Don't be afraid to feel when you talk about race

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 

There are conversations in our culture that occupy special pockets. You know, those conversations that are reserved for special occasions when we’re prepared to hash out a perfect solution in one fell swoop (or limit ourselves tip-toeing around the edges). The race conversation is one of those conversations.

We head into conversations about race filled with dread, worry, fear, and heightened stress. Then we judge ourselves (and each other) for feeling what we’re feeling, presume that there’s something wrong with us for feeling what we’re feeling, and then try to find the words to communicate what we need to communicate in the midst of all of the feelings we’re ashamed about.

We often try to cope with this by pretending that there’s no place for feelings in conversations about race. We intellectualize human stories so much that the realities of the ways we experience race become abstract and seemingly detached from the everyday lives we lead.

And in the process, we sacrifice our ability to connect.

Productive conversations about race don’t happen because we’ve parsed out feeling from fact, history, context, research, and personal experience.

Productive conversations about race happen as we learn how to make room for feeling as we awkwardly stumble through unrehearsed dialogue about fact, history, context, research, and personal experience.

That’s how we begin to see each other.

Having feelings doesn’t mean you’re incapable of learning how to talk about race. Having feelings is part of being human. And real dialogue about race inevitably involves palpable and nuanced discussions about real human experiences.

So don’t be afraid to feel when you talk about race. Pay attention to your feelings. Take care of your own feelings. Feeling is part of the process of learning how to move through the dialogue with honesty and openness instead of putting on the show that we think is supposed to transpire.

And that’s a big part of how we inch a little bit closer to creating connection in everyday dialogue about race - instead of treating the conversation like it belongs in a special pocket.

 
 
 

Carve out space to be with your own thoughts

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 

We place a premium on the big moments. On being able to tell our friends and loved ones that we’ve achieved a monumental goal. But the moments that add up to create change don’t happen in the spotlight.

The spotlight highlights whether or not we’re prepared. Which means that the moment of achieving the big goal isn’t where the real work lies.

The work that leads up to the achievement is in the innumerable moments that have come before the big moment. In carving out space to be with our own thoughts. In our willingness to examine our priorities and choices to determine whether they align with what we really value. In our ability to pause, stop, think, and reach out to ask for what we need instead of sticking to the script of what we think we’re supposed to say.

These are real skills. Skills that we often overlook, but that remain essential and invaluable if we want to make choices that help us connect-the-dots between where we are and where we want to go.

Maybe instead of placing such a premium on making big leaps forward, we need to place more value in the everyday steps we take. To learn something new instead of sitting in the comfort of what we know. To participate in that conversation instead of using comparison to silence our voices. To slice through the noise of what we thought we were supposed to do or be and instead make the decision to show up.

Progress happens in many incremental steps that add up to form the change we want to create. We need to take time and space to be with our own thoughts, so we can make sure that the choices we make are pointing us in the direction of the goals we want to achieve.

 
 
 

Take the pressure off

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 

So much of the way we communicate today is filled with pressure.

Pressure to appear a certain way, pressure to measure up. (To what? No one knows.) Pressure to seem to be something we’re not. 

And we all give in at one point or another. Because let’s be real - it’s hard to resist the pull of pressure that tells us that conforming is the right choice if we want to belong. 

But what if the most important person we can belong to is ourselves? What if the antidote to the pressure to look a certain way is to accept ourselves where we are, as we are, and then move intentionally through the distraction of comparison towards growth? 

The pressure to measure up or appear a certain way can never deliver what we’re actually looking for. Connection. Knowing that we’re heard. Listening that transforms. Support that isn’t conditioned on our willingness to pretend that everything is OK all the time. This kind of acceptance doesn’t flow from pressure. It’s nurtured by the incremental choices we make to:

Pay attention instead of judge.

Share our thoughts instead of hold back.

Give our energy to the things we want to create and see grow

So let’s resist the urge to pile on the pressure today. Instead, let’s communicate from a place of intentional, conscious choice. 

 
 
 

Difference is an invitation to look closer

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 

Difference is an invitation to look closer. To get curious. To make the choice to see before we decide.

And seeing takes work. It takes stepping outside of our expectations so we can begin to grapple with stories that are not our own. It means taking time to think about how to create meaningful connection that expands the the circle of belonging instead of shrinking it.

Before we can see one another, we need to be willing to hear one another. To listen. To ask questions rooted in reality - questions that lead us to look for answers we might not otherwise discover.

Difference doesn’t have to function as a barrier. Difference can lead us down paths that lead to real and growing connection.

 
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Make everyday choices that create belonging

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

One of the things we crave most in conversations about race is the sense that we’re engaging in meaningful dialogue that builds belonging - that instead of creating scenarios where humans are forced to remain on the outside of our circle of care and concern, we’re creating real, open conversations where human stories, pain, and perspectives are valued.

We don’t have to wait for a holiday or special event to create belonging. And every choice that helps us create belonging doesn’t have to be grand or flashy.

Choices like:

Getting off of our phones to listen & look someone in the eye.

Spending our hard-earned cash with organizations that value human lives and experiences in concrete ways (not just in the hypothetical).

Looking around our circle of friends and getting curious - How did we become friends? Who’s in and who’s out? Which stories are valued and which are cast to the side? Do we see people we wish we shared deeper understanding with as fellow human beings or projects we need to fix?

Reaching for entertainment that helps us discover more about the stories we’ve missed.

Responding to difficult questions with openness and honesty instead of reaching for defensiveness.

Creating belonging in conversations about race demands real tools, practical strategies, and clear intention.

But we can start right where we are, today.

Let’s be open. Stay curious. Choose to see the stories we’ve missed.

 
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When we make belonging a priority, we're choosing to see each other

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

Belonging is a beautiful thing. Not in a flippant way, but in the fundamental-to-keeping-sight-of-the-humanity-we-share kind of way.

When we make belonging a priority, we’re choosing to see each other. See the stories we’ve missed. See the growth we’ve glossed over. See the truths it would be far more convenient to ignore. See the reality that every choice we make has an impact on ourselves and the world around us.

So often we look at belonging as something we get, but belonging is also something we carry with us.

Our ability to look someone new in the eye and listen, our choice to add one more chair at the lunch table, our decision to show up even when it would be easier to pretend we forgot. These are choices that build belonging. These are the choices that expand the world we share.

Belonging is part of what helps us create connections informed by reality of what we choose and who we are. (True, we may end up deciding that the healthiest thing to do after getting to know a bit more about the person we’re connecting with is to erect a clear and healthy boundary, but clear and healthy boundaries are key components of the relationships we treasure too.)

So choose to live your life with belonging. Give it to yourself, and give it to the humans and stories that surround you. Give belonging to the humans and stories you have yet to truly see or begin to understand. Live with belonging because it carves a path away from the confusion that hiding in the familiar feeds.

 
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This simple tool has the power to transform your conversations

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

Trying to have a productive conversation about a difficult topic can feel like trying to perform a magic act without a wand. It could work, but either way it would at least be helpful to have the right equipment.

Not having the right tools to navigate difficult conversations can turn an already precarious endeavor into an exercise in consistent frustration.

Listening has the power to shift that. More often than I can count, when I’ve found myself in a conversation that’s going in circles, and then magically things take a turn for the better, the thing shifted involved listening. One of us (and if we’re fortunate, more than one person) started connecting to the words that were actually coming out of someone else’s mouth instead of clinging to our assumptions about what we thought the other person was going to say.

When we choose to breathe, still our racing thoughts, come into this present moment, and pay really close attention to the words another human is speaking, we start to connect-the-dots. Areas of agreement begin to appear, the reasons driving why we disagree start to rise to the surface (and we can start addressing them in ways that build forward momentum), and the immediate choices we need to make become more apparent.

The next time you find yourself in a difficult conversation, try listening. Really listening. And then choose what you want to say next.

 
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What if you gave yourself the acceptance you're hungry for?

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

I remember sitting there with people I loved, feeling like I just didn't belong. Something in me didn't resonate with the heart of our conversation. 

Pointing fingers, making accusations, gossiping, judging...there was nothing uplifting about it. 

But I was afraid to speak up, because if I did, I was convinced I'd risk losing the thing I wanted most. 

I wanted to belong. 

To know that I too, was unconditionally loved and accepted. I was so afraid that I was willing to silence my self.

I decided to prioritize who I thought I should be over who I actually was. 

The Should's of Life are weights that crush us. Expectations that become harsh instructors, transforming the unpredictable beauty of today into an obstacle course we can only survive if we stick to the script. 

But the truth is, I needed to accept that I was different. That my thoughts were different, my opinions were different. Finding the courage to speak up started inside of me.

With giving myself the acceptance I craved. 

I needed to accept that who I am is who I am. Enough

I needed to choose to love myself by valuing my own voice. My own thoughts. Respecting my own heart.

I needed to give myself permission to dare to be different from who I thought I should be. 

To grow. To change. To discover. To begin releasing the pressure of expectations and embrace the journey of learning to be me. 

I needed to Release the Should's. 

It's been a long road. I still often find myself thinking, I should ___________ (insert choice that conforms to expectations here). But as things shift, I'm learning to catch Should in it's tracks and replace it with Choice

The choice to make conscious decisions.

The choice to own it (without shaming myself) when I've made a mistake. 

The choice to grow instead of staying stuck in my expectations, or the expectations of others. 

As I Release the Should's, I'm discovering that I have the power to give myself acceptance I crave, and I'm slowly breaking free from the weight of expectations.

How about you? Would you like to practice Releasing the Should's with me? 

Try replacing I should ________ (insert choice/activity here) with

I can ________ (insert choice/activity here) if I choose to.

OR

I will _________ (insert choice/activity here) if my heart says yes.


Let's Release the Should's together. Let's give ourselves permission to dare to be different. To dare to embrace the journey of discovering who we actually are.

I'll be right here, practicing with you. 

 
 
 
 

11 Simple Ways to Break the Rules in a Conversation About Race

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

Conversations about race don’t have to all follow one specific template. Here’s a list of 11 simple ways to break the rules. Use them when you’re ready to reduce frustration and take a step closer to clarity.

  1. Listen.

  2. Respond to what’s being said instead of what you think is being said.

  3. Don’t assume you know what someone thinks because of what they look like.

  4. Don’t assume you know how someone feels because of what they look like.

  5. Try listening again. To the actual words coming out of someone’s actual face.

  6. Don’t dismiss anyone. Ever.

  7. Choose engagement over being right.

  8. Choose engagement over trying to prove a point.

  9. Remember that trying to prove a point is pointless.

  10. Tell the truth of your experiences and the truth of how you feel.

  11. Listen and respond.

Take deep breaths. Tend to your own emotions. Communicate what you need to communicate. Rinse and repeat as needed.

 
 
 
 

Just keep breathing

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 
 

Learning how to build mutually nourishing relationships with humans from cultural backgrounds we’re unfamiliar with can be overwhelming. We begin to experience new realities, more deeply understand perspectives we missed, and over time, our entire world begins to shift.

In the middle of this shift we can get stuck; believing that our failure is rooted in not knowing what we now know.

Or we can stay in it. Embracing the process of learning more deeply. Listening to the questions within ourselves and reaching for resources we haven’t reached for before. We can let ourselves sink into the unknown beauty of discovery, as we grapple with facts and realities we couldn’t quite see before coming to this particular place. We can journey and learn to hold complexity by steadily adding to our understanding block-by-block, instead of dismissing our ability to grow because it all feels like too much.

Just keep breathing.

 
 
 
 

Permission to create real connection

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

Permission. Permission to begin. Permission to fail. Permission to discover. Permission to learn. Permission to change. Permission to say no. Permission to say yes. Permission to pause. Permission to ask for what we need. Permission to become. Permission to just be.

Permission to permit ourselves to be present in the journey of our own lives as we carve our own path.

Permission to peel back the curtain, walk through the door, and begin.

I’ve been thinking a lot about permission. And slowly, I’ve begun to see that the permission we crave resides inside of our own bones. In our minds, in our beings.

The permission we lack is a gift we begin giving to ourselves the moment we recognize we can take that first step towards connection and away from fear. And we can take it right now…

 
 
 
 

This is the luxury good you've been looking for

 
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Have you ever found yourself in a season of life where you were endlessly running from thing to thing? This person thinks my priority should be X, so I’d better focus on getting that done. That person doesn’t seem to be as happy with me as they used to, so maybe I need to alter how I’m spending my time. The commercial says that having a beautiful life requires that I go here, buy this, and do that, so I’d better adjust my spending priorities…

It’s overwhelming and depleting. Constantly shifting based how we think we look instead of making conscious choices that reflect the values in our heart creates unending chaos.

What we’re missing is the chance to be still. To quiet the noise. To close our eyes and breath deep into our bones. To resist our hyper-focus on What’s Next? and instead give ourselves permission to inhabit this present moment.

The quiet stillness of coming to a moment at rest is the luxury good we’re craving. And we have the power to give it to ourselves. Right now. Go for a walk. Look up at the sky. Take a deep breath. And allow your life the beauty of a moment at rest.
But being more honest with people in our everyday life helps us to be more honest with ourselves. And that choice takes us one step closer to joy.

 
 
 
 

I've been thinking about the pressure to have all the answers

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

I’ve been thinking about how much pressure we put on ourselves to have all the answers.

Some of this pressure comes from our surrounding culture. The thunderous waterfall of our gorgeously curated public-facing lives, filled with carefully edited stories and deliciously crafted moments is difficult to resist.

But the more I sit with, and peer inside, the pressure to have all the answers, the more I recognize that often this pressure comes from within us. From the belief that we’ve got to keep up. Prove a point. Show everyone just how OK we really are. This pressure is’t really about needing to know; it’s about needing to look like we know.

About sending the message that we’re more than enough because we’ve cracked the hidden code to living incredibly connected lives while completely hiding our hearts.

The combination of this internal and external pressure births a loneliness that’s difficult to shake. A deep-seated ache that ebbs and flows but never abates.

So what are we supposed to do if the pressure to have all of the answers isn’t really about having all of the answers?

I haven’t mastered the answer to this question, but I have noticed this: real connection transforms performance into presence.

When we connect as humans, when we truly hear each other, when we know that we are seen valued and understood, we suddenly discover that there’s room to show up as who we actually are instead of as the person we think we’re supposed to be.

This kind of connection doesn’t start with having answers. It begins with asking questions. With listening. With deciding to simply show up, and be you.

 
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When judgment comes to visit

 
 
 

Bouncing back isn't the easiest thing.  

And it's not something we seem to talk about a whole lot. We tend to emphasize the highs, skip sharing the lows, and stay engaged in a never-ending competition to prove we're doing at least a little bit better than the next person.

So when we have a conversation that doesn't at all match our pre-set expectations, the feeling of disappointment can feel like a bit more than a let-down.

It can feel like a personal failure.

How could I not have know that was going to happen?
Why didn't I say that differently?
Why did I share more than I wanted to?
What am I supposed to do now? Pretend nothing ever happened?


So. Let's talk about about Finding Dory. (I know that was a hard left. Stay with me.) Do you remember that scene where the blue squid appears, and that Big Terrifying Eye zeroes in on Dory and her crew? In that moment, it feels like nothing in the world could possibly be worse. Like all that's wrong in the world is focused on them.

Sometimes, we're our own Big Eye. To punish ourselves for a disappointing conversation, we turn the Big Eye of Judgment on ourselves.

You should have known.
You shouldn't have said that.
You have to try harder.
You should just stop trying.


Once should shows up, that's usually a sign that we've activated our Big Eye. That we've moved from learning, discovery, healing, and growth, to beating up on ourselves because we're afraid we won’t be able to figure out how to bounce back.

It’s not just you. I can't tell you how often disappointing conversations have left me feeling like bouncing back might be impossible.

But part of the gift of wading through the pain of disappointment is the chance to discover that our disappointment isn't the destination - it's just one very important step along the path.

 
 
 
 

Why I'll never be comfortable in conversations about race

 
Photo credit: AOP Photography

Photo credit: AOP Photography

 
 

Talking about race makes me uncomfortable. Helping people connect more so we can fear each other less is at the heart of what I do. You’d think that I’d have gotten past the discomfort by now.

Not even close.

I still feel a deep ripple of nausea when I talk or write about race publicly. (It’s happening right now.) What will they think about my approach? What will they think about my framework and techniques? What if I say something accidentally offensive? Can I tell the truth about how painful it is to live in the body I’m in? Will people be ticked off by my storytelling?

I feel fear every time. Every. Single. Time. When I do a speaking event, when I submit another draft of my book manuscript, when I send out my weekly braveletter, when I host my podcast or appear as a guest, when I consult with organizations and work with my clients.

Even when I sit in one-on-one conversations with friends.

The fear of saying the wrong thing never leaves me.

I spend a lot of time wondering why this is. Am I a people-pleaser? Am I more invested in how I appear than in living the truth of who I am? Am I worried about being judged?

After sitting with this agony (and trying unsuccessfully to run from it), I’ve discovered something that’s become essential for me to remember when I’m writing, facilitating, or leading a conversation about race:

I don’t have all the answers. And I never will.

Because the truth is that conversations about race are conversations about human pain. They’re conversations about connection and belonging. About the agony of feeling discarded. Forgotten. Left behind. Misinformed. About asking questions that none of us truly knows the answers to. Questions like: Why are we doing this to each other? When did we start believing that in order to feel valuable, seen, and heard we needed to elevate one human being over another based on something neither human being had any choice in before entering this world? Why won’t we listen to each other’s pain? Stand witness to one another’s stories? How are we even supposed to begin to change the systems and relationship dynamics that keep it all going?

Why is it that we keep ignoring the reality that action without listening = fixing?

No human being wants to be fixed by another human being.

We want to be listened to.

We want to be understood.

We want to be treated with respect and dignity.

We want to be the decider in the story of our lives.

We want to be heard.

We want to be seen.

We want to belong.

It’s a wild thing to say, but I hope I’m never comfortable in conversations about race. Because I want to choose to listen. I want to choose to reach for unfamiliar stories. I want to wrestle with the dynamic relationship between systemic inequity and individual relationships and resist the urge to pick a side. I’m in deep and I want to dive deeper. I want to stay uncomfortable because I want to see you, all of you, and I want to learn how to let you see me as I learn how to see myself.

I want to stay uncomfortable because my discomfort helps me reach for you instead of my assumptions about you.

 
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