What does it Really Mean?
by Jack Pearpoint & Marsha Forest
Partnership as a concept is a much discussed
term these days. Parents & educators talk of "partners"
in learning. Consumers of services and professionals talk about
"partnering" in service delivery. States and provinces
talk of "partnership" in political federations.
However, many parents, consumers, citizens
feel that these "partnership" hats mask the old 'control'
games. They feel that the "professionals" (those holding
the power) really mean, "come to our meeting, our service,
our organization - and agree with our rules, our plan, our solution
- whether you like it or not." Sign on the dotted line!
So, partnership is a term that evokes suspicion. It seems like
a great idea - but in people's experience, it is seldom what
In New Zealand, we had an opportunity to
explore the depth of the concept of partnership. We were there
at an historic time when the situation between the Maori (aboriginal
community) and Pakeha (white Europeans) was heating up visibly.
We were in meetings where the groups were
"inclusive" (i.e. had Maori and Pakeha representation).
But while the two groups were "in" the same rooms,
they were not WITH one another at all. They had never actually
"listened" to one another; "talked" to each
other. Two worlds apart, parallel unconnected realities - two
worlds in collision. And now there are new immigrants to New
Zealand and a very substantial population of Pacific Islanders.
In microcosm, we had a chance to observe the dance of the tensions
that parallel our struggles in Canada and USA. We learned as
The mood in New Zealand had changed dramatically
by our 1995 visit. The daily news included "occupations"
of land and locations around the country. The media coverage
was acutely reminiscent of the OKA - Kahnawake crisis (Mohawk
- Canadian army standoff near Montreal) three years ago. In short,
the wraps were off. The Maoris are aboriginal people with stresses
similar to aboriginal people everywhere. Their struggle for full
recognition as a people has now begun "publicly".
Our workshops were immersed in an uncomfortable
tension. Everyone was "aware" of the Maori-Pakeha anxiety
- but few knew how to begin the conversation. It was tense -
but not hostile in the groups we met. It was more of the tension
of "unfamiliarity" - "where do we begin"?
Needless to say, not all pakeha's are so willing to participate
in a dialogue. The open racism on the phone-in shows on the radio
was painful to hear as we drove around the country.
The dominant issue was "Partnership".
What does it mean? What would it look like? Is it even possible?
From our Maori friends, their perspective is simple. They know
the future if things remain unchanged. They are living it. There
is massive unemployment, youth suicide, poverty, violence, crime
- prisons - all the standard depressing stuff. AND simultaneously,
in tiny carefully created pockets, there is enormous hope. There
are models of possibility in communities, where people have chosen
to challenge the terminal violence (mostly internalized) head-on.
They want sovereignty and self determination.
The Maori leadership CHOOSE to focus ALL
their energy on creating positive possible futures - and CHOOSE
not to invest a mili-second of energy whining or complaining
about past "injustice". They are acutely aware of it.
They understand it. It is part of their history. But they know
that to create the future, they must refuse to be trapped in
the talons of depression. Many are angry - a deep anger at injustice
- one that seldom slips into the trap of personality or whim.
As one wise elder stated, "We have experienced 150 years
of failure in the "adversarial mode". We need to switch
paradigms - to create a NEW dialogue - a WIN-WIN dialogue - where
people actually talk to each other. The old paradigm has failed
us and will kill us unless we can change it."
The leaders are truly "big-picture"
thinkers. They are disciplined in the art of choosing how to
invest their energy and talent. They understand that the stakes
are literally their survival. They know that to be diverted by
petty incidents and issues is their death-knell. They are focused
on creating the climate for a new dialogue - beginning with RESPECT
- respect for each partner's humanity.
This new dialogue cannot be between victor
and vanquished: it must be between humans - based on a fundamental
respect for each others human rights. It is a dialogue that must
be deeper than words. It is difficult to write about, because
the search for respect is deeply spiritual. It is genuinely part
of the "universal" search for humanity - played out
in the paddocks of the Urewera forest - and the tenements of
Wellington and Auckland. It is the same issue in North America.
Once people can LISTEN to each other with
respect, then the other two prerequisites to sovereignty and
self-determination enter the arena - land and language (culture).
The Maoris are, needless to say, training young lawyers in land-claims
law. Those court struggles are now beginning in New Zealand -
paralleling the struggles around the globe. But our sense is
that the land issue is deeper than "ownership" in any
western sense - and thus the paradigm shift in thinking will
be essential to creating the framework for a "win-win"
resolution on land and language. If both groups "listen"
from their present position, win-win is not possible..
We learned enormously. We learned not just
about the struggles in New Zealand, but the struggles of people
everywhere to begin a NEW dialogue. The OLD conversations lack
heart and are too brittle to allow new thoughts. We discovered
there is room for a new dialogue. We saw it happen - fledgling
beginnings. We watched as university trained senior business
managers began to "dialogue" with rural Maori elders
- as equal "citizens" -searching to create new solutions
to complex problems. We watched people take tentative leaps across
cultural chasms. It worked! It was difficult. It is not complete.
It is a beginning, a first step! Partnership is possible!