Hi folks, this thought piece was first published on World Pulse, and independent women-led social network for social change.
Accounts of violence against women continue to fill our news feeds.
Recently, in North America we are seeing sympathy for a man arrested for the murder of seven women, six of whom were Asian, diverting the focus away from the violence itself and what we need to change (see: Ann P. DePrince, Spotlight: Community Engagement and Institutional Courage).
Our institutions, including workplaces, organizations, schools, religious organizations and families (they are institutions, after all) often create circumstances that make abusive behaviour more likely, and divert attention from, minimize and deny violence.
This is one of the most pressing challenges of our time.
I believe this in my bones; from my lived experience, and in being witness to racial injustice finally being seen for what it is.
As Sonya Renee Taylor notes in her book, The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love , “every structure in every society is upheld by the active and passive assistance of other human beings.”
To make change in our institutions, we must look at ourselves, the people within them.
How do we do this? 3 simple guiding words: Care, Compassion,Courage.
Care & Compassion:
bell hooks wisely noted that love is an action, never just a feeling.
How does care and compassion act?
It does away with toxic shame that tells us there is one perfect way. Sonya Renee Taylor captures this: “Getting it right” is a body-shame paradigm. Radical self-love is honoring how we are all products of a rigged system designed to keep us stuck in stigma and shame. The only way to beat that system is by giving we something the system never will: compassion.”
How does care and compassion look?
It looks like every woman waking up in the morning saying, “today I will love my body, no matter how it shows up.” It looks like every word, every action, being guided by the question: “how can I make the world better today?” “how can I cause less harm?”
It looks like every boss listening to support and to learn when someone names racism or sexual violence.
How does care and compassion feel?
It feels like a warm hug when you are in pain, rather than someone questioning if you are really in pain. It feels like receiving a flood of encouraging words like “I believe you” “I see you” “it is not your fault” when I share my most vulnerable moments. It feels like all of us loving ourselves and those around us enough to hold ourselves accountable for how we have been part of systems that harm other human beings. Compassion is after all, not an excuse to minimize, justify or deny harmful behaviour; it requires accountability and clear limits.
Jennifer Freyd’s definition of institutional courage is: “an institution’s commitment to seek the truth and engage in moral action, despite unpleasantness, risk, and short-term cost. It is a pledge to protect and care for those who depend on the institution.” (Read more here: Center for Institutional Courage).
What does courage look like in institutions? It looks like shifting the compass they use to drive action. It looks like naming the ways that the institution has harmed those who depend on it. It looks like a space where people are free to make mistakes and encouraged to learn from them. It looks like a commitment to respond with care and compassion, rather than reactivity, defensiveness, and victim-blaming. It looks like when someone “blows the whistle” on organizational practices that cause harm, that person being thanked for their commitment to making the organization better.
Take a breath now and ponder for a minute.
What does this world feel like?
What do you see in it?
How does your body feel in this world?
If we want to #buildbackbetter — and I know we can, all our institutions need to build cultures of care, compassion, and courage.
What can you do today to live the 3 Cs? Your call to action today is: when someone at work or home you are responsible for comes to you in pain, take a minute to pause. Breath. Then ask yourself, how can you respond using the 3 Cs to guide your words and actions.
I founded ALG Consulting to help build more compassionate, safe, and inclusive institutions, including organizations, workplaces and relations free of sexual and gender-based violence, where all women can thrive. I specialize in building the skills necessary to respond to sexual and gender-based violence, inspired by the 3 Cs. I give workshops, conduct policy development, implementation coaching and other communications services that push thought leadership.
Join me in my journey to build a world based on care, compassion and courage today.
Until I see you all again, take care of yourselves, and each other.