I guess it was timely that my Leadership Winston Salem class focused on Human Relations the week before Martin Luther King Jr Day. I was actually looking forward to it as I care very deeply about figuring out how we get along with people who are different from us- no matter what the categories. But race is especially painful to me over the last year because there was a time I naively thought we had made such excellent progress. Only to discover that my perceived progress is only in starts and stops, with hiccups and facade sprinkled among peeled back layers and shared common ground.
There are still way too many people in my life who use the phrase “those people”. It can mean people who are gay or people who are of color. It can mean disabled people, women, children or older adults. I hear it way too often and for too many reasons. So many ways in which we categorize and divide ourselves. We like for people to be like us and think/act like us. And when others don’t we start to get uncomfortable. And when we get uncomfortable we begin to modify our behavior. We either try and control those not acting the way we want them to or we begin to push them out. The flip side of that is if we are the cause of the disruption we often try and minimize it so that we fit in. One of the facilitators of my workshop said the phrase we “go along to get along”.
Have you ever done that? Felt like something was unfolding that you didn’t quite feel good about but instead of saying what probably really needed to be said, you kept your mouth shut and went along in order to get along with those around you? I have and it doesn’t feel very good. As a person of privilege, those are the very moments I need to find my voice and leverage my given power by speaking up.
MLK reminds us in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail that it really is about relationships. How we relate to one another matters:
“Moreover I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states…Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – MLK, Jr.