Get along

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

To the Editor:

Don’t we all want greater justice in the world?

I know the answer is yes. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can achieve the goal of a more just society. One suggestion I’d like to make is this: Say “and,” not “but” whenever possible, especially when discussing the complex factors related to racial, social, and economic injustice.

Let me explain: I learned this lesson from a wonderful psychologist from Bozeman, during a presentation she gave at the University of Montana Western, a number of years ago. She was speaking to faculty and staff about peaceful conflict resolution and compassion fatigue. She reminded us that the moment we say something positive to a person, then add the word “but,” and go on to say something negative, we’ve made a serious error. The second part of the sentence swallows up the first part. Moreover, it places our observations in an “either/or” frame, potentially turning the conversation into a debate, or perhaps negating the feelings or the personhood of the individual to whom we are speaking. “I think you’re a good employee, Sally, but…” generally doesn’t help Sally hear anything you have to say. Consider the use of the word “and,” instead: “I think you’re a good employee, Sally, and you need to be sure to greet customers as they enter, rather than waiting for them to greet you.” Using the word “and” allows the speaker and the listener to hold two important points up for consideration at the same time, gently protecting the truth of both statements, and moving forward to whatever the next steps should be.

Now let’s think about justice and equality here at home, and in our nation. When we say “Black lives matter, but really, all lives matter,” we send the first part of that statement into an oblivion that is deeply problematic. It fails to hold both truths in our hands for closer examination. It fails to give us the space to examine why it is that black lives can so often be precarious and devalued. It fails to give us an opportunity to ask ourselves whether we are truly seeking justice for the lives of all—people of color, the poor, and the marginalized. It leads us into a protected realm where we can assure ourselves that we value all life, without having to look very closely or particularly at how well we live up to that belief. If we use “and” more carefully, we can remind ourselves of some inherent truths: All lives matter, and black lives matter, and I need to do everything I can, every day, to make sure that I am honoring and upholding these truths.

Laura Straus