Even though I typically deal with individuals in my office, I’m acutely aware that I’m not just having a conversation with the person sitting in front of me. That person brings with her all of her experiences to date. Experiences with family, friends and others with whom he’s connected, as well as experiences from institutions such as churches, schools, businesses where she’s worked or those that serve him in some way. She also brings in her experience with our larger culture – the institutional biases that permeate our environment.
Recently, the bandaid has been ripped off a gaping wound in our country. This is such a delicate and hurtful issue for all of us. I’m talking about the “taking a knee” issue.
We all have biases. As we mature emotionally and socially, it becomes a tendency for us to begin to put things, experiences and people into categories to make sense of them. As babies & young children, we don’t see differences, but as we are socialized, they become a part of how we experience life. My point is that it can be helpful to put things in categories because it really can aid us in understanding and approaching issues better. It gives us a sense of security and life feels so much better organized when we can put things, thoughts and people into categories – like right or wrong/good or bad.
But many of our behaviors are often driven by fear-oriented patterns of thought. In my business, the purpose of diagnosing is to give us a structure from which to work. But I personally don’t like to label a client unless I have to, because it also can blind us to other aspects of the person. (I have worked in agencies where therapists and docs talked about “that borderline” or “that addict” as if that’s the whole of who that person is).
So the problem comes when we become too rigid with our categories.
I’m not going to ask you to agree with me on this issue. I respect your right to believe however you believe. I stand with my hand over my heart when the National Anthem is played. In fact, I did it just last night prior to a performance we attended. However, I fully understand and respect those who have chosen to take a knee and will fight for them to continue to do so. I will talk about why a little later.
First, I want to say I strongly believe in the need to openly discuss such things, or we’ll never move forward on them. To make that happen, we have to know what our intention for the conversation is. If it’s to prove who’s right and who’s wrong, I’m out. But if we really want to come to an answer that might make it better, or at least get us started in that direction, then we have to focus, not on what was done to who in the past, but on where we are now; and to LISTEN with the aim of understanding more about the other person, rather than coming up with our defense in our heads while the other person is talking. Most of us know this process as conflict resolution. In Brene Brown’s book BRAVING THE WILDERNESS, she borrows a term from a colleague, Michelle Buck – “Conflict Transformation.”
When we are talking about a difference of opinion, it’s sometimes contentious and uncomfortable, especially these days. But the real issue behind the original protest of Colin Kaepernick and others who followed him is more than a difference of opinion, and I think that’s what has been overlooked, especially since it was brought back up last weekend. At that point, it became about something else and the original protest has gotten muddied. It’s about who we are as a country – as humans who have many more similarities than we have differences. But we are choosing to focus on those differences, without the will to do anything but bitch at, or about “the other side.” Under the surface, this comes from our need to belong – to have a tribe we can identify with.
To have a real conversation about it is difficult, messy and scary. (I have to admit, just posting this blog makes my heart race a little, because I know there will be opposition. But because I believe nothing will change until we can talk about it, I’m plowing ahead).
After getting embroiled in a couple of Facebook conversations last weekend, here’s a post I put on my personal page:
Symbols are important. The flag is a symbol of our American values. It represents our union as “a people.” But our union is made up of people from many different cultures. It’s part of what makes our country great. But it’s an imperfect Union because not all those people are treated equally.
When you go to the grocery store don’t you enjoy having choices of brands, sizes & prices? It’s part of the fun of shopping. We all come from the same factory – we just have different packaging. It’s part of what makes our culture interesting and more perfect. But a symbol, regardless of what it represents to you, should not take precedence over the treatment and respect shown to the actual people it represents.
The original protest was (and still is) about people of color being inordinately endangered by police and others JUST because of the color of their skin. That is unfair and Kaepernick wanted to bring attention to it. He also put his money where his mouth was and gave most of his salary away – and he ran a program for young kids to teach them about rights and personal empowerment. I understand you may not agree that people of color are being treated unfairly, but unless you are black (or a member of some other marginalized group who has lived in this country), it may just not be your experience. That doesn’t mean it’s not happening. And just because I don’t like how many of my black friends have been consistently treated by the police, that doesn’t translate to “I hate all police officers.” I have had experiences with police officers personally and as clients, and find the majority of them to be extremely dedicated and devoted to protecting all of us.
If we think the real issue is just about patriotism, we need to think again. My belief is that protestors actually honor the flag and what it stands for BECAUSE they are taking advantage of the rights it represents – and that the military have fought for since our country’s inception.
Many of us (myself included) have been guilty of not exercising our rights. We are blind to what happens daily to others who don’t have the privilege of being a caucasian (or male/straight/able-bodied/Muslim, etc). If the concept that there even is such a thing as white privilege is offensive to us, we are either 1) a member of an extremely small group who has never experienced the pain of prejudice, or 2) we are complicit in perpetuating the problem. (Please see another post on my Professional Facebook Page I’ve taken the liberty of entitling DO YOU CARE? It was written by Susan, a friend of mine, and says what I’m trying to say here in a much more concise and straight-forward way).
In summary, my purpose for writing this blog is two-fold. First, I believe in our flag and what it stands for – for ALL citizens of the US. And as a therapist, I have had the privilege of vicariously seeing the world through the eyes of many people who don’t look like, believe like, act like or love like I do. THEY have taught me that we all have the same needs and rights. Second, I know the only way we will ever change any of this is if we begin to communicate, holding each of us at the same level of respect.
So when clients come into my office, I pledge to continue to HEAR what they are experiencing, whether I agree with them or not; because their experience is their reality, and if they can experience someone who will honor that, maybe their reality will change a little.