While it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the problems plaguing the world, there are ways for us to take action now. We can do better. I can do better. Change starts here.
The recent sadness and heartache populating the news has caused personal and public reflection. This constant self-reflection has many, including myself, asking, “How can we do better? How can I do better?” While it is easy to feel overwhelmed by these plaguing problems, there are ways for us to take action now. We can do better by taking a deeper look into ourselves and our beliefs, and by being willing to cultivate dialogue– even when it’s difficult. As we work to create change within ourselves and our sphere, we can begin to better the community around us.
Looking Deep into the Self
Almost everyone holds some form of bias. These unrealized and rarely conscious attitudes are called implicit biases. Research shows that many of our actions occur without conscious thought-process, which allows for complex functioning, but also proves that many of our actions are shaped by implicit biases rather than our conscious attitudes or thoughts. Implicit bias is a universal phenomenon; it is not limited by any demographic. Rather than deny their existence, we can work to overcome our biases.
First, we can exert the effort to discover the implicit biases that we hold. This can be a difficult process, but social scientists have created tools to aid us in our efforts. Harvard has launched a website called Project Implicit which allows individuals to take tests that help to determine biases towards specific groups of people (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html) Utilizing this tool can provide valuable insight into our own biases and help us determine where change is needed. When we are vulnerable and willing to look deep into our weakness, we become more mindful of our thoughts and subsequent actions. It is important to realize the risk involved in stereotypes and develop a desire to overcome them. Our insight can lead us to develop decision-making procedures that welcome reflection and discovery.
Cultivating Difficult Dialogue
Conversations surrounding topics like inequity and injustice can sometimes be difficult. Although small talk and simple conversations may flow more easily, we can do better. It’s simply not enough to disagree with oppression; we need to be willing to talk about it with our friends, family, and peers. Engaging in conversations about justice, rights, and equality encourages others to think more critically about their beliefs and opinions. Spreading awareness of injustices and systemic issues sheds light on topics that others may not have considered. I have learned so much from my peers as we have taken time to talk about the hard stuff. When we share our thoughts and feelings with people that we trust, we can create meaningful dialogue that invites discussion and problem-solving.
As we engage in difficult conversations, it is vital to ensure that there is a safe space in place where the conversations are held. While we may not agree with the thoughts and opinions of everyone around us, we can show respect for others by listening to their thoughts without condemning or cutting in. As we truly listen to others’ viewpoints and perspectives, we cultivate an environment of understanding and learning. Together we can create plans to act, goals for improvement, and brainstorm more ways to spread awareness to others. It takes courage to introduce difficult topics to conversations; provide context to your concern and emphasize the importance of holding these conversations as you begin them with those in your sphere.
Talking with Children
How can we hold difficult conversations about injustice and inequality with children? Researchers say to start early and use words that children understand. As you teach your children, use stories that highlight the strengths of minorities. Don’t be afraid to teach them about the existence of injustice or the systemic issues that affect the world. We can help our children to understand difference as a beautiful and positive thing through our language and actions. Some children may understand more than we realize about the current issues; ask them what they know and create a safe environment for dialogue if they have questions. Don’t shy away from teaching important topics. Talk early and talk often.
In seeking to do better, we recognize and appreciate the differences that exist among us. We each find ourselves in different social, financial, family, cultural, ethnic, etc. circumstances. We can celebrate our differences while simultaneously acknowledging the need for change. Although I cannot perfectly understand each unique situation, I strive to listen with empathy, an open mind, willing heart, and ready hands as I interact with others. By taking a deeper look into ourselves and our areas of improvement and building the courage to have difficult and vulnerable conversations, we open the door of change for those who have been shut out from opportunity. Let us resolve to do better, starting today.
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.