Mid-June, my husband and I attended the Dalkey Book Festival, a huge local deal that fosters and celebrates literary talent in Ireland; it hosts some of the world’s leading writers and thinkers. Over the years, the event has welcomed internationally renowned writers, world leaders, Oscar winners and Nobel Laureates. The session we chose was a pretty enlightening panel, “America’s Raging Culture War,” discussing American culture and what is happening in the U.S. and beyond, as we are more culturally intertwined. The panel discussed various topics, from racial & social justice, values, COVID and its impact, the differences between Europe and the U.S. in addressing these issues, to the seemingly increasing gap between different world views that makes you stop and wonder why it is happening.
Calling People In
I realized the Dakley panel discussion topics keep coming back to me repeatedly, like a boomerang, especially George Bernard Shaw’s quote the panel shared: “The longer I live, the more convinced I am that this planet is used by other planets as a lunatic asylum.” But is it? It might be convenient to feel that way. Since March 2020, it feels as if no matter where you are located, the world has been even further divided into “us” and “them” over our personal stances on several issues, including all those discussed in Dalkey. I have been in so many “wait, what?” situations. How do you stand up for / approach someone if you are not aligned on what you consider fundamentals? As an ally, some actions, reactions, and conversations to these issues left me feeling powerless and angry at times – and sometimes, undeniably, with a bit of judgement – to me, “agree to disagree” is an answer to questions like “does pineapple belong on pizza?” Admittedly, judging does not fit well with allyship, but it is natural for humans to feel that way because of our differences in values, culture, and background. Being an ally is similar to being in a group therapy session. We get to listen to others, address what’s bothering us, and be a better version of ourselves. It also takes a good (and regular) look in the mirror, checking our biases. It is constant work.
It is not about me, the ally, but those affected by various adversities and injustices. It is about uncomfortable conversations—conversations we partake in even if not all of us live that reality. Imagine what it feels like to live it, not “just” listening to others sharing their experience— Black Lives Matter (BLM), labels, disability, culture, privilege, shaming, LGBTQ+ rights, and code-switching, to name a few. I keep thinking of a TED@Work session our leaders and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team hosted on a talk by Loretta J. Ross about calling people in instead of out. I invite you to watch it; it is powerful.
Some of these topics can be pretty personal, especially when I want to be an ally for a group I identify with (people with a uterus, for example). It is easy to get angry when you see injustice. It can be perceived as a step or even a leap back on established rights. Empathy is essential because you need to sense emotions and imagine what someone else might think or feel. It is also complicated to impose emotional limits on yourself or close off when you are empathic. Is it even possible when all you want is for all people to have the same opportunities, including an opportunity to thrive in a safe environment—respected Human Rights?
Leveraging Your Emotions into Positive Change
I think of different forms of art that have made me stop and think—for example, Race: The Power of an Illusion: How the Racial Wealth Gap Was Created, 13th, or picturing The Handmaid’s Tale I had recently finished reading, the TED talk I mentioned earlier, with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody playing on repeat in my head (♫ Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide/ No escape from reality ♫).
But how do you call people in when you feel the gap just became unbridgeable on seemingly divisive topics, which is often the case with anything allyship-related? How do we deal with being told there is no need to speak up about (“imaginary”) issues? How can you contribute toward the positive change you want to see when you feel like your values are under attack? What can you do? What can WE do?
There have been many instances where my colleagues and I try to turn discord and anger into something productive through simple acts. You don’t need to be a state-level activist to make your voice heard or get involved. You may educate yourself on causes you care about. You may self-check: what is my privilege? Acknowledge this privilege and use it. You may donate money or time to a cause you care about. You may want to start by slowing down and listening. For example, you can listen to your emotions. You may want to practice active self-questioning to challenge your assumptions. You may want to connect with others, listen to their perspective, and have a candid and courageous conversation in a safe space where you can share your thoughts. What a great occasion to practice allyship skills: empathy, active listening, and respect. All these skills have been pivotal in my allyship journey at NortonLifeLock.
Allyship is a lifelong process that involves building relationships anchored in empathy, trust, accountability, and consistency in interactions with historically excluded groups. It is also an excellent opportunity to grow, so if you are about to go on or continue that journey, make the most of it—for others and you, too.
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