Arguments about seat belts have been going on for many years, and in the view of many people, the issue was not about safety but about personal freedom:

The battle over safety belt laws in 1980s America reflected widespread criticism of government regulation in a free society.​When New Seat Belt Laws Drew Fire as a Violation of Personal Freedom

Fast forward to 2021 and we heard similar thoughts expressed when WACD talked about inclusion and related topics1Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Some folks complained that WACD was attempting to force people to do something that was unnecessary, or that WACD was trying to control members.

Neither the adopted policy nor the three-year action plan dictates what individual conservation districts must do:

The approaches in those documents can’t be described as best practices because the reports are early work products in a longer exploration of how WACD works. I think of them as good practices, not best practices. They represent a November 2021 snapshot of the will of the majority of WACD’s members. As indicated by the three-year work plan, there is more work to be done.

The how and the why

Inclusion is how WACD operates. It’s not why WACD exists. In talking with members, a common theme has emerged in some camps: a belief that WACD believes inclusion is more important than our core mission.

As the how got mixed up with the why, I definitely felt the heat go up in those conversations. By this, I mean that some folks came to believe WACD was saying that diversity, equity, and inclusion were somehow more important than the locally led, voluntary conservation mission that drives all of our conservation districts.

Inclusion is part of how WACD has tried to operate and as we learn more, we are doing better. It is an important tool in helping WACD achieve its mission. The policy approved by a majority vote of members directs us to continue to work toward more equity and inclusion, and so we will.

Why does WACD exist?

As a 501(c)(6) nonprofit business league, WACD exists to help improve opportunities for conservation districts:

A business league is an association of persons having some common business interest, the purpose of which is to promote such common interest…​IRS: Business Leagues

WACD’s mission is:

WACD serves as the collective voice of conservation districts to help them achieve their purposes.WACD Adopts New Strategic Plan

This position was advanced in November 2021 when members voted to adopt a bylaws change that made every conservation district in Washington formed under RCW 89.082RCW 89.08 Conservation Districts Law a member.

WACD needs a better way to embrace dissent

The other reason the temperature has sometimes gone up is that WACD does not have a good history of embracing the voices that are not reflected by the majority.

Imagine that you vehemently disagree with a position adopted by WACD. You want to be heard. You strive to be heard. But what you keep hearing is: the majority has spoken and we need to move on.

I still hear that today and it’s not a healthy way to approach disagreement. We can’t just ignore those who disagree and expect them to eventually fall in line and be happy members. That ignores human nature. When people feel unheard, they either speak louder or they leave. Both of those behaviors are not productive in the short term and are harmful to our community over the long term.

Last September, I brought forward some thoughts on disagreement:

Disagreeing is important and very valuable…when we do it well. As I write this and pause to consider my words, I am reminded of WACD’s Guiding Principle #2: “We serve people with dignity and respect, acting with integrity and operating with transparency and accountability to all.” Working respectfully with each other – even when we disagree, or maybe even particularly when we disagree! – is crucial to working well together and maintaining our relationships.Trust, respect, and inclusion build belonging and community

What to do when the collective voice isn’t your voice

The best thing you can do if you disagree is to pick up the phone and reach out to WACD leaders. Don’t send a long email; have a conversation!

If you just want to vent, let us know. We can be very good listeners.

If the conversation becomes uncivil, your points will end up buried beneath the tension and frustration that can dominate such conversations. Most likely, the conversation will end at that point.

Know, too, that the will of the majority is how your Association is guided and functions. Not everything that happens will delight you. I have to say that there are aspects of the Association I don’t like. Some I choose to live with, and others I choose to try to change over time. But I know that at the end of the day, how I work for WACD’s members is guided by the will of the Association as expressed through resolutions and the WACD Board of Directors. I accept that the majority knows more than I do!

What if uncivil behavior makes you uncomfortable?

Something I’ve seen over and over again in my 30 years in the conservation community is that we hear the loudest voices but we often don’t hear the quiet ones. The loud voices drown out our calmer, quieter folks. Many times I’ve seen our quiet people disengage from the Association and sometimes even leave their role in their conservation district because they became so uncomfortable with the heat in the room.

Losing these people is harmful to the Association because they are often thoughtful, considerate, intelligent contributors when they choose to speak up. I’d like to hear from them more often.

If you find yourself uncomfortable with someone’s behavior, start a conversation with them. If that is too uncomfortable, talk with one of your WACD leaders. We should encourage a culture of pausing to give those with other points of view a chance to be heard. When those views are expressed with civility, we can all listen and learn from each other.

Giving each other the grace and space to hear someone else’s truth will make us a stronger organization that is better able to seek success for all 45 conservation districts.

Forgiveness is the other F word

A year ago, I included this paragraph in my Executive Corner column:

I once gave a presentation titled “Forgiveness is the other F word” that was focused on the idea that rather than being quick to judge ourselves and others, that we instead be quick to forgive ourselves and others. When we do that, we acknowledge our own humanity and that of the people around us, and we give ourselves room to grow and to improve.What does success look like?

It should be no surprise that some of us can get hot under the collar from time to time. Why? Because we believe strongly in our conservation mission and we bring that passion with us to work every day. Our passion for this work is one of our big strengths.

We also need to forgive each other when that passion occasionally overwhelms us. Yesterday is behind us. It’s in our rearview mirror. What matters most is what is ahead of us and how we choose to travel their together.

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.Paul Boose

Always yours for conservation,

Tom Salzer, WACD Executive Director


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