How do we discern what is accidental or incidental, and what is significant? How easily do we risk reading meaning into situations that may not warrant it?
Those questions were running through my mind when I sat down in Monday morning's session at ACT Alliance General Assembly and looked at the table of guest speakers arranged on the stage.
The previous day had been dedicated to the pressing issue of gender justice, and the growing sense that this needs to be a priority that undergirds the work of the alliance; that building gender justice will pave the way for democracy, development, and equality.
So it was with some irony that the first thing that captured my eye was the layout of the speakers' table on the stage. Seven people, five men and two women. Clearly the table is a little short — it would comfortably seat six, but seven is a bit tight. But it seems that three men are taking up more than half of the table (maybe a bit of man-spreading going on?), and the other two men and the two women are squeezed into the other half, such that one woman is almost falling off the end, and is perched on the corner.
Of course this could be entirely an accident, and could be quite meaningless. And it wouldn't be the first time that I've read meaning into something that is quite benign.
But as Freud noted, there are no accidents. So, when the Alliance is placing gender justice as a priority it's hard to concede that a woman pushed almost the table, even if an accident, is meaningless.
It's really in being intentional and attentive to the many small ways that signal our commitment or lack thereof to our values and priorities that we can be agents of change. It's in the space where so-called accidents happen, where supposedly meaningless acts occur, that meaning can evolve. And, it's in these situations that we symbolically and literally make space for gender justice.