I’ve been reading The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh. Oh, man. Every time I pick it up, I make sure I’m hydrated and limbered up because my mouth hangs open and my head tilts in wonder. I nod in mystified agreement.
We’re all so damned biased. Every single one of us. It’s unhelpful to throw up our hands and say, “This is how I am.” It’s just as useless to wallow in guilt and shame about how much harm we’ve done with our unwittingly biased ways. What can we do?
The book opens with this quote from columnist, Sidney J. Harris:
“The three hardest tasks in the world are neither physical feats nor intellectual achievements, but moral acts: to return love for hate, to include the excluded, and to say, ‘I was wrong.’”
That rather explains it, doesn’t it?
These are our tasks in this moment, and possibly in every moment. And they are hard. Even impossible.
What is preventing me from meeting hate with love? When I’m being honest, it feels terrible to meet hate with hate. I don’t want to do that to myself or to my fellow humans. Even so, it sure can feel like the default.
Who am I excluding? This is a tough one to answer from the self-fashioned echo chamber of “modern” life. It’s cozy in here where everyone agrees. In my house. In my head.
Even if I feel like what I believe is “right,” I can still be “wrong” in the way I share it or in the way it prevents me from seeing the viewpoint of others who feel just as “right.” What would it cost to say, “I’m sorry?”
All of this feels a lot like forgiveness. I hesitate to forgive because I forget that to forgive is not to agree or condone. It is simply to allow a space in my own closed and wounded heart that says, “I can see how that might hurt.” or “I think I see why you did that.” It doesn’t have to include lining up to hear that, feel that or be treated that way again, but it does have to include an opening inside me that agrees to soften around the wound and be willing to go back out into the world.
We’re so good at excluding. We don’t even have to look outside. We exclude whole parts of ourselves just to appease our own judges and to navigate the world. And we also know that it’s simple math. Exclusion is subtraction. Less is less. Less resources. Less perspectives. Less possibilities.
The news just keeps coming. Coming at me. I sit wondering if my heart has indeed finally broken into a million pieces this time. Nope. Not this time either. It just keeps breaking open and more open. Sometimes I contract, bringing sarcasm to the pain. It doesn’t quell the ache. I urge myself to stay. Stay still. Try to understand. It’s like a Zen koan, a riddle that cannot be answered with the mind.
We will not be able to reason our way through any of the pain of this time. Logic has ceased to be welcome and, in fact, just adds to our anger, whether we’re fans or detractors. Self-righteousness adds insult to injury.
We disagree. Humans, that is. About most things. In the right moment, we’ll go to the mat over whether the toilet paper goes over or under. All this disagreement, this arguing, this needing to be right, we choke on a steady diet of victimhood and battle mentality. Deep inside we’re all sure we’re the underdog. When you don’t see me that way, when you willfully ignore my wounds, it’s hard to be the person I mean to be.
As I look at the world around me, I feel a sneaking suspicion that there is no prescription strong enough to bring us back to a place where we can truly see each other again, if we ever did. We are all in costumes of “for” and “against.” We’re always for or against something. I’ve never been a fan of parades, but this is seriously the worst parade ever. The costumes can only be described as hideous.
We have got to stop letting each other go out looking like this.