By JoAnn Campbell-Rice
I recently experienced an object lesson in empathy. One afternoon a directee squinted into the sun as she sat down, and as I adjusted the blinds, it occurred to me I could rearrange the furniture so that she didn’t have to face the window. I’d often tinkered with the blinds without considering the possibility of moving furniture. Now we sit side by side with our backs to the sunlight. Why did it take me five years to figure this out? Because my chair had its back to the window in an arrangement I had inherited, I really had no idea what life was like in the other chair.
What else have I inherited without questioning? What social “furniture” should be moved to make lasting changes that benefit everyone?
I pride myself on being able to imagine others’ lives, but nothing compares to sitting in the other’s chair. My world was forever changed after living for a summer with a Muslim family in Turkey. All the novels in the world couldn’t create that life-changing experience. How do we bridge differences we only imagine?
Recently, Loyola staff had a workshop on dismantling racism to examine our preconceived ideas, unexamined assumptions, and cultural blinders that prevent us from reaching as many people as we might. One lesson in the video we watched was that white people have the luxury of avoiding racists (including those in our own families) but people of color don’t have that luxury. So whites have a responsibility to confront racists, even over a dinner table. When has tending my comfort been the priority rather than starting a difficult conversation?
Jesus said it’s easy to love the lovable, but the real opportunity to see the Christ in others comes when our differences are the most apparent. I look forward to a year of rich discussions, new learnings, and growth as we put dismantling racism center stage for staff development. We hope to do more than adjust the curtains.