I recently had a conversation with a work colleague, we were talking about diversity & inclusion and why it’s so important to know what each of those words means as we move through our lives. Eventually the conversation led to a discussion about indigenous people (of which I am, and proudly announce whenever the opportunity arrives). What my colleague said next felt like a kick to my heart, it literally took my breath away and made my heart hurt. He said “I don’t understand why they need special treatment and to be given opportunity over others. They’ve been given plenty of money over the years, isn’t that enough?”
This statement lies at the crux of one belief – that indigenous people don’t deserve special treatment. That they have been given so much money over the years, that should make up for everything. The other belief is that the indigenous people are greatly misunderstood, and that they do need more understanding and support to keep moving forward. The reality is that the indigenous people need people to just listen. Period. Listen. Listen to understand, don’t listen to respond. Trying to convince them that what they feel isn’t valid does no service to anyone. We need to sit in their stories and their voices, listen to the pain that comes out when they talk rather than hearing just the words. As with any trauma, you don’t get to just get over it. You need to move through it and try to heal one piece at a time. Without healing there is no progress.
As I listened to this person talk I realized that I needed to listen to understand where he was coming from. I also knew I would not be able to change his mind in that moment. So I simply asked him to “listen to understand, not to respond”. My hope is that he will be more willing to listen to the stories, and less inclined to tell someone that what they feel is wrong.
The next time you are faced with this type of situation, please just stop and listen. You don’t have to agree with everything someone else says, you just need to try and understand where they are coming from and the life experiences that have led them to that perspective. Change doesn’t happen overnight but it can happen when we stop and just listen.