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Conscious discrimination or a lack of understanding?

I was recently having an online conversation with a group of well-meaning people regarding the protests about racial equality and how it is important that we treat all people as equal. One of them made a comment about the value of taking care of those in our community, like the widows and orphans. He might as well have hit me over the head! I agree that orphans need to be cared for, but I know quite a few widows and many of them are quite capable of looking after themselves! Yes, there are some widows who do need additional help and support, but in this age of supposed gender equality, many woman can support themselves. In fact it’s not unheard of for a woman earn more than her male partner!

The comment was well meaning and not intended to offend but it got me thinking. I believe that as a society that we still have a long way to go to achieve racial equality. After all there’s been a lot of attention paid to gender equality for decades and we still have some work to do on that!

Many people would say that they try to treat everyone, irrespective of colour or ethnicity, the same. The problem is we do it from our own perspective. Who am I to say what does or doesn’t offend another human being? Just as the guy who made the comment about widows did not intend to offend me, I may be saying or doing things that offend others without even knowing it. So where does that leave us?

As a counsellor, my focus is on how people feel. Just because an incident or statement doesn’t make me angry or anxious or scared, doesn’t mean that it won’t impact anyone else. We can’t go around being scared of upsetting or offending people all the time, but what we can do if we do find out that something we did or said had a negative impact on someone else, is to try to understand that and make a conscious effort to consider their feelings in the future. We won’t get it right all the time, but we can try to do better.

Thinking about how the things we say impacts on others is an important life skill. Yes of course we should all have freedom of speech, but how do you feel about that freedom when someone says something that offends or upsets you? Imagine if that was something that didn’t just happen to you daily but many times a day. Wouldn’t that make you angry?

I heard someone say that one insult amongst many compliments can be ignored or forgotten. When all you receive are insults or derogatory comments that’s much more difficult to deal with. Kindness and consideration for others costs us nothing. In fact it can do wonders for how we feel about ourselves.

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