Last month I wrote about two of the four concepts that guide my understanding of the pursuit of equity — the “we” and the personal equity journey. Here are the other two: leading with grace and action over thoughts.
Leading with grace requires the most effort of the four for me. I have multiple examples of how this looks, but observing and regular practice are two different things. Extending grace to those who do things that hurt you is not necessarily an intrinsic response; it takes work. A quite natural response is to strike back and have little patience for other’s stumbles or lack of change.
The purpose of showing grace is not to be kind, nor is it a sign of weakness. Rather, grace is often what’s required to get results. Most folks don’t respond well to being called on their mess; and yet this is required to move us toward more equitable systems. Positive change will not happen if folks are allowed to continue business as usual.
So the challenge continues to lie in how to get people to change. There is no one way that works for all folks in all situations. Some will respond to reason or conscience, while others may go along with the prevailing view. Still others will stay steadfast in their unwillingness to either change their own behavior or support a change of systems that will lead to more equitable and fair outcomes.
Facing this challenge with grace does not mean tolerance of inaction, but it does require leaving room for realization and improvement, and in turn leaves room for dealing with your own mess and growth. This only happens when folks are not engaged in battle. In battle, you either fight to the death, to a standstill or until someone surrenders. Seldom is there sustainable progress.
Leading with grace is viewed by some as practicing respectability politics — the set of beliefs holding that conformity to socially acceptable or mainstream standards of appearance and behavior will protect a member of a marginalized or minority group from prejudices and systemic injustices. The focus on grace has less to do with how you are perceived and more to do with recognition of human behavior and how you are most likely to achieve the desired result.
Avoiding a scorched earth approach leaves room in the end for continued work and relationship. In practice this means language matters. The snide comments found in many comment sections and Facebook posts simply don’t help and only serve to further entrench parties. Debilitating call-outs, canceling, or trashing leave no room for change.
I am trying to learn how to channel my great-aunt, Sista Emma. She had a wonderful balance of firmness and grace in the way she would challenge others to think about their intent and their actions and whether the two aligned. She was managing social dynamics before there was a workshop. Her approach was born of a lifetime of navigating all the “isms” while finding a way to address them. That’s how she kept her soul and values intact. It was always fascinating to watch the difference between her approach and my grandmother’s, a woman who did not suffer fools lightly. Both got results, but there were fewer cleanups in the wake of Sista Emma’s actions and less backsliding.
Another challenge lies in knowing with whom and when grace should be shown. Some folks will never appreciate the attempt and need a heavier hand, but I find them to be the minority. The goal with them is to just get them out of the way, not bring them on the journey.
The last concept is very simple and probably the hardest — action. At some point all of this needs to go beyond thought. All of the best intentions, training, discussions and reflection are for naught if racism, sexism, classism and the other dividing ills still plague our community and country.
That is why I also seek to learn from the wonderful women who have been tirelessly doing the work in our community, with grace: Jackie Moore, Joylynn Pruitt-Adams, Gina Harris, Wendy Daniels, Natalie Thompson, Sheree Johnson, Frances Kraft, Mak Flournoy, Reesheda Graham Washington, Pem Hessing, Maya Puentes, Athena Green Williams, Juanta Griffin, Arti Walker- Peddakotla, Dot Lambshead Roche, Lisa Pintado-Vertner, Swati Saxena, Stacey Austin, Anna Garcia Doyle, Libbey Paul, Cate Readling, Susan Lucci, Melanie McQueen, Burcy Hines, Cassandra West, Carolina Song, Erika Bachner and so many others.
Real systemic change that can be felt by the marginalized and measured over time must be the goal. That means we must take the leap toward our values, toward the “we” and toward change.
We should not need to have this same conversation 25 years from now.