As I sit here, the media is showcasing the events of Charlottesville, Virginia, and the riots there between white nationalists and counter-protestors that have claimed a life, left many more injured and have further divided an already fractured nation of people.
To say that the events are sad and distressing is like saying the ocean is big. I have gone through the full gambit of emotions: shock at the event, anger at those who hurt others, dismay that, in these so called ‘enlightened times’, anyone can still so aggressively hold such views, disgust at the failure of leadership to speak out against the actions taken, bewilderment at how we reach the hearts and minds of such angry people to educate and explore. And I can’t say that I adequately know how to capture all of that in one blog post. Because I really don’t.
But here is what I do know.
This is behaviour we teach.
Examples of intolerance, bigotry and hatred happen every day because we allow ourselves to get focused on differences. To see them as barriers and reasons to separate instead of recognizing them for what they are: opportunities for strength. And its not just about race. Or gender. Or sexual preference. Or religion. Or disability. No. Those are obvious “flags”. But the fear of difference, and the intolerance and hatred that generally follows, shows up often. Its shows up between generations. It shows up in how we work. It shows up in not liking that person on my team who is different. It shows up in mocking the person who doesn’t sound like you. It shows up in the jokes we tell and the stories we share. It shows up in the failure to invite that person to lunch. Or the eye roll when that person does the thing you wish they wouldn’t do.
These are views we foster, consciously or unconsciously. These are actions we allow, at times simply by being complicit in it. Make no mistake, this is behaviour we teach. And if we teach it, then we can stop it.
There is no courage or intellect involved in persecuting someone for difference. In any form. We can’t claim to be ‘smart people’ if we can truly believe that someone different to us is lesser in some way. We are all one race and we all live on this earth and nobody is born seeing difference.
It is behaviour we teach.
I have spent most of my career working with organizations to help people work better together. As people we learn so many unhelpful perspectives, build lopsided views of the world and make unfounded assumptions that get in the way of being able to simply see each other and be with each other. These things can be changed. We can learn to think differently, behave differently, SEE differently. Who we are and how we behave are not the same thing. They are linked, connected, driven by each other, but we can always choose behaviour. So the next time someone presents a point of view you don’t like, explore it. When you find yourself having an immediate reaction that you ‘don’t like someone’ work harder to understand them. When someone tells a joke that diminishes others, don’t laugh. Ask them why they think its funny.
We may sometimes feel powerless to understand how we can impact something as consequential as the events in Virginia. But we can all impact those around us every day. I know its not easy. I don’t always get it right. I fall into the trap too and roll my eyes instead of giving feedback or get irritated with someone instead of saying ‘wait now, i need to understand your intent here’. But we don’t need to be perfect. I need to keep trying. For the sake of everybody ever hurt, injured or killed because they were different, we need to keep trying.