It’s 2020, and many people still flee, freeze, or fight when confronted with a conversation about race. Prejudices, oppression, and discrimination are sensitive topics fueled by centuries of pain and fear and have persisted as a legacy of racism. No matter where you stand on the “color-line,” chances are that at some point or another you have experienced despair when confronted by racism, either someone else’s or possibly even your own.
“In the bigger picture, the absence or loss of peace can be traced back to many social and cultural factors: political unrest, domination, oppression, economic inequalities, glass ceilings, racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and religious radicalism. How can our minds and hearts not be affected by these inherently violent, divisive political and social constructs? Until we become aware and committed to making that change that begins with each individual, we will fail to make a difference not only in these larger constructs, and in the workplace, but within our own lives.” – Sherry Blair
Though there is no one clear and perfect way to talk about race, a strong communicator is able to “read the room” and adapt their communication style to their audience and environment. Therefore, it is always good to have an ample supply of positive and effective tools to help you contribute your thoughts, feelings, and questions in a respectful and productive manner. So, in honor of Black History Month and the breaking of racial barriers, we’d like to contribute to your communications toolbox by offering a few strategies to encourage more open and necessary dialogue about race utilizing the Nurtured Heart Approach®.
As with many therapeutic and relationship tools, the Nurtured Heart Approach® is flexible and adaptable to a wide range of settings. Originally developed by Howard Glasser as a way to manage challenging behavior for parents, teachers, or any individual interfacing with children who have unique needs and challenges, the Nurtured Heart Approach® is expandable to encompass strategies that can help people from all walks of life learn how to recognize and respect the Inner Wealth™ of anyone they encounter, including themselves.
Below, we’ve broken down the basic fundamentals of the Nurtured Heart Approach® and expanded upon the methodologies to offer suggestions as to how to have productive, educational, and collaborative communications about race and racism.
The Three Stands™ of the Nurtured Heart Approach®
Stand One: Absolutely no!
This stand is grounded in the belief that by giving energy to negative behavior, thoughts and feelings, you are actually fueling the fire. People thrive on attention, and deep down we all really just want to be heard and seen. When you pay no mind to someone who is doing the right thing, but then shower them with attention the second they step out of line, you are inadvertently rewarding their poor behavior with your time and energy.
This stand is particularly difficult to follow when broaching the potentially atomic topic of race. Call a person “racist” or any derogatory term and you better be prepared for an explosion. Belittling a person in any way will cause a wide range of intense emotions and it is in these severely heated states that our diplomatic abilities dissipate. Effective communication requires full attention and critical thinking, and these skills take a back seat when emotions are at the wheel. In getting riled up over what someone else may have called you out of ignorance or anger, you are rewarding their unacceptable behavior by allowing them to get under your — ahem — skin.
Albeit, the ignorance and fixed mindset of others when it comes to their racism can be infuriating to some of us. We almost cannot fathom the notion that they do not even see their own racism. Sherry Blair states, “What I find interesting on social media posts is that the only people who say they are tired of hearing about racism are white people. Well try living your life, through generations, being oppressed and discriminated against by racism.”
However, being a person of color or a minority does not absolve or exempt a person from being prejudice. As a society, we should not permit discrimination or cruelty for any reason. Whichever side of the color line you are on, it is still something that provokes a deep emotional stirring within and pouncing on it out of anger, or from pain or frustration, will only fuel the fire–no one will be heard and nothing will change. Stand One is a refusal to give energy to unhealthy negativity in any way, shape, or form.
- Remain peaceful. Think, what would Martin Luther King Jr. do? Make “equanimity” your mantra. When confronting bigotry, prejudices or injustices, try expressing how a person’s words or actions make you feel in an even-toned, calm and clear manner. In maintaining your composure and bringing to attention without blame or anger the impact a person’s divisive beliefs or behaviors can have might encourage empathetic listening to your experience and input rather than causing a person to jump on the defensive. Even if your perspective may not be validated or even considered at first, odds are your message will be taken home and digested later. On the other hand, if your response is accusatory and elicits a screaming match, your insight is most likely going to fall on closed ears. It is important to remember that no matter what, we have the right to our own opinions and moving toward accepting one another unconditionally, whether we agree with one or not, can be helpful.
- Practice “resetting.” When you enter into conversation with someone and all you sense from them is anger and hostility while you are doing your utmost best to keep your cool, it is ok to walk away. When a person is irate and irrational, the conversation is over. Do not engage by raising your voice (or lowering yourself) to their level. Instead of becoming overwhelmed, take a step back and several deep breaths. Is this conversation really worth your energy? Will your communication be productive? What good will come of a toe-to-toe argument? In the fight for justice for all, we must accept that some battles will be lost and that our sanity and humanity is sometimes not worth the sacrifice–in that moment.
Stand Two: Absolutely yes!
Complimentary to the first stand, Stand Two encourages the relentless recognition of positive behavior and awarding your energy where it is rightfully earned and deserved. As a society, if fame and fortune were achievable through good will and positive deeds rather than shock value and drama, chances are we would see more heroes and fewer villains on our television, tablet, and phone screens. We must nurture and energize behavior and beliefs that promote equality and social justice. Creating successful outcomes in our communication style and maintaining peaceful power is what Stand Two inspires us to do.
- Practice recognizing people. Energize and promote people for their efforts towards equality, acts that further human rights, kindness toward others and relentless preservation of human dignity. Though at times it might feel like a stretch, recognize others for any positive strength, value or virtue that you believe is the change we need to see in the world. Aligning with the theory of classical conditioning, effective training requires some sort of reinforcement. Think about the impact of lashing out and giving your undivided attention and passionate energy to a person who uses a racial slur versus giving a neutral response and then offering recognition when they practice acceptance. In practicing the latter, odds are you will likely see a more positive shift in the person’s behavior if they learn to associate good feelings with being kind and willing to recognize differences, willing to become more culturally aware and sensitive, or compassionate about other people who are different than you. Below are a few examples of forms of recognitions and how to utilize them to help shape positive, accepting behavior in your community.
- Active Recognitions:
- Give language to the attitudes and behaviors you want to encourage by explaining them aloud as if narrating for an audience.
- “I noticed that you held the door for every person behind you, regardless of their appearance (behavior).”
- “I hear you maintaining a calm tone even though the discussion is growing in intensity.”
- The goal is to let the person know that you notice their actions and that they are capable of positive behaviors because because you acknowledged their choice to be kind, or to remain peaceful right in that moment.
- Experiential Recognitions:
- Building upon Active Recognitions, now tag on the values or qualities the person is exhibiting to promote their own internal awareness of their ability to practice such desirable behaviors.
- “I appreciate that you are engaging in this difficult conversation with me because it shows that you are open and committed to learning about a different point of view.”
- “I heard you practicing Spanish with ordering your food and that shows that you appreciate and value other cultures.”
- The goal is to recognize the greatness in everyone by redefining how we think about others and hopefully shifting even how they think about themselves. We want everyone to know that they are capable of promoting social justice and equality because we witness them practicing those values in everyday activities.
- Creative Recognitions:
- In an effort to encourage successful communication where it might not exist, this tool can jump start a positive discussion. Start with a clear and attainable request and then tie on an Experiential Recognition to celebrate any movement or effort aligned with the request, regardless of intent.
- “I ask you to please share with me what your honest thoughts and feeling are about a time or experience when you were underrepresented?” [As the person you’re asking this question to thinks, say….] “I see you genuinely contemplating my question, even if it makes you feel a bit awkward. Your efforts to consider a time when you felt like “the other” shows your courage to consider the validity of experiences different than what you might be used to.”
- “I was going to ask you what your internal dialogue is when you encounter someone who has a different race or ethnicity than you, and you just shared your thoughts with me! I appreciate and respect your ability to speak your truth to me and it shows your openness to this conversation.”
- The goal of Creative Recognitions is to facilitate successful dialogue by encouraging abilities to talk about uncomfortable topics by giving clear directives as to how to get started and reinforcing any forward motion or progress. We create success where it would not otherwise exist.
Stand Three: Absolutely clear!
As members of society, it is our duty to define and enforce what behaviors and beliefs we will accept and those which we will not allow. Racism in modern day America is no single person’s, institution’s, or TV show’s “fault.” We are all responsible for permitting bigotry, fear, and hatred to exist in our media, schools, and living rooms. As a united front, we need to collectively uphold a zero tolerance policy. We can no longer dismiss or tolerate poor judgement and behavior as simply “a joke” or “in the past.” Sadly, prejudice is not “just a joke” or “in the past.” We continue to learn more and more about the deleterious effects of racism that are not as overt to those who have never had to experience racism or discrimination based on their skin color or ethnicity. We invite the practice of holding ourselves, our loved ones, and our fellow community members — especially those in power — responsible for their thoughts, beliefs, and actions that follow. Understanding that there are consequences for violating a person’s human rights or devaluing someone’s dignity is movement toward positive change. When it is reasonable to do so, and using the tool of reset in a compassionate and loving way can assist us with imposing the limit–that line in the sand–when it comes to violations of human dignity Consistency is key and (in keeping Stand One in mind), dispassionately.
- Get involved. Speak with policy makers at your work, school, church, gym, etc. and inquire as to how acts of discrimination or intolerance are handled within the institution or organization. Encourage an open discussion with other students, colleagues, or members about what actions and behaviors are permissible in the community spaces you occupy. Request that signs be posted to clearly state rules and identify potential consequences for any violation of another person’s dignity. Be sure to hold those in power responsible for enforcing stated rules and consequences in a respectable, just and timely manner.
- Use your voice. Vote for laws and individuals that promote equality and social justice. Write and send letters to legislators at all levels of government to show your support or disapproval of potential bills or policies that would negatively impact or target specific groups of people. Get out and protest injustices by attending rallies and marches that advance the human rights of historically oppressed people. Become an advocate in every aspect of your life — at home, in your workplace, amidst your social groups and circles — so as to make it loud and clear what beliefs and behaviors you will and will not tolerate. In making your own rules of dignity and respect for all perfectly clear, you will hopefully encourage others to evaluate their own values and inspire them to promote equality and activism in their own communities as well.
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world… Yet they are the world of the individual person. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
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About the author
Georgia Lavey is a white, American, cis hetero female of Welsh, Irish, German, Native American (Choctaw), and French descent. Georgia is currently pursuing a Master’s of Social Work degree from Rutgers University.