Understanding our social location to forge stronger connections

Published on June 24, 2022

“Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” This quote from author and researcher Brené Brown sums up how I feel about forging more inclusive, accessible, and welcoming environments where people feel free to show up as they are, on behalf of the sport they are so passionate about.

This blog has been inspired by Pride Month and my deep desire to share and model a culturally humble approach when engaging with others.

One of the ways to better understand our inner realm is to reflect on our social location. The concept of social location comes from the field of sociology and describes the ways we connect and experience various groups because of our place and/ or position in society. Defined as an individual’s combination of factors including gender, race, social class, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation, and geographic location, our social location creates a unique mosaic that contributes to our ‘beingness’ in the world. For instance, as a privileged white able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgender woman, who was raised Catholic and now engages with spirituality in a non-denominational way, and who lives on unseeded Algonquin Anishinaabe Nation in Kanata, Ontario, Canada – I provide way more information that can be helpful to others than simply adding she/elle in my signature line. As a facilitator and Integral CoachTM, I am deeply conscious of my social location because of the nature of my work and that I hold positional power when I am supporting others through difficult life experiences, transitions and cultural transformation projects. Naming my social location has become a way for me to forge stronger alliances, acknowledge my privilege and inspire a deeper level of intimacy.

It is helpful and deeply humbling to remember that no two people will occupy the exact same social location. What makes us unique is what makes us special. The shadow side of this reality can also contribute to what polarizes and divides. Sadly, in sport these days, we also see how our generational differences are fueling an ‘othering’ mindset. When people whose social location is notably different than the ones we are familiar with, it can create what might seem as impassable division.

Sound complicated? Welcome to the 21st Century reality where the long-outdated systems and structures are contributing to a long-overdue self-reflection exercise for sport. We simply cannot move past this by focusing on the system and structures that got us here. We need a re-imagined future for sport … one that is co-created by the people the sport system serves. And the sport system at the community level is diverse. As I’ve written about before, a vision for leadership is that the leaders within the system ought to reflect the faces and ideals of the people that participate in the system. That means that our social location as leaders needs to mirror the social location of participants.

Does this sound like Sportopia? For sport leaders constantly putting out fires and fearing when the next issue might emerge, this vision for sport might feel impossible to achieve. So did putting a person on the moon. Rather than call this world ‘sportopia’, what happens when brave leaders simply call it a shared vision for a better way?

A shared vision needs shared values to fuel the fire. The research I completed in 2010 and wrote a book about in 2011 called on sport leaders, coaches and athletes to adopt a management by values ethos as their primary way of being. What might happen if we converge around a set of universal values that would shape our environment? When the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) asked Canadians what values they wanted to see in the sport system … values like inclusion, fairness, excellence and fun repeatedly rose to the surface. Those same values were translated into the seven True Sport Principles and have been inspiring thousands of communities since they were introduced into the sport system following the London Declaration: Expectations for Fairness in Sport. As I look back to better understand why it’s taken so long to work together as a cohesive community, I am reminded that sport suffers from the tyranny of the immediate and depleted workforce. Our over-reliance on a volunteer-driven system will continue to keep us stuck.

We can’t address systemic issues if we rely on the same system that created the issues in the first place. Einstein might have something to say about doing the same thing over and over again …

As a communicator by trade and a grief and loss educator by choice, I have found that creating shared language helps people move towards a collective understanding while inviting us to uncover some of the assumptions that contribute to keeping us stuck. See if learning about social location contributes to you relating to, and appreciating the uniqueness of those you work with, live with, or connect with on a more frequent basis. Getting curious about others is one of the first moves we can make to move past our assumptions into what I call the ‘field of possibility’. Inspired by Rumi’s beautiful quote “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”

I’m here to learn and listen if you want to connect with me about anything I’ve shared, send me a note at dblaroche@sportlaw.ca.

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