Learning to co-exist.

I often pride myself as being super accepting and non-judgmental.  I take pride in this considering my upbringing from a super religious Pentecostal and judgmental.  For me to look beyond the outside of a person and see them for who they are is a great stride for me.  I grew up in an almost exclusively white background.  I grew up in a small-town with a small-town mentality.

I used to look down on my sister, who was a drug-addict.  I raised one of her sons from diapers to adulthood.  I raised the other one from 2-5 while she served her time in prison.  I looked down on her for her poor choices.  My mother always defended her and I resented that.  She never stopped supporting my sister, which is great from a parent.  But, she never admitted her faults, which is not so great as a parent.  I still resent these things.  I guess I resent that my mother never supported me like she did my sister, who in my eyes was forever a screw-up and left her problems for others to fix.  (My sister is now clean and sober and doing very well, but the emotional trauma is still felt.)  There, this is my one judgment that I cannot let go of.  I cannot forgive and move on, I guess until someone recognizes the sacrifices I made and the struggles I went through.  If that even makes sense.


I brought up my past to understand my present.  I do not often realize that I carry the past into my present.  I cannot separate where I came from, as much as I want to, I cannot.  I was raised small-minded, slightly bigoted and very judgmental.  I can reign those aspects in but I am often unaware of them, so sometimes I need it pointed out to me.

This week I was privileged to attend a Diversity and Inclusivity training.  Several revelations came out of this.  I have issues with people who I perceive as having wronged me and cannot move past those aspects.  I have a need for an apology.  Without this acknowledgement I cannot move forward.  It is a long dated hurt from my childhood.  So kudos to the training for allowing me to find that perspective.  But there is oh so much more.

One of the things touched on that I wish would have been a focus was intent vs. impact.  This one hit the ball right out of the ball-field for me.  Intent of your words are not relevant to the impact they make.  In a situation where someone from a culturally different background feels hurt by something you say, your intent does not matter.  If you try to defend the statement, which is often exactly what I do, it only words to invalidate the person’s feelings.  This is where all the good deeds in your life can just fall flat.  If you invalidate the feelings of anyone you are essentially saying that your feelings are wrong.  You took my words and made them something they are not.  In reality a simple apology is all that is needed.  An apology is so much more important than an explanation.


For the longest time I thought things that I said, which were coming from a place of love and admiration were interpreted as such.  The reality was they were offensive and hurtful.  I had no idea.  The sadness I felt is likely nothing to the pain I had inflicted.  And worse than the pain was the fact that I then tried to justify and quantify my statements.  In reality I should have just said, “Man I am really sorry that I hurt your feelings, it was not intended and I apologize for that.”   If the person then asks you to explain what you meant, this is your opportunity to then quantify your statement.  Unless they ask for this, your intention is not important.  The impact is what you need to focus on.

So in my need for an apology it is more about the impact of actions and words than the intention.  The intention may have been from a place of love, the impact bruised me to my core.  Justifying the intension only serves to invalidate my feelings.  All this does is deepen the hurt.  The impact is what drives the pain and anger, not the intention.  This rings true for intercultural relations as well.  Saying people are just too sensitive only serves to invalidate a real hurt.  There are those who just think people need to suck it up and move on, which is something I did, but that only serves to fester that hurt.  Without addressing it, it most often sits in the person and fester into a real burden.

I feel more at ease now.  I finally understand not only my own feelings but how to apply this understanding to my interactions with others.  This is not just about the cultural other, but about the other in general.  The most important thing for me is that I am the other.  Because I know exactly how much words hurt, I am the other, so if I am hurting someone with my words, no matter the intent, I am hurting myself.  I have never intended on hurting others, so if I have said anything that seemed hurtful or disrespectful to you, I apologize.  I feel an immense amount of pain when I find out I hurt someone.  My intention was never to hurt anyone nor was it to create hostility in any way.

Much of the daily struggles we have is that we seek equality but we fail to see the difference between equality and equity.  You see equity is a fair distribution of resources.  Equality is equal distribution.  There is a great picture here.  The thing that we as aid workers should really be focusing on is the systemic barrier that creates the inequality in the first place.  The system is not fair, so instead of focusing on creating equality we need to focus on the systemic barriers that can be broken down.  If we are truly going to find peace we need to start not only with finding words to express ourselves without a negative impact.  The second step is to be vigilant about recognizing the systemic barriers and trying to break them down.  Without recognizing the inequity in the World, we can never move those who are pushed out back into the strength of society.


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