Social Justice and Military Families (S.3, Ep.3)

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About this episode

We are continuing our series featuring conversations with the course authors for “Family Well-Being: Navigating the Social Justice,” the 2022 Military Family Readiness Academy (MFRA).

For this episode, we talked to the authors of the upcoming MFRA course, “Social Justice and Military Families,” Eduardo Gonzalez, Jr., Julika von Stackelberg, and Keith Tidball. The course they co-authored addresses the specific work of social justice advocacy among military service providers, in the context of military families and their health and well-being, and examines the concept of belonging and inclusion through a framework of self-care, healing, and resilience..

Resources

Eduardo, Julika, and Keith mentioned the book, The Four Pivots: Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Ourselves by Dr. Shawn Ginright during our conversation,

Storytelling for Cultural Competence”  – this resource includes a Personal Storytelling Journal, a guided journaling experience encouraging self-knowledge (an important part of cultural competence), and an Advocacy Action Plan to help you create your own cultural competencies, make a plan for working toward those competencies, and reflect on cultural competency as an ever-changing journey.

“Why Knowing Yourself Matters,” Part 1 and Part 2 – In 2021, we discussed the importance of self-knowledge in building relationships with Teresa Curtis and Jessica Jane Spayde. Teresa and Jessica have worked with our own Jessica Beckendorf on a Relational Networking program rooted in self-knowledge, interaction, and reflection.

Transcript

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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 improve our resilience and readiness in a rapidly changing world. Here to start the conversation are Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch.

Jessica Beckendorf: Hey, everyone. Before we get into today’s episode, I wanted to share a resource Bob and I created for you recently called 8 Ways to Cultivate Community in Times of Change. It’s based on our 2021 asset-based recovery workshops. This booklet is full of practical ways you can use to boost your community building and deepen relationships. When you sign up for a monthly email newsletter, you’ll get a copy of this resource. It’s developed exclusively for our subscribers, so you won’t want to miss it. If you’re already signed up as a member of the practicing connection community and you’d like to receive the booklet, just email us at oneopnetworkliteracy@gmail.com.

Bob Bertsch: Yes. I hope you will sign up for that. If you haven’t yet, we’d like you to subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss an episode. You can do that at oneop.org/series/practicingconnection. All of these links and the email address and everything is all going to be in the show notes at that same site, oneop.org/series/practicingconnection. Thanks for letting us take that time to get you more involved in the work around the podcast and the community around the podcast. We really love having you listen and would just love to connect with you more. Go ahead and please sign up and subscribe.

We’ve got a great conversation coming up on this episode as we’ve been featuring the course authors for the upcoming Military Family Readiness Academy. This year’s academy is centered on social justice and family health and wellbeing. It’s going to feature three self-based courses, two live events, and some opportunities for you to share your stories and engage with others around this topic.

If you want to learn more about that, you can check out oneop.org/mfra/socialjustice, and of course, that link will be in the show notes as well. On this episode, we talked with Eduardo González, Jr, Keith Tidball, and Julika von Stackelberg. They’re the authors of the course Social Justice and Military Families, which addresses specifically the work of social justice advocacy among military service providers. They share a great framework that they’re going to use in the course that is based on self-care, healing, and resilience. We really enjoyed our conversation with them, and we hope that you enjoy it as well.

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Bob: We’re really happy to welcome the authors of an upcoming course called Social Justice and Military Families, which is part of The Military Family Readiness Academy to the podcast. I’m excited to talk to you, guys, about the course. Our listeners get to know you a little bit. I would love it if you could introduce yourself briefly and just talk a little bit about how you came to the work of social justice or how social justice came into your work because I know that you might do other work as well. Keith, do you want to start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about social justice in your work?

Keith Tidball: Sure. I’m Keith Tidball from Cornell University. I’m a social scientist in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. I’m also a veteran and currently serving in the New York Guard, New York State Guard. My area of work has generally been how outdoor recreation and relationships with nature help people who experience trauma. To that end, social justice and equity and inclusion and diversity have been a part of that work for quite a long time.

With my work with OneOp, formerly known as Military Families Learning Network, we have been seeing for some time that actual service members who are trying to maintain and focus on their mission, on task, and purpose can get distracted by all of the noise and narrative around these subjects, especially the social justice discussion space and that therefore, their family members are also in a less clear, less focused place.

It becomes very important, I think, if you take seriously the job of the practitioner who’s working with military families to maintain military family readiness so that that service member is ready. It becomes very, very important for us to deal with this topic and to be able to help family members who have service members who may be getting in harm’s way to have some clarity and to be able to navigate this space. That’s how this has come to me in particular as it relates to OneOp and military family’s work.

Bob: Thanks, Keith. Eduardo, same question, can you introduce yourself and talk a little bit about social justice in your work?

Eduardo González, Jr: Absolutely. Thank you, Bob. My name’s Eduardo González, Jr. I am the assistant director for diversity equity and inclusion at Cornell Cooperative Extension in New York State. I’m going to flip the question a little bit because I think in many ways this work came to me. For me, the way in which the question or this work came to me is that I grew up in a household where I had a lot of curiosity about the differences that I saw all around me, and I also grew up in a household where we didn’t talk about any of that diversity.

I would say that my curiosity in many ways brought the work to me because it was through that curiosity. I would say beyond the curiosity, some of the experiences of personal injury related to the ways I had internalized messages about who I was based on very limited information, whether it was around who I was as a racial being, who I was in terms of my gender, my family’s class background. In many ways, that put me on a trajectory to want to understand what is it about, how do I figure who I am in the world, and what does that take?

What I discovered was that it was a lifelong internal process, an internal process that is also predicated on an understanding that for me, justice equates in many ways love, it equates safety, it equates to belonging. In many ways, what that meant was bringing myself into sharper view by digging and asking those questions and seeking out sources to figure out who I was and to determine who I was across those identities that I shared on my own terms and not on what others expected of me.

In many ways, I would say that this work of social justice for me has also been about solidifying my own understanding of myself through a great deal of centering a great deal of compassion, curiosity, and courage in that process. Also, relationship, doing that in relationship with others and understanding that my work, that my desire to want to understand more about myself also supports me in learning more about others. It creates the space.

Having an understanding of what that struggle has been for me allows me to show up far more compassionately with others and supporting others in doing the same. I can honestly say that the work of social justice landed at my feet [chuckles] as a child and has continued to accompany me throughout my lifespan, including the work that I do today with Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Bob: Awesome. Thanks, Eduardo. Julika, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and about how social justice came into your work.

Julika von Stackelberg: Yes. Thank you so much. My official title is family and community resilience educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Orange County, New York. I am also a PhD candidate at Prescott College in Arizona where I am focusing on understanding what makes communities and individuals within these communities resilient through a PhD program in sustainability education.

The way I really came to this work or how social justice wove itself into my work is I grew up in Germany, as you might detect from my accent, and I always had a hard time growing up with knowing the history that we lived with. When I left Germany, I came to the United States by way of South Africa and England. I was somehow happy to shake off the burden of the German history and not to feel responsible for what had taken place in South Africa or in England as an imperialist country. Then when I came here to the United States, I too thought somehow that doesn’t really have anything to do with me because I’m not from here.

Then I became a parent and so this is a twofold path. I became a parent and in that process, one, I heard myself say things to my children that I promised myself I would never say to my children. That led me into really looking into different parenting practices, which is one path that led me through social justice and I’ll explain in a moment how. The other part was that my children are biracial. I recognized that their experience was very different to mine.

I really sought to understand that and so I jumped into not only reading parenting books and all of these resources and taking classes and courses and ultimately certificate programs and so forth, I also delved into understanding our history and really understanding what makes us tick, how does the history still impact us, and so forth. I came to realize that we are all as a human race socially constructive and so intimately intertwined that none of us can shake off any of the history, and we are all responsible and affected by it in so many ways, so many layers. If we want to be the parent that says the things I wanted to say, I recognized we really needed to have a kind of environment that is supportive.

If we experience our environment as hostile because of historic trauma or because of racism or because of inequities, because of class, or experiencing poverty, then it becomes really difficult to be the kind of parent that we want to be and so the cycle just continues. That’s how this work really intertwined itself. I do still teach parenting classes here and there, but my work is really on building the systems around to support the parents, and with the frameworks that I look forward to talking about with you all here that support us all in our wellbeing so we can show up as the ones that we can be

Keith: I wanted to jump in, Julika, because I really appreciated this piece around what I would term transformation and healing. That there’s often moments in time where we forget that we’re all capable of healing and transforming ourselves, and that we are more than the worst thing that’s happened to us or the worst thing that we’ve done. I think that really resonates with me because as I think about and continue to reflect on how did this work come to me, it came to in the need for healing and transformation first on an individual and personal level, but with an increasing understanding that that work had to also be met with transformation and healing of the systems with which we engage.

That in many ways has become my lifelong work, is how do we support individuals to heal, to transform, to bring their full selves, their full healthy healed selves into spaces by transforming the practices, the procedures even the way in which we think about work and the workplace? That is a really, I think, central intention of our work around social justice is really transformation and healing at the personal level, at the interpersonal level, as well as at the organizational level, and ultimately society level.

Jessica: Thank you all so much for sharing your stories of how the work of social justice came to you or how you came to the work. What I heard in a lot of what you were saying was a lot of complexities. That brings to mind for me, and Keith, I’m going to ask this question to you, how does military service complicate issues of social justice and inequity?

Keith: It’s a challenging question and one that I have a couple of different perspectives on. I’ll start with my own personal experience. I enlisted in the army as a fresh out of high school youngster living in Detroit. The military is a melting pot in and of itself. There are all kinds of different things going on there culturally and in terms of worldviews and in terms of where people are actually from and their cultures and their micro-habitats, if you will. I was shocked at how clear the focus was, after a very few months in the military, on the mission and the lack of distraction. At least outwardly, there was on where you’re from or what you look like. This was especially true in the infantry where I serve.

Then as I grew older and spent more time in the military and matured and became an officer, I recognized that maybe that’s the way it looks on the surface, and actually is on the surface in terms of focus and everybody gets together and accomplishes the mission regardless of where you’re from or what you look like, or who you identify with as being. Then there were places where I saw that maybe that gets set aside when you’re in the barracks life or in the garrison, or maybe that actually comes out a little differently when you go home to your family.

My experience in this space has been that when the military is doing what it does best, which is focusing on the mission and being clear about task and purpose, these things do tend to melt away. When we’re not busy with those things, the military culture by virtue of what is acknowledged to be, at least in terms of its origins, a pretty masculine undertaking, and by virtue of it being– At the end of the day, the motto for the infantry was close with and kill the enemy. That’s the entirety of my job description as an infantryman. The culture itself is not antithetic to but is thorny and thorny and knobby when it comes to these issues.

In my opinion, you have to address those issues in a way that a service member can embrace. It will have to do with family readiness and service member readiness first because those individuals have raised their right hand and sworn an oath to go do some things that 95% of the rest of Americans have not. That’s where I would start scratching on that subject from my personal perspective.

Then more broadly, from where I sit now, I also see that with our politics the way they are in this country, it’s hard to see through the clouds of confusion and intensity around emotion. That’s especially true when you start subdividing what side of a particular issue you’re on and how that juxtaposes or aligns with a person’s politics. I think that actually reduces family readiness and service member readiness in important ways. From my standpoint, for we the military to be functional, we have to get this right. We have got to address this issue in ways that are meaningful and give servicemembers and their families the appropriate tools to have these discussions and have them in impactful ways.

Jessica: Thanks so much, Keith. I just want to follow up with one of the things I heard there was the thorny and knobby so more complexity, but also that there are tools that can help.

Keith: Yes, absolutely. I’m so grateful to be in a scholarly and collegial relationship with the other members of this group on this podcast because they are bringing a lot of expertise and knowledge to this area for us. Despite the fact that neither of them have any particular association with the military or military families per se, the expertise and tools that they’re bringing are invaluable and I think they’re going to help all of us.

Eduardo: I just want to draw a parallel with what Keith just shared to the human condition or what are the realities that we face or the day-to-day challenges that we face. In life, beyond complexity, there’s messiness to it. As humans, I think we’re accustomed to dealing with messiness. We’re not always equipped with the skills for it because I think that part of the ways in which we’re denied the ability to deal with that messiness is that we’re forced into this dichotomous way of thinking that if one thing is right, the other is wrong.

I think we see that manifested in the political landscape, that it’s an either/or kind of thinking. That if one thing is right, another is wrong. If one thing matters, another thing doesn’t matter, but the reality is that we’re built for complexity, we’re built for navigating complexity. I think one of the wonderful things about this particular module is that we won’t be avoiding complexity, but rather digging into it and inviting others into that space to deal with the messiness that is who am I?

The question of who am I and who am I in relationship to the world in which I exist, and how has my response or how I’ve defined myself shaped the lens to which I see the world in others? In that way, begin to perhaps not question the beliefs or values, but question some of the ways we’ve come to think about ourselves and about others.

Bob: Julika, you mentioned earlier about some frameworks that you’re using in the course. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how those frameworks play into the course?

Julika: Yes. We will be talking about, I think, resilience, which is what both Keith and Eduardo have alluded to and how they’re explaining the situation. First of all, there is no magic pill [chuckles] to solve all of this. Secondly, adversity does happen and will continue to happen. The question is really how can we equip ourselves to be able to not break with that, but really grow through the adversities that we’re experiencing. With that, the first thing that is really important to understand is that resilience is not a do-it-yourself project. It’s not based on this idea that you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and you just work a little harder, or you meditate a little more while your self-care is not quite in order.

As Eduardo pointed out, life can be very messy. When these things happen, it’s really about understanding where our potential lies and also creating these environments within the military that promote the possibility of being resilient and that promote an environment where healing is possible. This first piece about reflection that Eduardo talked about and understanding your own identity, and really who am I in this picture, and what are the factors that contributed to shaping who I am in that sense is what then can lead to a more reflected engagement with one another.

That’s really where acknowledging– This is why understanding what a trauma-informed lens really looks like to understand the impact of trauma on our health and wellbeing as a whole, and then recognizing the parts that can then heal and grow from that. We talk about after trauma, there can be posttraumatic growth, so it’s not only posttraumatic stress but there’s also the possibility for posttraumatic growth. There are ways in which we can support that to really facilitate that growth in a different way than just staying to ourselves. That’s where I think this concept of belonging is so important.

Jessica: Eduardo, I’m going to see if you can follow that up with a little explanation of how does the framework that Julika was just talking about support a move towards social justice advocacy.

Eduardo: I’m so delighted that you brought that up because I think one of the challenges that we face as individuals is that we often enter into spaces feeling as though we cannot effect change, feeling as though the enormity and the messiness, the complexity that we’ve been talking about related to the issues that divide us as a society are beyond our ability to address or to impact. One of the things that we want to make clear through this module and really support individuals who are supporting military families is an understanding that we each come into these spaces and places with a certain degree of discretionary power.

As I say that, I’m also reminded of this saying be the change you want to see in the world. One of the things that we hope that folks who are working with military families take and who engage in this module leave with is a sense that there is something that could be done. Whether it’s changing the way you show up, the way in which you engage, or maybe working on changing a policy or practice or procedure, that that’s one of the ways that we can in fact be advocates for social justice and change in our society.

As I say that, I also want to name that one of the researchers that both Julika and I are familiar with and whose work we have really integrated into our approaches to working in community and working with folks is Dr. Shawn Ginwright, who is a professor of Africana studies at San Francisco State University. In his latest book, which is called The Four Pivots: Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Ourselves, he talks about these four pivots. These four pivots in many ways also inform this framework. He talks about the importance of awareness. We’ve spent a bit of time talking about the ways in which self-awareness is really key and critical to healing and transformation.

He also talks about connection. He talks about connection specifically in the form of moving away from transactional to transformative relationships. As I mentioned earlier on, when we talk about transformative relationships, what we’re really talking about is really digging deeper into the human connection we share and doing that by way of listening attentively, listening generously, practicing empathy, modeling vulnerability in the ways in which we show up in the relationships that we have with one another.

The other pivot that he speaks to is vision, moving from problem fixing to possibility creating. That when we are in fact engaging with military families, perhaps the question, resisting the temptation that so many of us have because of our own formation of identifying problems, perhaps hitting pause on that recording that we’ve got deeply instilled in our psyche to really thinking about what are the possibilities? What am I seeing? What are the strengths of the families with whom I’m working? How do I support and how do I help them tap into those strengths?

Then the last pivot that he speaks to is that of presence, moving from, and I love the language, from hustle to flow. I think in many ways when he talks about hustle, he talks about the frenzy that we often operate from this absolute urgency and needing to be efficient and productive. In many ways, our capitalist culture and our capitalist society has led us to believe that we are only as good as what we are able to produce at the end of a workday. The reality is that we’re so much more than that, and because of that, we need to oftentimes slow down in a way that’s not often allowed or honored in our society.

Slow down enough to really, one, practice self-care. In that self-care, it’s these practices that allow us to heal and to examine the ways in which we are living with trauma or we are living with the hurts that we’ve inherited or that we’ve carried along from our earliest experiences. Really committing ourselves to rest and recharging and becoming whole and allowing ourselves to do that in a way that enables us to continue to support.

I think this is really important for individuals who are first line of contact in terms of providing service to military families. You find that individuals in these places often take on the trauma that the families that they’re working with experience. It’s important for them to take the time to heal from that so that they can continue to provide support in ways that are affirming and healing for the communities to the communities and the military families that they’re serving.

Bob: Keith, what are some of the specific things that service providers working with military families can think about or work on to incorporate social justice into their practice with families?

Keith: I think a lot of it’s been mentioned by Julika and Eduardo already. In particular, I think practitioners working with military families should try to keep in mind that the family members that they’re working with are dealing with multiple voices, they’re dealing with multiple narratives, they’re dealing with multiple agendas that they’re hearing from. The military is a pretty serious commitment by an individual who subscribes, who signs up. As a result, military service members are often reluctant to have conversations they feel might somehow inhibit their career progression. This is not uncommon in all of our work lives, but it’s especially true in the military.

I think an answer to your question for those working in this area, for the practitioners, the main thing to do is to keep your awareness level up and your ability to receive some information and understand it in ways that are about openness is probably the most important piece of guidance I would give for a military family’s practitioner who is approaching this module or these modules.

Maybe the second thing would be to, given all that, think about collecting arrows for the quiver as it were. These practitioners are going to experience different kinds of questions from different kinds of people with different kinds of concerns as it relates to social justice. I’m confident that not only our module, but the other ones that we are in tandem with are going to provide many arrows for the quiver, many tools. Just to be open to those and make sure and take note and collect them so that you have that quiver full when the Military Families Readiness Academy is complete.

Julika: I would add that one of the factors that I think inhibits our ability to be ready to serve and to be ready to serve others is when we don’t understand a certain situation, when there is so much confusion about where to start or how we got to where we are at. I think a lot of these aspects that we’re providing here in this course really help people make sense of what is happening. In a way, I’ve seen really incredible growth take place when people are able to put together the puzzle pieces of their own lives.

When they understand that this is not, per se, my fault or because of I am not doing enough in an area because I failed, or whatever, but really understanding that there’s such complex systems that play into how we show up and that affect our ability to show up so. I think that’s one of the things I would say my hope is folks will walk away is with a perspective that allows to put together some pieces of the puzzle that didn’t seem to fit or that might have been missing. Therefore, get a bigger picture of what is happening to be really able to have that space where growth and healing is possible. Therefore, readiness is a thing. [laughs]

Bob: Eduardo, do you have anything to add in terms of tips either for service providers who might be participating in the course or just all of us. Jessica and I have talked about on the podcast before, we’re on this journey too trying to figure it out. What are things that maybe you find particularly helpful in terms of changing practice to incorporate a social justice lens into your work?

Eduardo: Bob, thank you for that question. I think one of the strategies that I would say, I’d say more than a strategy, it’s more of a mindset, and that mindset is that growth is possible through discomfort. I think that there’s a certain aversion that many of us experience. When we are in a situation or we are perhaps in a learning situation or perhaps an exchange in where we’re experiencing some level of emotional discomfort, the immediate response is to remove ourselves from that situation so that– A return to comfort. Comfort does not lead to transformation, it doesn’t lead to growth.

Unfortunately, we’ve also been conditioned in many ways not to lean into the feelings or emotions that might surface in a situation or as a result of a situation, either stuffing those emotions or denying those emotions when in fact we know that the greatest transformation or those greatest aha moments that we can have in life are those that our emotions provide us information that allow us to make movement in the ways in which we think, or in the ways in which we relate to something or the perspectives that we may have.

I would say having a growth mindset and including in that growth mindset an understanding that discomfort is part of the learning process also, it’s what often allows us and pushes us to our growth edges. That this is really what this module is intended to do is to push us to our growth edges.

Keith: Just based on some of those remarks just now, it occurs to me that despite the fact that we want to make this space and engage in this topic easy for practitioners, it really isn’t and shouldn’t be particularly foreign to military families or service members. If we can keep in mind one of our most important models as a country is E Pluribus Unum; from many, one. I’m partial to the army because that’s where I grew up. For a long time, the army’s motto was an army of one, emphasizing that we put away ideas of separateness in order to be together and to focus and to achieve together with all of our diversity and all of our differences as our strength.

Finally, the special forces in the US Army have as their motto De Oppresso Liber, free the oppressed, freedom for the oppressed. This isn’t foreign territory and shouldn’t be foreign territory for us in the military family community or in the military community more broadly. I’m just so proud of the work that this team is doing and that The MFRA, the Military Family Readiness Academy is doing in this space. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it.

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Chris Plein: Hi, I’m Chris Plein from OneOp. I hope you’ll join me for our 2022 academy series, Family Well-Being: Navigating the Social Justice Landscape. This online learning experience is coming this June. Take advantage of this multidisciplinary approach to a complex issue facing service providers working with military families. This unique blend of asynchronous courses, discussions, and live events will equip you to identify barriers that impact a family’s health and wellbeing and identify opportunities for social justice advocacy in your work. Find out more at oneop.org/mfra/socialjustice.

Jessica: Thanks so much to our guests, Eduardo González, Jr, Keith Tidball, and Julika von Stackelberg for joining us for this conversation. We’d also like to thank our announcer, Kalin Goble, our colleague, Chris Pline, for contributing to today’s episode, Hannah Hyde and Terry Meisenbach for their help with marketing, and Nathan Grimm, who composed and performed all the music you hear on the podcast. Finally, thank you so much for joining us. We hope you’ll join us again soon. In the meantime, keep practicing.

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Kalin Goble: Practicing Connection in a Complex World is a production of OneOff, and is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, US Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, US Department of Defense, under award number 2019/48770/30366.

United States Department of Defense logo, a partner of OneOp
United States Department of Agriculture logo, a partner of OneOp