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Why Knowing Yourself Matters, Pt. 2

November 1, 2021 @ 12:32 pm CDT

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About This Episode

(Season 2, Episode 5)

In this episode, we continue our discussion self-knowledge with Teresa Curtis and Jessica Jane Spayde. Teresa and Jessica share ideas for getting started on your journey toward self-knowledge.



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Kalin Goble: Welcome to Practicing Connection in a Complex World, a podcast exploring the personal stories and collective practices that empower us to work together to help each other, our families, and our communities improve our resilience and readiness in the rapidly changing world. To start our conversation, here are Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch

Bob Bertsch: Hi, welcome to the podcast. So great to have you along for this episode of the Practicing Connection in a Complex World podcast. So great to be back with you, Jessica, excited for the conversation we’re going to hear today.

Jessica Beckendorf: Yes. Today is part two in our talk with Teresa Curtis and Jessica Jane Spayde about some practices for getting started on our journey towards self-knowledge. Teresa and Jessica both work with me at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension. Teresa works on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues within the public health sphere. Jessica is a sociologist doing work related to how we can create more collaborative community change. I’ve been working with Jessica Spade on the development of a program called Relational Networking.

That’s a program that Teresa Curtis has been kind enough to offer some consultation on. What this program is, in a nutshell, is a program teaching people how to build relationships, how to build specifically collaborative relationships that result in intra-organizational collaboration toward addressing wicked problems in our communities. We do that through really digging into teaching people, the reflexive process. The first part of the reflexive process is knowing yourself. It always starts with knowing yourself. Then you interact with other people, and through those interactions, because of yourself, you’re able to share. You’re also able to listen, as you’re also secure in knowing yourself.

Then the third part of this is reflecting on those interactions so that you can calibrate and grow. What that really means is that you’re allowing yourself to be changed by your interactions. You don’t have to change your ideology or anything like that. It’s really more about seeing other people as people who have something to teach you and being really, truly open to that. Then the process starts all over again with knowing yourself.

Bob: In part one of this series, we talked about that knowing yourself, and why it’s so important to making connections with others. In part two, we’re going to hear about some practices to really get this started, and how we can get started on our journey towards self-knowledge. Let’s get to the conversation. We asked Jessica and Teresa what self-knowledge practices they would recommend. You’re going to hear, Teresa’s answer to the question first, followed by the rest of our conversation.

Teresa Curtis: I tend to go with the, put yourself in places, where you are uncomfortable, that are a stretch for you and listen more, talk less.

Jessica Jane: I was just thinking lots of advice or things to think about how to practice this. What are the things I did a lot, when I was younger, which I still enjoy now, but I do it less frequently? This is maybe something I’m going to do, and then, what I encourage other people to do is simply go to spaces that you haven’t been to before, and spaces where you maybe even feel like might not be for you. I live out in a rural area. There are a couple of very clear biker bars around here. [laughs] I’ve never been to them because I don’t feel like I’m not a biker. I don’t feel like I would be very welcome, but I don’t know that, because I’ve never actually gone. I think that’s just one of the first things that came to mind.

It was like, “That’s a space that I’ve never been to, because I make all these assumptions about it, but I don’t know yet. I’m going to go to that space now, now that I’m vaccinated and everything.” [laughs] You can go to that space and go talk to people and ask questions. That’s one of those, is like seeking some of those places, where you might feel uncomfortable. Growing up, I had a lot of questions about different religions, and so I simply would just go to different churches, different congregations and just go and just listen, and learn. That was super fun.

Do that in whatever– if there’s something in your community that maybe you don’t understand, or maybe you’re making assumptions about, just go and spend some time there, and ask questions, while you’re there. I love what Teresa said, “Listen more, talk less.”

Bob: Be curious. I think there’s ways to even cultivate that in small ways. Jessica and I– Jessica Beckendorf and I have used just curiosity walks in workshops before, just walk around and think about the space you’re in and ask questions and be curious. If you’re not comfortable being uncomfortable yet, you can do that in a comfortable space and just think about why is that there? Or why did I never notice that before? How did that get created? That kind of cultivates that curiosity to seek out some other experiences.

Teresa: One of our colleagues taught me my most favorite phrase right now, “I notice, and I wonder.” I play it with my littles like my great-nieces and nephews so that we can get used to– because we all came from the same place, where different [inaudible 00:06:11] bad, and we don’t talk about things, and we don’t ask questions, and we have to know everything. I’m like, “You guys let’s play “I notice, I wonder”.” It works as an adult, too. I noticed X, I wonder Y.

Jessica Jane: That makes me so happy, Teresa, let’s play that. I also was just thinking about how going to spaces maybe that you haven’t been to before you may be don’t feel welcome at, and so now add a caveat there, pay attention to systems of privilege and oppression as well. “Am I going as a white person and am I going to an African-American church? If that’s the space I want to go into, to learn more about by being there and maybe affecting other people or making them feel a certain way, paying attention to the privilege that you have in society, and how that affects that interaction, and how that affects the space that you’re walking into.

Maybe if it’s things like that, then maybe talking to somebody beforehand, or just having a talk with the preacher, wherever, and say like, “Hey, I just wanted to come and learn more about what it’s like to be part of your community. Is it okay if I come? Or is there a space where I might–?” Maybe coming to the actual church service, maybe it’s the coming to the social afterwards, or whatever it is. Just trying to be cognizant of your place in the world and the privilege, and maybe some of the baggage that that brings into a space as well.

If you follow this advice and go to spaces that maybe you haven’t been to before, to try to embody this idea of– so Max Weber, one of my favorite sociologists– I’m a sociologist– he used the term– it’s a German word “verstehen” I always shorten it to– the translation is– and this is not the actual translation to anybody who knows German. But for me, what it means is like, take a walk in their shoes.

Actually, go and try to put yourself and play the “I noticed and I wonder” game and say like, “I noticed this, and I wonder what is it like to be that person? What is that person feeling? What is this experience that maybe what I’m observing that might not make any sense to me, what might that mean for them?” Instead of judging, asking those questions and really trying to put yourself in that place, and using it as an opportunity to question the assumptions and maybe things you thought you knew about that community or that group.

For example, when I go to the biker bar, [laughs] I am going to try to use that as an opportunity to dispel some of my assumptions or biases, and try to learn more about them, instead of just finding evidence to perpetuate the biases that I already have.

Jessica: I have a feeling that if you went into a biker bar, and you were not intending to exhibit some empathy, that you were intending to go there to judge, I just don’t think that would be a good outcome– now, that’s me making an assumption, okay.

Jessica: Exactly, there you go. [laughs]

Teresa: When I think about going into places that I might not usually go and– I also think those of us who live up in our heads and are in sort of fields, where we do a lot of thinking, I think it is easier to go in and observe, and sort of take mental notes and be almost like you’re conducting an anthropological experiment. But that is not the point. Because then you are wearing science, or thinking, or analyzing as your armor.

The point is to remove that armor and to try to create this sort of openness and remember that if you are in a space, where other people have gone to for solace, for community, for safety and trust for generations, if that is a cultural institution, that we need to approach those faces differently? Or if there are specific events that it’s important to show up in a real way versus wanting to be a warrior? Again, if you’re uncomfortable, our defenses will come up and so you have to know what your defenses are so that they don’t show up before you do.

There’s so many different layers, and it’s like, “I didn’t know this until I heard myself being like [unintelligible 00:12:12], whatever the mental notes I was taking.” Because I had to learn that when I get uncomfortable, I go straight up into my head and go up into like the academic side of my head, I’m like, “No, no emotions. Objective science.” No, that’s not real connecting. Then I’m not noticing and wonder and then updating my own thoughts and feelings, I’m just observing.

Jessica: Teresa, I’m going to tag on to that, because I think there’s another way to be maybe even unintentionally insincere, when you’re putting yourself in a space that maybe you’re a little uncomfortable in, and that is a novelty. If you’re curious because it’s a novelty to you, it’s a little different than really trying to understand, being there to try to connect and understand. What wants to come out of your mouth is, “That’s so weird,” or “That’s funny.”

That can be an indication that you’re moving out of this space of trying to understand, and you’re moving into some space of either novelty or putting up a wall of like, “I’m like this, and everything I know is normal. They’re like that, and everything I’m seeing is weird.” That’s when you’re moving out of that space. Maybe when you’re in the middle of it, as you’re trying to practice this, you might find yourself slipping into that, and it’s okay. Just be aware of it and pull yourself back out.

Jessica: Yes, definitely. I was just thinking, too, about some of the things that we talk about in the Relational Networking training. One of the things that we introduce is, we’ll use a term called wicked problems, which I won’t go into, but part of what we talk about is that we all have our various perspectives, and that we can never truly know the way that other people see the world. We have to almost live within this like dual reality that, “It’s necessary for me to try to understand, where you’re coming from, while also acknowledging that I will never truly understand, where you’re coming from because I cannot be you and I cannot know everything and experience everything you’ve ever been through.”

It’s like embracing that– because I think some people hear that and like, “I can never truly understand, where other people are coming from. Okay. Well, then I’m never going to try to understand, where anybody else is coming from.” It’s like, “No, no, no, no. Do both.” [laughs] “Try to understand but know that you can’t, at the same time.” In some ways, it’s like people in faith communities trying to know God. They already embrace that conundrum. It’s like, “Okay, I’m going to try to know God, or try to be in touch but then also knowing that I’m human and never really can.”

Maybe it’s connecting to the ways in which some of us actually do embrace some of those conundrums. We’ve talked about this reflexive process a couple times and, just in short, it’s a three-step process. It’s something that you can practice in every interaction and every step of your life, if you want. The first step is just knowing yourself and this kind of this idea of who you are, and where you’re coming from and kind of centering yourself there before you even step into a situation, where you’re talking to anyone else. Step one is knowing yourself. Step two is entering that situation, where you are talking to somebody else. [laughs]

Within that interaction, being cognizant of what all is happening subconsciously behind the scenes, in your own brain, while you’re talking to the other person. Being that observer and interacting with the other person, while also learning from that interaction about yourself and the other person. Step two is kind of complicated, but it’s really just interacting with the other person and [laughs] listening, and asking questions.

Then, step three is when you step away from that other person and taking a moment to reflect and update your thinking. Actually taking that time to say, “What did I learn about myself? What did I learn about the other person and how is this going to impact the way that I act now, going forward, or that I think now, going forward?” Always giving yourself that space to update your thinking. Then it’s back to step one, and then centering yourself, “Who am I?” and then cycle continues.

Jessica: I just want to tag on to that a little bit. I’ve talked to you about this before, Jessica, that one of the things that you learn, as you’re practicing improv skills, is that– improv is all about that interaction part. There’s a lot of that interaction part, where you’re truly open to what’s happening in the scene, you’re truly open to what the other person is saying. Because as it relates to that third part, you have all these ideas about what direction you want to take the scene in, or what direction you want to take your scene partners in. Then, suddenly, someone in your scene does something else, you have to be changed by what’s happening, a little bit.

To me, I see the reflexive process all the time in improv, because you could ignore what your scene partner does, but that makes for a really terrible improv. You could ignore them, but if you work with them, you’re all building something together. You’re all being changed by it, and you’re constantly growing as a team, both onstage in the actual scene but then also offstage, because you’re building trust with each other as you go.

Jessica Jane: Yes. I love it, I love it, I love it. [laughs] That’s exactly– update your step three of updating your thinking, it’s really another way to say that. Allow yourself to be changed by what just happened. I love it. The other thing that I was trying to say a minute ago that I forgot was that I wanted to think about something Teresa said a few minutes ago about when you walk into– if you are going to take this advice and go to a space that you haven’t been to before or that makes you uncomfortable, is to not only think about your own privilege and oppression but also think about, if this is a minoritized group or then to think about how this space that they have created–

and I think Teresa used the “maybe this is a space of solace”– think about how the systems of privilege and oppression in our society might have made it necessary for them to create this space for themselves. Honoring that as well that, as a white person walking into an African American space, that it changes the dynamic or that it might even be disrespectful in some regards, or whatever. That’s why I recommend it that maybe just talking to somebody first and being like, “Hey, this is why I want to come, and I just want to get to know you all better,” and approaching it sensitively, I guess.


Jessica: Thanks so much for joining us for part two of this co-created episode of Practicing Connection in a Complex World. Check out the show notes for some links to resources to help you practice self-knowledge. You can find the show notes by going to, and clicking on Practicing Connection in a Complex World.

Bob: Thanks again to Jessica Jane Spade and Teresa Curtis for their generosity, trust, and collaboration on this episode. We’d also like to thank our announcer, Caitlyn Gobal, Hanna Hyde and Terry Meisenbach for helping us with promotion, and Nathan Grimm, the awesome one who composed and performed all the music you hear on the podcast. Thank you for listening, and keep on practicing.



November 1, 2021
12:32 pm CDT
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