Christian Life

Welcoming Spaces

Who among us hasn’t felt like the odd person out in a social setting? How many have felt like they had to pry open doors? How many of us once inside those doors, found out that it wasn’t everything it promised to be?

Much like this photo that was taken after someone used a crowbar to enter my property, people have often used force to get into places that would not prove to be welcoming to them. In some cases, it was for a positive outcome and was absolutely necessary. In other cases the exact opposite is true.

But what about the times and places where we must take the lead to create a welcoming space for others, when they are so fatigued and distressed that they are relying on us to create what they absolutely require to have any hope?

I participated in a training last week that focused on creating welcoming spaces in relation to both staff and clients. It made me think, how do we strive each day, to be approachable and create an environment for our friends, neighbors, clients / the public, et cetera to interact in a comfortable way and have their voices heard and validated? In the behavioral health world, it’s really the concept of the recovery model.

It’s the idea of partnering with and not powering over those around us who depend on us for some level of support in a given situation. It’s truly the opposite of the medical model and can be frightening rather in a professional or personal situation, depending on one’s training, personality and other factors.

I think that the more we learn to listen and assume positive intention until proven otherwise, we will produce much better outcomes and better relationships will be formed that benefit everyone involved in a particular endeavor.

Even when we know that a particular circumstance is not in the best interest of others, for example a parent seeing things that a teenage child cannot see from their vantage point, how do we create a welcoming space of conversation and expression?

If it is something as practical as a lobby in a professional building, what messages are being sent from the first moment they are greeted or ignored? What types of written messages may adorn walls?

I once worked in an atmosphere that had very high rates of clients not showing for services. As a colleague and I were discussing why this might be, my colleague simply stated that we are mirroring the dysfunction that they are experiencing in their personal lives and posited the question of why would they want to come, given the circumstance.

So what do we bring to the table? Do we bring possibility and hope, a safe space for dreaming and activation or simply a mirror that taunts them with the distress in which they are already swimming?

If you create the experience, you create the memory, good or bad.

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