How many of us feel heartsick about the discrimination and prejudice that continues to create division and conflict in our world? How many of us wish we could do something but feel powerless to create change? I’m here to tell you that you can make a difference. It is up to each of us to empower ourselves to have the courage and heart to BE the change we wish to see in the world.
This week, I had the opportunity to spend two moving and transformative days with a group of educators who were committed to becoming more culturally responsive in their work with First Nations and Métis students in their classrooms and schools. An important part of this exploration was deepening our understanding of the cycle of prejudice and exploring ways in which we might take action to break the cycle of prejudice that continues for First Nations and Métis students and many other students who are perceived as “other.”
When I first started the work to prepare for this workshop, I faced huge uncertainties. This work was so important to me, but I struggled with feelings of inadequacy. I went into my director and asked, “Who am I to do this work? I am whiter than white, and I have lived such a life of privilege by virtue of my skin colour. Who am I to do this work?” I will always remember her response: “Who are you NOT to do this work? Who had a powerful voice for women in their struggle to gain equal rights? It was the men who stood up for them and challenged the misogyny of the prevailing social structures. As a “white girl” who has lived a life of privilege, who are you NOT to do this work?” I had often talked about the need for change, but this was my opportunity to move beyond talking to begin the work of creating change, the time to step forward as an agent of change. As you vacillate or struggle with moving beyond wishes and hopes for change to actually taking action, I ask you the same question: Who are you NOT to be a change agent? Nothing will change if we talk about change but do nothing to create it.
The work that I had been so uncertain about became a labour of focused commitment and love, and the hours that I was blessed to spend with the educators who attended were rich with their deep sharing, openness, and desire to effect change. I want to share with you some of our commitments to action:
- Practise awareness of our past conditioning and question what we have been taught or led to believe. Question any assumptions that arise within us.
- Develop the courage to question stereotyping and acts of discrimination and prejudice that happen within our own contexts. This means moving beyond observing it, feeling that it’s not okay but not saying anything, and wishing later that we had said something to standing up and addressing it in the moment that it happens within our classrooms, our families, our communities, our places of work and recreation.
- As we develop our courage to stand up and express our discomfort, practise caring for the perpetrator who is acting on assumptions and prior conditioning. No one in our group wanted to create more conflict or aggression by being antagonistic. Rather, we wanted to question the perpetrator’s thinking and create a space for expanding their awareness and understanding.
- Develop relationships with everyone in our contexts. Get to know PEOPLE; genuinely desire to know their stories — what they have experienced in their lives, what is important to them. In that sharing, we will find ways to relate and connect.
- Take a learner stance; instead of making assumptions or acting without understanding, find out. Ask questions and open ourselves to learning and connecting with people rather than seeing and responding to differences.
- Be a friend to everyone we meet and interact with. Reach out and connect with people. Recognize everyone’s humanity.
Each of us left the workshop with a commitment to the actions that we planned to take moving forward. What actions are you prepared to commit to in order to become a positive change agent? Often, we feel inadequate in the face of the enormity of the changes that are needed to create an inclusive society, but each of us CAN make a difference in our ways of being with each and every person that we interact with every day. In the words of Mahatma Ghandi, we need to “be the change we wish to see in the world.” Being the change means moving beyond wishful thinking and talk to taking action. Will you embrace the courage and heart that being a change agent requires?