Personal, Perspective

How to support your non-white, non-straight, non-Christian, non-male friends

I talk about compassion a lot. And I’ll admit that I didn’t start to fully grasp what that meant until these last few years as I’ve gotten deeper into yoga and experienced deep moments of darkness. To begin, let me throw some quick definitions out (pulled from Google), as there are similarities.

Sympathy, noun
1. feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune
2. understanding between people; common feeling.

Empathy, noun
the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Compassion, noun
sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

Most of us tend to fall in the sympathy and empathy camp. We feel sorrow and sadness for someone when they’re going through something bad. When we empathize, we try to share in their feelings; we sense their anger and also feel anger ourselves. Compassion, though, speaks specifically to recognizing and having concern for others’ suffering, and the only way to get to that level of concern is to listen and let their suffering soak in and affect your heart.

How many times have you witnessed a racist comment, an unwanted slap on the ass or a gay joke, and all you do is feel bad? And secretly, you think, “Thank goodness it wasn’t directed at me.” Most of us were taught to ignore the behavior, and for the most part that seems to make it go away. But put yourself in that person’s shoes. They’ve been attacked AND NO ONE SAID ANYTHING. No one cared. They are now more alone and isolated than they felt before the incident. And what does that say to the offender? “Cool, I got away with it and I can keep getting away with it. Everyone else must agree with my behavior.”

Like I said in my post yesterday, this election unearthed the festering of hatred and fear among silent voters. I know many of my white/straight/Christian/male friends do not agree with Trump’s rhetoric. But are you feeling only sympathy? Can you empathize? More importantly, do you have compassion for those who are suffering?

How to support your non-white, non-straight, non-Christian, non-male friends:

  1. Listen. REALLY listen. Try not to be dismissive or start talking about your own grievances. Your majority status by birth does not compare fairly. If you want to support us, we ask that you listen first before all else.
  2. Speak up for us. We need allies. We need amplification of our voices. We need to know who we can turn to when we’re under attack. A bully doesn’t stop if just the victim says no. Witnesses need to stand up too and reject the wrongs being committed.
  3. Recognize that there’s still a lot we don’t know about each other and commit to changing that. It’s too easy to say we’re all fellow human beings and let’s be kumbaya about it. That still leaves a lot of distance and ignorance. We need to know each other on a much deeper level to truly understand why we are hurting in this political climate.
  4. Ask questions to learn more about us. When questions come from a place of learning, we know you’re trying to rid yourself of ignorance rather than being nosey.
    For example:
    – What are you saying in your language? Why do you choose to speak your language at times over English?
    – If Panda Express isn’t real Chinese food, will you teach me what to order at a real Chinese restaurant?
    – Where is Taiwan, and why do you get mad when I say that you’re Thai?

    I may have questions for you too.
    What exactly is gravy, and why do you like it so much?
    Why is the phrase “God fearing” and what do you fear about God?
  5. Support our causes. Sign our petitions. Donate to our organizations. Share our stories. Turn your sympathy for our experiences into positive action. Help us make bigger waves than mere ripples.
  6. Don’t hide from our sadness, pain and fear. It will be uncomfortable, and it SHOULD be uncomfortable. It should make you angry and sad and scared too. It should disgust you that your loved ones are being marginalized, taken advantage of, abused, harassed, belittled, threatened and tossed aside. Invite the emotional response because THAT drives compassion. That drives change for the better. And it also drives connection, caring and consciousness for others.

This is how we will heal these wounds. This is what can bring us together as fellow Americans. Our diversity is and has always been what makes our country great, and we need to protect each other with the ferocity of our own flesh and blood.


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