As the world is continually made smaller through social media, I find some of us are lulled into thinking we “know” people and things because we read a post about it. Or that we are somehow worldly because we have a few friends in international places. My challenge for you is to go further in 2017. Do not hide in your own neighborhoods, with your own friends. I can think of no more important message than this: go places, and do things.
This is the way the world can be made safer – this is how we begin to dismantle hate and bias. No class or workshop will fully teach you how to value others – only your relationship with others can do that. Despite what you may hear from the highest political leaders in our land, the path to peace and happiness is through embracing differences, not hiding from them or sending them away. Here are some tips to get started and get the most out of your “going and doing”:
- Locate a place that is “culturally” different from you (e.g., another part of town, another city/state/country, a place of worship where no one talks or looks like you, etc.). Notice these don’t require a lot of money to do this. Of course maybe you do have resources to spare and do want to travel across the world – that is good too.
- Before you go, read something (objective/academic) about where you are going. This will help you a great deal in appreciating the “going and doing.” This means you look outside of the popular news media to gain understanding.
- Tell people about it! You never know who may want to help you get there, go with you, or have experience in that culture. Share what your going and doing goals are so we can support you!
- Meet someone while there and exchange information with them. Follow up with them on a regular basis. Wanna know how to lead and follow in diverse environments? Build relationships with people different from yourself – you’ll be forever changed:)
- Write about it. Don’t let the feelings, the ah-ha’s, the anxieties escape you. John Maxwell said that reflection is like the crock pot of the mind – let the thoughts simmer until they are ready. You have to capture those moments if you are ever to make meaning of them.
Now share this with people you care about, and set out to do it!
Tom Matson wrote in his book, “UNFROZEN: A Father’s Reflections on a Brain Tumor Journey:”
Grace: a word and associated actions I’ve never been able to comprehend. I don’t think our minds can fully grasp grace. I know many people could define grace differently, but for me, I see it as receiving love when we don’t necessarily deserve it. It’s love when we least expect it, and it’s love when we have done nothing to receive it.
I use this word often in my work as a Vice President. Particularly when working in a sector of higher education where students struggle to make ends meet, get to class, eat, fit in, and support their families. A sector where employees show up to do their best, but don’t always get there, or who are constantly challenged by shrinking resources and battered by the tides of the changing sea that is higher education. All of this is compounded by the ugly realities that plague us as a society, including all the ism’s we hear about and experience daily. What I realize is still missing in so many places is grace.
If we could all just give a little more grace, and be more full of grace, then it makes life more bearable. As a Christian, I believe that grace and mercy sit at the core of the love that saves us. If it were not for these twins we would be lost. So I often wonder how I can give grace in my interactions, as I teach acceptance in the work I do. I call on my colleagues who are engaged in the oftentimes thankless and tough work of education to give each other grace as we struggle through this life. Sometimes its the only thing that we have left, and its the only thing that keeps us trying despite the difficulty.
Much of my life I have heard the phrase “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Usually that is followed by “and everything is small stuff.” I lived by that quote for much of my life – using it to help me get through, over, and past my disappointments with myself and others. I used it when doing my professional work, realizing that there is always something bigger, badder, and worse that could have been happening. Lately however, I’ve begun to realize that the “small stuff” may mean more than I once believed.
Many of you reading this may have heard of the term microaggresions. If not, google it. These fall under the larger rubric of a micro-insults. They are a form of oppression so small and so slight, that it often goes unnoticed by the person using them. Like a paper cut, to the hearer, they very much so hurt – despite their size or the intention of those using them. Enough of them can cause a tremendous amount of lasting pain. This is often the “small stuff” that many are asked to not sweat. But that’s not really fair is it? I think we need to shift to sweating that small stuff very much, and the people who are subject to those slights should do the same.
The way I see it, if it is indeed that small, perhaps it should be easy to shift our language and behavior a bit to make someone feel like they belong, and that they matter.
I also want to extend this conversation to the “small stuff” we see physically around our campuses that may lead people or communities to feel that they don’t matter. As I visit campuses across the country and indeed my own campus, I wonder how small changes to the environment can go a long way in helping the community feel pride and joy about the space they call home for much of the day. A fresh coat of paint here, a new sign there, a deep cleaning of this area. Some would argue, “but we have so many other big things to worry about.” And to that I would simply respond; then this should be easy! Like the great coach said in the quote above, the little details are vital. In what we say, how we present ourselves to our community, and what we do and do not do; it all matters. Just think about the big things you can make happen once you start attending to the small details I’ve mentioned in this post. People who feel valued do more and better work, people who have pride and joy in their work and learning environment are happier and more productive. I think that’s worth sweating the small stuff.
“While strolling through the fields of time, there’s many things to see;
But nature is the greatest sight, that there could ever be.
The greatest of them all to me is how the world was formed;
And why the roses have to live each day among the thorns.”
Image provided by bitrebels.com
My work places me in challenging positions. I have to have conversations with faculty members, students, and other employees about how to navigate difficult conversations, how to accommodate students so they can be successful, and how to see the humanity in people even when they don’t want or have to. It can be exhausting. I question why I do it, and how or if I will sustain doing it for the long run. I’m then reminded of an important reality, as I often am, through the gift of song. When the lyrics are good – I’m good. No matter the genre of music, I find a message that keeps me going. In this case I found it in Bluegrass. Having been raised in the Southern part of the U.S., I can appreciate some good Bluegrass.
The song A Rose Among The Thorns made me remember that one of the most beautiful flowers in the world, the Rose, exists amongst thorns. Metaphorically, good people, and indeed the good in people, are much like roses amongst the thorns. I don’t get to choose to be offended by the thorns and thereby lose an opportunity to appreciate the roses. I don’t get to be afraid of the thorns, and let that distract me from the beauty of people, or the value they bring to this world. There is good in people and bad in people. There are good people and there are bad people. You can’t have one without the other, and one shouldn’t stop you from appreciating the other. I will remember in my daily work that despite the selfishness, racism, bias, and bigotry in the world…I will continue to do what I do for the roses.
As I meditated this morning I came across a scripture, 1 Corinthians 10:23 and 24 that reads,
“I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” – but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.(NIV)
In my daily work as a chief diversity/inclusion and senior student affairs officer at a public institution, the notion of rights and responsibilities is always on my mind. In our world, and in the United States in particular, we use our rights as a hammer and permission to do whatever we want. The debate about gun control, also relevant to college campuses, is one such example. The right to be be biased, or hate, is another. This scripture, Christian in its context but clearly applicable to us all regardless of our beliefs, states some obvious facts, “not everything is beneficial” and “not everything is constructive.” It applies standards to our rights, and asks us to ask if what I will do will add value to others, or should I do it just because I can. And notice these standards are not simply “good or bad,” those are too simplistic. Beneficial and constructive is the goal. I have the right to buy an AK-47, but is that beneficial (literally: favorable or advantageous; resulting in good.) I have the right to use most any names I want to refer to someone else, but is it constructive (literally: serving a useful purpose; tending to build up.)
As individuals we have rights, as a community we have responsibilities. The whole thing we call civilization falls apart if we don’t keep that in mind, and remind others to do the same.
In my meditation this morning I was reminded about my own role in fighting for justice. Praying for peace and justice is necessary, as the prophet Habakkuk did:
“How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.”
Habakkuk 1:2-4 NIV
But we can’t forget our role. To use our gifts to fight the good fight. Despite my own fatigue as of late I recommit to being an advocate for justice. And beyond advocating, fighting for it.
Colleges Campuses Are Full Of Subtle Racism And Sexism, Study Says.
First, way to go Missouri for trying to own your stuff and respond appropriately. This is a good read, and more evidence of problems across the academy. I don’t expect my colleagues who are part of the dominant culture (however that manifests in your space) to always understand, but you can try. This stuff is real, and has real impacts. I’m reading Whistling Vivaldi by Claude M. Steele now, pick it up – it’s a good one. It will also provide more evidence to the reality and impact of stereotype threat and how it affects us all.
It may be worth noting this line as an example: “I have to stop and think sometimes, ‘Are they being racist? Or, is that just how they act? Or, are they just not being friendly because they’re having a bad day?'” This is one of many Black/Brown taxes. It’s a tax others pay too depending on their many identities. While you’re asking that question, you’re not focusing on your studies, success, or other things we all think about and have to manage psychologically. This is why we have to do what we can, all of us, to create safe, accepting and welcoming spaces – particularly on college campuses.