At first glance, our value of transparency means in essence, “opening the books,” and revealing our actions and decisions, our metrics when we succeed and when we fail. Not hiding what we have to say and what we do. And as I think about it, I can’t say I know many people, let alone organizations, that are interested in or willing to be this open. I don’t know any, actually. Certainly not Foundations. So, having transparency as a value when considered this way is a difficult if not impossible aspiration.
When I look a little closer though, the ante is upped even more. When I consider why individuals and organizations are not transparent, I understand that it is because no one wants to be that vulnerable to criticism or to charges of hypocrisy and disingenuousness. No one wants to take this kind of risk. So, you choose to be transparent or you don’t. And almost always, you don’t. With this “all or nothing” way of considering transparency, no Foundation will ever be transparent. Alternatively, transparency could be held as the ideal – something to strive for – and even then some level of relationship is necessary for transparency to grow in the fertile soil of empathy. Taking the risk to reveal how decisions are made, how much progress or lack thereof is made, when mistakes are made can only happen with some modicum of confidence when the benefit of the doubt is offered. And the benefit of the doubt is only given when there is some minimum level of trust, in relationship.
I have recently watched a TED talk on vulnerability many times because it so resonates. The talk, by Brené Brown, Ph.D, a research professor of Social Work at the University of Houston, reveals to me that vulnerability is the key to transparency. Genuine transparency. If Boston Rising believes in the transformative power of connections, then we have to be willing ourselves to be transparent, to be seen, to be vulnerable. This requires, according to Brown, a willingness to have the courage and compassion to be who we are not be stymied by who we are expected to be. To risk relationships that might not work out. To resist the temptations to make what is uncertain certain, make what is imperfect perfect, to pretend we know “the truth” when we do not.
So, as we at Boston Rising proceed in our quest to clarify and then operationalize our values, and then act based on these values, we have to be clear about taking on transparency as an aspiration from which we won’t shy away, even if it makes us vulnerable.