When we feel whole we can’t possibly be racist.
What does it mean to be whole? It’s when we are able to see ourselves, warts and all, greatness and all, clearly and dearly. I was well into adulthood before I could see myself clearly. “Dearly” was even slower in coming, but I can tell you now that seeing myself through both lenses has been the most important task I have ever taken on ( and continue to take on). I highly recommend starting as soon as you can!
Parker Palmer has a great saying: “In solitude I know. In community I am known.” Every day I make sure I have time alone to figure out some of the truth in the thoughts that tumble around in my head. It’s something I have to do all on my own. But today let’s focus on how we can bring a genuine curiousity to our interactions with others.
The first step is to show up. The second is to expect to be welcomed. The third is to extend welcome to others.
Step one seems obvious. If a photographer shows up she sees things worth photographing. If she stays in her basement, well, it’s a tad tougher! If you show up by putting your phone in your pocket, looking people in the eye, smiling and saying, “Hello”, you are 2/3 there. If doing this isn’t easy for you, or you find yourself slipping (as I have lately), just start over again.
Step two is easy for me so I had to learn the importance of this from someone else. I was involved in a gathering where the larger group broke into smaller groups many times over the course of the day. As soon as the instruction was given to find partners I noticed the woman sitting beside me lowered her head and stared intently at her lap. Consequently she was always the last one picked. She later lamented that she was always being excluded. Poor thing. If she had only realized, all she had to do was lift her head and meet the gaze of the welcoming people around her.
Step three is to welcome others. I have worked for many years as a substitute teacher and I often think the most important thing I do each day is to greet and say the name of as many students as I can. When I can’t remember a name, then a smile, a gesture, a genuine comment on what we have in common or twinkle in my eye is enough, I hope, to convey that I am glad to see them and help their nervous system settle.
Ah, there IS a step four: practice, practice, practice – especially when you are meeting people who don’t seem to be at all like you.
Want to know some of the science behind this?
When we connect with others we are activating the ventral branch of the vagal nerve. Found only in mammals, the ventral vagal nerve relates to the positive emotions of joy, satisfaction and love. If we approach another with the expectation that welcome will go both ways we are activating the ventral vagal nerve and setting ourselves up for the likelihood that it will! And when we are doing that we are rising above the poor little snakes and lizards, who for lack of a ventral vagal nerve, have strong racist tendencies!