As part of the Black Lives Matter Movement, one of the things that black people are asking other non-black people to do is to talk to other non-black people about things that need addressing like racism, white supremacy, white privilege, oppression, black history… etc. The black community is asking the world to have these often uncomfortable conversations with our own community and especially our loved ones, our parents, our grandparents who often like to state that “because they are old, they are set in their ways”, our kids, our friends, our neighbours… People we care about, people we love who may be sometimes not so willing to listen to the other side of their arguments.
Now Racism is at the top of the list for a lot of people (myself included), but in my own country, in Mexico, Sexism and Violence Against Women have been at the top of my list for years. I have had difficult conversations with my peers, friends, and family which have often led to heated discussions that end with both parties feeling attacked, offended, misunderstood, unheard, and hurt.
I have realised that it is far more challenging to talk to the people you love than to lecture people on Twitter.
When I called my father out on his sexist jokes, I wasn’t aiming to alienate him… I just wanted him to understand why they weren’t funny at all. I wanted him to soul-search, to become aware that words have power and that even if he thinks that “it is just a joke”, it does have further implications than that because it perpetuates sexist behaviours and attitudes that harm women.
I was fortunate enough to have a father that listens, that is proud to learn from his daughter, and that is willing to change his behaviours and beliefs to create a kinder, more equal world. I have also learned that to make him listen I must always come from a loving place because at the end of the day… I am doing this (having these conversations) out of love, out of love for the cause I support, out of love for myself but also out of love for my father too. If I didn’t care about what he thought, I wouldn’t spend time debating with him.
My father and I have learned to debate without attacking/offending each other and that, in turn, has helped me debate with other people I love without falling out. This post is my guide to have uncomfortable yet important conversations with your loved ones without forgetting the basic thing: that you love each other.
The hardest part comes first. When we feel we have been wronged it is very hard to listen to others’ points of view. All we want is to be heard and understood, especially if we have been constantly silenced or if our voice has been disregarded before. It is so difficult sometimes to actively listen to my loved ones because it feels like my mouth is filling up with words trying to push each other out of my lips. Yet I hold them in, pressing my lips together, and tell myself to just… Breathe.
2. REMEMBER THAT YOU LOVE THEM
This is just as important as the first point. Before I speak, I look at them in silence while I breathe. I notice things about them that I love, their hair, their eyes, the wrinkles at the corner of their eyes, their laugh lines, their freckles… I hold on to them and I wake up the deep-seated love I have for them. Moreover, I remember that they are not my enemy, and I remember all the parts of them that are beautiful, and kind, and loving. The fact that they may be unconscious in some regards, the fact that they may be displaying sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic…etc..etc attitudes does not mean that they are evil, does not mean that they are bad people. They are not. The whole of them is much greater than that and if I love them, I make myself remember why.
3. KNOW THAT IT IS MORE COMPLEX THAN WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
It is easy to label someone this or that, it is easy to judge and condemn. It is easy, yet unhelpful, to divide the world into “good people” and “bad people”. The world is not like that. Nobody is inherently evil nor good, those are human judgements. Shakespeare said it best: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Hamlet). To know that your loved ones’ views are the result of a number of factors such as past conditioning, family/historical background, culture, past experiences, education, character, upbringing, fears and anxieties, etc. is helpful in understanding why they think the way they think. And we must never underestimate the power of Understanding, it can dismantle anger, resentment, and hate, for understanding where they are coming from can spark in us empathy, tolerance, patience, and compassion.
4. BE AWARE OF THE PAIN
When you and your loved ones are debating, pain may be easily triggered when having these difficult conversations. They may say something that really moves you and you may be tempted to react and say something that in return moves them and makes them react until it all escalates into a fire that will take the double amount of water to douse. Try, as hard as you can, not to talk from your pain. If you do or did, know that it is your pain talking, the part of you that is hurt, which often wants to hurt back. Know it for what it is. Most of us have it. It’s part of our shadow, but that shadow also makes our light possible. See it, acknowledge it, address it. Shining your awareness on it will make it lose its grip on you. The other person may also be talking from his or her pain, that does not concern you. Use their pain to look at your own. The other person is your mirror, you see in them what is in you. If you hear pain, resentment, fear in their voice, hear and look into your own.
5. INFUSE YOUR WORDS WITH LOVE
The best way to get your words across is to infuse them with love, understanding, compassion, empathy, and kindness. Even reluctant ears pick up on that loving energy, and the barriers lessen, the walls come down. And if they don’t… Understand that every Soul has its own processes and goes at its own pace. Don’t judge them or condemn them, we are all doing the best we can with what we know. Don’t assume that because they didn’t seem to hear you, your words won’t reach them. Sometimes the words stay, and they may ponder your words in silence, in stillness… and that’s when the real change happens. You must also do this yourself, even if you think someone is wrong, don’t disregard your loved ones’ words so easily… ponder them, they might help you understand your loved ones more, your relationship with them and yourself too. The words that stay with you are trying to tell you something as well.
6. DON’T BE AFRAID TO APOLOGISE
If you said something hurtful, if you were unkind… Don’t be afraid to apologise. Sometimes we don’t apologise because it hurts to admit we did wrong, or that we hurt others. Sometimes it seems that as long as we don’t apologise, somehow, it isn’t real. Sometimes we don’t apologise because we are afraid we will lose our power. But power isn’t love. And apologising can spark healing. It shows great strength and courage in taking responsibility for your actions, words, the positive and the hurtful ones. Mean your apology and change your behaviour, words, energy. If they were unkind to you… don’t engage and hurt back. Muster courage, strength, understanding, and love. Change the energy. Remember who you are and who they are and most importantly, that you love each other.
7. THERE IS ALWAYS TOMORROW
More often than not debates of this sort end without any conclusion. It is most likely that you won’t change their minds and that they won’t change yours by the end of the conversation. But the point is to have the conversation in the first place and to keep having them. Change takes time and sometimes it comes all in a rush. Be patient, be kind, be brave, and keep at it. If not today, try again tomorrow. Someday, you may be surprised.