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Still Leaning into the Discomfort and Valuing Disorganization

May 21, 2024

By Stephanie Waters, NOW Learning Community Member

"Why don't you just do things the right way to begin with?!" I know I say this in my head multiple times per day - to drivers in traffic, to shoppers "doing it wrong" at the checkout, to colleagues, to people in my household. Sometimes that last group even hears it out of my mouth. I have always chalked it up to "who I am" - as a firstborn daughter, an INFJ personality type, and Enneagram 1. A recent discussion in a peer learning cluster made me aware of another contributing cause to the mindset - white supremacy culture.

As a white person, Southern at that, who has been actively involved in work promoting diversity, equity, and inclusivity in the context of child well-being, I have been stretched, sometimes to quite painful levels, by this work. And, honestly, I thought the hard part was over! This review of Tema Okun's article on the tenets of white supremacy just placed a laser focus on something that feels central to my being. This strong, and probably, at times, annoying to others, trait is not just about my work ethic or sense of responsibility; it has its roots in white supremacy culture.

While the impact of white supremacy culture affects people differently, we are all swimming in its metaphorical waters, moving through or with, but always carrying some of it with us. White supremacy is a system that perpetuates inequality and injustice, promotes a narrow and limited view of the world, failing to recognize diverse experiences and perspectives. Oh... you mean thinking I alone possess the information about the right/best/only way to approach a task? Ouch....

I frequently say in coaching and training, "when we know better, we do better." So now that I know, what do I do? Steps toward changing this "one right way" mindset should focus on recognizing and embracing diversity, complexity, and multiple perspectives. How do I create a space of alternative ways of being and doing? How can I actively challenge systems that perpetuate a narrow view of what is "right?" For me, I am centering this around my definition of "respect." In our world, "respect" is often used to reflect power, control, and obedience. When I think of respect, words that come to mind are intentional, authentic, accepting, and mutual. When I hear someone's "wrong" way of doing something, am I accepting of their perspective? Am I mutually engaged, listening to understand, or am I listening solely to respond? Am I honoring the value and humanity of the speaker? When I hear that "right way/my way" voice in my head, I take a deep breath and refocus my attention on the other person. This is how I am working to challenge this aspect of white supremacy culture. I am sure that others will punch me in the gut soon, but leaning into the discomfort is the only way to stretch myself and be part of the change.

Stephany lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where she is a mother, partner, educator, and community advocate. She is a founding co-lead of the NOW Peer Learning Cluster, a peer-led space focused on creating a community foundation of learning and action.

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