None of us are born biased, prejudiced, or racist. We learn it. Now is the time to unlearn that and relearn betters ways. I call that “systemic change”, and we all have a role. It begins with how you think, then moves into the words you use, and the actions you take.
Please know that this article isn’t about politics, it’s about connecting with people. Events these days have caused many to step back and question their beliefs, words, and actions. I certainly have changed my perspective on a few things.
Start somewhere, a single step.
On a recent Facebook post, I saw someone ask, “Why #BlackLivesMatter and not #AllLivesMatter?”. In fairness, from my white privileged perspective, I’ve caught myself wondering the same thing. And then I saw a response that really resonated with me and changed my thinking.
This reply quite simply stated, “It’s like someone telling you their father died, and you reply, ‘All fathers die’.”
Get it? Replying in that manner minimizes the pain of that person losing their father. It trivializes what they’re going through. That person isn’t denying that all fathers die, that it’s painful for everyone–they’re just saying that right now, they’re hurting and mourning their personal loss. It’s not against the others, it’s for them.
That was an epiphany to me. It changed my perspective. I share it with you to provide insight and an example of how perception can change. It might not change yours, or it might. Your choice completely and I respect that. At minimum, my hope is that it opens you to consider that there are alternate viewpoints that may be just as legitimate, even if you don’t agree.
I now view BLM as a beginning, a lightning rod for addressing black-related systemic changes. I see this as a first step and a beacon for eradicating all racism, prejudice, and unconscious bias, and leading changes for many other equally deserving segments.
Another lightbulb moment happened to a colleague of mine and it changed me.
This colleague is a loving and kind soul whose white son married a black lady a few years back. A while ago, my friend said to her daughter-in-law, “I don’t see you as black. All I see is a wonderful, beautiful person on the inside and out.”
Much to her surprise, her DIL took huge exception to that statement.
What was meant as a compliment, a loving and supportive message, was received with sadness and despair. Why? The young lady patiently explained to my colleague that she not seeing her colour meant that neither did she see the struggles and challenges this black woman had faced all her life. My colleague unknowingly gave the meta-message that she didn’t acknowledge the pain and the loss her daughter-in-law has endured for so long.
This story touched me because I was brought up to believe that race, colour, creed, didn’t matter. I recall many times hearing my mother say, “I don’t care if someone is purple with green polka dots. What matters is if someone is a good person”.
I realize now that, although this upbringing was well-intentioned and came from a place of complete love and acceptance of others, that I was trivializing the pain.
Due to my colleague sharing her story, I see and acknowledge the struggles others have, and I am no longer colour-blind.
This doesn’t mean I don’t have struggles as a female or my husband as a Jew. It doesn’t mean that we haven’t felt the sting of prejudice and unfair treatment. What it means is that I’m reaching out to understand their perspective. It’s a starting point to evoke positive change.
We’re hearing a lot about change lately.
Calls and protests to review systemic biases ring out from coast to coast. Now you may be thinking, “But Marion, my organization is above reproach. We don’t have biases here. We don’t prejudice against anyone.” You may be right. Or you may be wrong.
Change is exceptionally difficult for some people. How about you? Do you welcome trying new ways, or do you spend all your energy defending the old ones? Is your organization mired in the past and built on the known and familiar? Or does it like to embrace different approaches and engage in innovative thinking and practices? These cultures will affect the speed and willingness of your workplace to change perspective, gain insights, and adapt new systems.
To really know if you and your organization have blatant or unconscious bias, you’ll want to step back and take an honest and hard look.
Begin with your words.
Words betray your thinking. How we think is captured in how we talk. The words we speak, the expressions we use, the jokes we tell, the policies we write, all reveal underlying sentiments and values.
Are you unknowingly using offensive sayings? You’re not alone.
This whole exercise isn’t about pointing fingers and assigning blame. It’s about assuming responsibility. To solve a problem, firstly, you recognize your share of responsibility, your role in contributing to that situation. If you only blame others, the problem never gets solved.
We all have a role to play in evoking #SystemicChange.
Things that were commonplace to say years ago are no longer appropriate. It’s not a case of being super PC (politically correct), it’s a case of being more aware. When you know better, you do better. So let’s do better.
It takes a brave person to review their actions, thoughts, and words. It’s tough to look in mirrors and see ourselves in a different light. Even though no offense may be intended, you may still be offending. It’s not an excuse, not anymore.
When you step on someone’s toe accidentally, you didn’t mean to do it. But it still hurt. So you apologize and take measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. No offence intended, but you still hurt someone.
That’s what words are like. You may unknowingly crush someone. Being aware that you’re doing so is the first step in changing the words you use and your behaviour.
Keep your sense of humour.
Don’t get me wrong. Please keep a sense of humour. Laugh at the ridiculousness of situations, yourself, and others. Just don’t do it at someone else’s expense.
Have your perceptions changed recently?
The world is a-changing. Trying to stop it would be like holding up your hand to stop a tidal wave: You’re not going to succeed. Instead of fighting it, I invite you to take all these differing perspectives and use them to challenge your own thinking, your own words and actions.
The wave of change is here. Let’s grab our surfboards and ride it!
Until next time, here’s to …
Better communication, Better business, Better life,
Marion Grobb Finkelstein
Keynote Speaker / Corporate Trainer / Author
Recipient of APEX “Award for Leadership in Service Innovation”
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