A colleague of mine recently said that being adaptive with culture, race, gender, and other identities is not about being perfect. In fact, perfection is one way that white supremacy stays alive because it restricts movement forward.
If you interact with people from other cultures daily, for example, and you never offend anyone, you are likely not taking enough risk to really get to know them deeply.
Of course, we should do our best to be inclusive and sensitive, but we should also plan for mistakes and know that they are part of the growth process.
So how do we own up when we mess up?
No magic formula fits all situations, but here are a few tips:
- Your first reaction will likely be defense. Notice this, label it (“I feel defensive”), and ground yourself in the body. Inhale for a count of 3 and exhale for a count of 4. Try not to talk or write an email response in this state.
- Focus on impact, not intent. You may not have intended to talk over your Black colleague, but if you turn your attention to how that action impacted them, you have a chance to move forward.
- Be aware of shame feelings. When we mess up or offend someone we care about, it does not feel good. If we stay in shame mode, however, we may inadvertently shift the focus to ourselves when it needs to be on the person harmed. Notice shame, give yourself some compassion, then move into accountability.
- As Brene Brown says, “I am here to get it right; I am not here to be right.” Let the person know that you realize you messed up. An apology can be a good step, but accountability is often more important. Let them know what you learned and how you will avoid a similar situation in the future.
- Don’t beat yourself up further. Shame tends to kill empathy and centers around the ego. If we want to move forward, we need skillful ways to move productively through shame.
Owning up and holding ourselves accountable for mistakes around culture and race is a skill. It takes practice and it is not comfortable. But as we have seen with the loss of so many Black lives, comfort cannot be our priority. We cannot have equity until we have accountability.
I wish you strength and courage in this difficult time.