Friday Focus: Back to the dialogue agreements!

September 25, 2020

Tori Tragis

Chancellor Dan White. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.
Chancellor Dan White. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

— by Dan White

More than a year ago, on June 28, 2019, I wrote a Friday Focus titled “Guiding principles in uncertain times.” We were in the middle of the legislative debate, going from a Walker administration increase of $10 million in our budget to a Dunleavy administration decrease of $134 million. The compact between the governor and the Board of Regents had not yet been signed. It was before expedited academic review, HR reorganization, consolidation discussions, and before COVID-19. 

We are indeed in an interesting time, interesting historically, but an anxious time to live through. What I talked about in that June 28 column was a set of “dialogue agreements” to help guide our actions and reactions as we work together amidst uncertainty. They are repeated here for your reference:

  1. In every chair a leader

  2. Speak with care for others

  3. Value each other’s time

  4. Listen deeply

  5. Have a safe space for meaningful conversation

  6. Value humor

  7. Be present and engaged

  8. Take care of yourself

  9. Take care of each other

I find that they are more important now than ever. We approach winter in a new way, masked and dealing with both anxiety and a real sense of hope for the future. All of the dialogue agreements can be attended to indoors or out, summer or winter, in a mask and 6 feet apart. UAF’s goal of respect, diversity, inclusion and caring rely on your active exercising of these ways of knowing and doing. 

Bootstraps are a bygone thing. Older-style work boots had actual straps, 6-8 inches long, on both sides of each boot. The straps were there to grab hold of so you could easily pull your boots on. Today there are only two remnants of bootstraps that I know of. The first are loops on cowboy boots that you can hook your index fingers through to help pull your boots on. 

The other remnant is the expression “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps,” or “pick yourself up by your bootstraps.” As a physics major, I have always had a problem with this expression. It is simply not going to happen. It defies the laws of physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. You would therefore be entirely unable to grab a hold of your bootstraps and pick yourself up. Invariably, when someone says they picked themselves up by their bootstraps, they are leaving out the people who did the picking up. Someone else lifted them up, gave them hope, confidence or encouragement in a meaningful and deliberative way. 

If I could add a 10th dialogue agreement, it would be to pick someone up by their bootstraps. Go lift someone up, figuratively of course. Although there are elements of care for others in the dialogue agreements, none are quite so deliberate. Number 10 in the list of agreements should say to build someone up who needs it. I know there are days that I need it. Luckily, I periodically get an email from someone that lifts me up. Two arrived on Sept. 4 (so you know who you are). Thank you for picking me up by my bootstraps! It meant a lot to me.

As we continue to navigate uncertain times, I have confidence in our future and the faculty, staff and students who have chosen UAF to dedicate their time, talent and/or treasure. If you are in Bethel, Dillingham, Nome, Kotzebue, Fort Yukon, Tok, Kasitsna Bay, Toolik, Lena Point, Fairbanks or anywhere else associated with UAF, thank you. Please pick a dialogue agreement to practice every day, and once every 10 days, pick someone up by their bootstraps.

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week. On occasion, a guest writer is asked to contribute a column.