Addressing the Fears That Stifle Hard Conversation

As a Catholic and Marist institution, Marist School follows the teachings of the Gospel, the Catholic Church, and the Society of Mary, all of which call us to love and accept one another unconditionally.
We believe that diversity of humanity is a blessing from God, and we seek to respect, understand, and celebrate the God-given gifts and dignity of each individual in our school community and beyond. To support us in that mission, Marist recently entered a two-year partnership with cultural competency experts, Fearless Dialogues. Led by theological educator Dr. Gregory Ellison, who has a wealth of experience working with faith-based schools, Fearless Dialogues is helping us build a model of openness at Marist School through opportunities for student-centered dialogues, all while ensuring we stay true to our mission and core values.

In March 2021, Fearless Dialogues began a series of workshops for 200 faculty-nominated Marist students, who will become ambassadors among their peers to foster a culture of meaningful engagement across differences for the remainder of this school year and years to come.
Utilizing the signature Fearless Dialogues methodology and online pedagogy, the student leaders were divided into cohort groups and introduced to the “Five Fears that Stifle Hard Conversation.” In consecutive online sessions, Dialogues’ team of animators moved students through several interactive experiments that allowed participants to develop strategies to circumnavigate these five fears and feel empowered to engage in challenging conversations.
The first two fears were the Fear of the Unknown and the Fear of Strangers. In unpacking these, student leaders participated in two activities that asked them to problem-solve together and then consider how they might proactively demonstrate the Marist value of Radical Hospitality for friends and familiar strangers to be able to share their authentic talents, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Next, students explored the Fear of Plopping. “Plopping” is a term coined by master educator Jane Vella that references moments when a person shares their authentic truth in the company of others, and that disclosed truth is disregarded or ignored. In short, the disclosed truth “hits the floor and plops.” According to Vella, plopping is a violent act because it devalues the speaker’s contribution to the ongoing conversation. Plopping is also considered viral because if one person plops, others in the room may feel susceptible to a similar trauma and refrain from sharing. In response to the experiment related to this fear, participants came up with ideas for the student population that would maintain an anti-plopping environment at Marist.
Our biggest fears to tackle were the Fear of Appearing Ignorant and the Fear of Oppressive Systems. Far too often individuals believe that systemic ills like racism, sexism, and homophobia are too large for a single individual to make any lasting impact. To contest this myth and address these fears, Fearless Dialogues invited student leaders to identify a core energizing value that can reframe, re-envision, and revise the most important roles they play in their daily lives. They also had everyone engage in dialogue about life lessons and the great hopes that guide them.
Following up on a year-long engagement with the Five Fears, the second year of programming will pivot the Marist School community to begin embodying values and practices that inform healthy discourse and community-building across differences. “Embodying Courage” will be the theme of year two, equipping students in the Marist School community—whether they are new students or existing students—to live out a commitment to know, to embrace, to listen, to care and acknowledge, and to act. Activities will draw from Catholic Social Teaching on Solidarity, Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable, Life and Dignity of the Human Person, Care for God’s Creation, and Rights and Responsibility, thus supporting Marist School in demonstrating its mission and values.
In our upcoming workshops during the 2021-2022 school year, we will address the Courage to Know and the Courage to Embrace during session one and have experiments to teach these theories including “Cut Dead” and the “Long Loving Look.” Session Two will cover the Courage to Listen and the Courage to Care and Acknowledge, using activities “The Five Hardest Questions for the Individual,” “Fear of Plopping,” and the “Gifts That Stick” to teach these principles. Session Three will cover the Courage to Act Within Our Three Feet and will be supported by activities “The Five Hardest Questions for the Collective” and the “Three Feet Challenge.”

Overall, these workshops for students, along with faculty and staff professional development and the program and curricular audits from Fearless Dialogues all work to complement the school’s mission to form global-ready servant leaders. It is our aim to produce graduates and community members who understand and express the inherent value, dignity, needs, and perspectives of people from a variety of cultures, places, and experiences around the world, as well as close to home. As expressed in the fourth priority of our Strategic Plan 2025, constructive dialogue goes hand-in-hand with community outreach and spiritual practice as the cornerstones of Christ-centered global readiness. At Marist School, we are continuing to develop an inclusive community that is built upon these principles and fosters trust, accountability, and mutual support for all members.
October 7, 2021 (Session One) 
9 - 11 a.m. (7th graders)
12 - 2 p.m. (8th and 9th graders)
October 8, 2021 (Session One)
10 a.m. - 12 p.m. (10th and 11th graders)
January 26, 2022 (Session Two)
9 - 10 a.m. (7th graders)
10:30 - 11:30 a.m. (8th and 9th graders)
12:30 - 1:30 p.m. (10th and 11th graders)
February 16, 2022 (Session Three)
9 - 11 a.m. (7th graders)
12 - 2 p.m. (8th and 9th graders)
February 17, 2022 (Session Three)
10 a.m. - 12 p.m. (10th and 11th graders)

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Marist School

3790 Ashford Dunwoody Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30319-1899
(770) 457-7201
An Independent Catholic School of the Marist Fathers and Brothers