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    Leaning Into Discomfort: How to Dialogue Through Difference

    by Wayne Gersie, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion

    Talking about certain social issues is something many find intimidating. These topics are touchy. They invite strong opinions and can involve debate and contention. Often individuals feel they don’t know enough to weigh in or worry they won’t articulate themselves clearly. But most often, what holds us back is simply fear of saying something wrong.

    To move forward in a quest for equity and justice for all, we cannot avoid discussions around race, sexual orientation, class and the like. Fears over unintended offense and acceptable terminology should not prevent us from having these tough conversations. It’s better to stumble through these interactions than to not have them at all. Fear of saying the wrong thing, whatever the motive, is a roadblock to progress. Some things are difficult to say and hear, but they need to be said and heard for that very reason. The only way to confront issues such as sexism, racism, and ableism is to talk more openly about them.

    Racism and all forms of bigotry are binary. You believe all groups are equal or you do not. There is no in-between. But just because there is no middle ground does not mean we cannot find common ground in such conversations. If we want a more equal and respectful society, all of us need to get over our avoidance of hard conversations. Equally as important, is how we respond to others when we are engaged in these discussions. Check the judgment, condescension, and shame when talking with one who may have contrary views. Avoid becoming defensive. Listen with the intention of learning and speak with the intention to build understanding. “

    “Just because there is no middle ground does not mean we cannot find common ground.”

    We will misspeak. We will make mistakes. We should expect to be corrected. It is not always going to be comfortable or easy. But getting it wrong is how we learn to get it right. Silence is complicity. If we truly care about social justice, we must ignore our discomfort. Fear does not justify inaction. We can’t be so afraid of making a mistake or being criticized that we don’t even try to do what is right. We are all poorer for the conversations that never happen.