Collaboration Not Confrontation

Collaboration Not Confrontation

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The author of BeautyBeyondBones did a good write up of her impression on the Covington Catholic fiasco from a few days (or maybe weeks) ago. She, like many of the authors, discussed how absolutely, utterly, and despicably wrong the media got this story. On this blog we don’t tend to care about the daily news other than look to it for opportunities that can be universally applied, but first some background on the story. As of 27 January, Wikipedia has this report:

The incident took place in the afternoon of January 18, 2019, near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.. Among many people who had gathered in that space that day including the Indigenous Peoples March to help raise awareness of injustice against indigenous people.[6] Another group included students from the all-male Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, who had finished attending the pro-life March for Life rally, and who were gathered near the memorial waiting for their buses to return home.[7][Notes 1] A third group including members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, where one of their members was holding a faith-teaching ceremony to his other followers.[8]


From longer video footage posted on January 20, 2019, the group of Israelites appeared to begin “taunting … people of all colors, other black visitors, natives, and a Catholic priest” shortly after the end of the Indigenous Peoples March, and before the students arrived on the scene, according to CNN‘s Sara Sidner.[9][10][11] As the students began to arrive to wait for their bus, the Israelites began to shout directly at them.[12][10][13] According to witnesses and video subsequently appearing on social media, the Black Hebrew Israelite men shouted racially combative insults and slurs at both the Native Americans and the high school students.[12][9][14] They called the students “a bunch of incest babies”, future “school shooters“, and “dirty ass little crackers“, called African American students “nigger“, and said “you give faggots rights”.[9][15][16][17] Many students reacted by saying things such as “woah” and “easy”.[17] The Black Hebrew Israelites also called a passing Black man who tried to disagree with them a “coon“, told Indian activists that the word Indian means “savage”, and said to a woman who had stopped to argue with them: “Where’s your husband? Bring your husband. Let me speak to him.”[15][18]

As more Covington students arrived, and in response to the taunts by the Black Hebrew Israelite men, the students performed school spirit chants, including a Māorihaka.[10][19][Notes 2] One of the Native Americans who was there for the March said that he felt “the students were mocking the dance.”[19]


Native American Nathan Phillips, one of the participants in the March, listened to the chants for what he said was about ten minutes. Believing that the confrontation had reached a “boiling point”, he walked up to the teenage students while beating a drum and chanting. He said he was intending to defuse what he saw as the escalating tension.[20][21] Sidner said that two minutes after one of the students took off his shirt to lead the haka, the “drum beat of Phillips and another Native American drummer [was audible] in the video”, and they were chanting the AIM Song, a Native American intertribal song.[10][20][22] Sidner said that while some of the students danced to Phillips’ drum beat and chanted along with him for awhile, they were not “enjoying each other’s company”.[10]


Soon, Phillips, was tightly “encircled” by about 30 students, “many of them white and wearing apparel bearing the slogan of President Trump”, red baseball hats with the phrase “Make America Great Again” (MAGA).[12][23] Phillips continued to beat his ceremonial drum for nearly two minutes inches away from the face of one specific Covington student “[who was] staring at Phillips” with what some viewed as a smirk on his face.[12][9][14][24] The student later explained that he smiled because he wanted Phillips to know “that I was not going to become angry, intimidated or be provoked into a larger confrontation.”[9] Eventually, the Covington students’ buses arrived and they departed the area without further incident.

As the short clip was making its rounds on twitter without the full context of the entire story I could see my modest feed getting more animated throughout the day–and I don’t generally follow politically charged individuals!

This meant there were two lessons at hand. How can you quickly assess a situation (my twitter going nuts) and address it without adding to the turmoil? I found a way, and offered this:

https://twitter.com/jacobroecker/status/1086983626107965440

The comment didn’t get many likes, but now that things have dialed down it seems that the advice was spot on. Whether it was the boys or Nathan Phillips that was looking for a confrontation doesn’t seem to matter. There’s not a single side of this story that has “won.” There’s no positive results from their meeting either.

I’m cool with free expression. It’s one of those natural rights and amendments to the Constitution, but how we express ourselves will often determine our results.

No collaboration. No positive results.

You can collaborate on anything! While I admit it does take effort and it’s not possible in every setting, it is possible in so much of our lives that with practice you can open your eyes up to the opportunities in situations where you think it’s impossible. There might be planning and practice to get it right, but the best results in life usually come from effort.

Try it with your kids, people you don’t along with, and strangers. I love meeting strangers!

You’d be surprised how much fun it is to walk away from an interaction feeling that you’ve built something together. Conversely if you a conversation that tears others down (as this one clearly has) then it’s not collaboration.

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