is passionate about building Jewish Community and you can usually find her on Zoom attending programs from the Young AdultDivision at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh or attending Repair events in other cities!