Recently, I saw an excellent post on LinkedIn about comfort zones. The gist was that cultural shifts challenge people and are hard to understand because they make people uncomfortable — and fearful — and that what we fear, we resist. While that’s undeniably true, the post goes on to end with the following hard questions: “ … who have you kept comfortable this week in order to survive? How comfortable do you feel with that number of people?”
The need to navigate other people's discomfort is the reason I created the podcast "Shifting the Lens." I have spent a great deal of time sacrificing my comfort as a Black woman to ensure white peers and colleagues remain comfortable. And I’ve done it too many times to count. After the murder of George Floyd, I reached a tipping point. Showing up to work after such a watershed moment was hard. I had to compartmentalize. I tucked away years of hurt and pain I felt as a Black woman in this country, often considered collateral damage, so I could carry on as a communications professional tasked with messaging that supported others during an impossibly difficult time in history. Again, I was prioritizing others’ comfort over mine.
As I watched these events unfold, I also observed how folks at Rush were feeling, and I talked with many about opportunities for change. It made me think about my role as a communicator in the diversity, equity and inclusion space and what tools I had available to me to help talk about racial equity and justice. I knew I wanted to help foster some understanding and empathy within the organization about these issues. And I knew I had to do something to start a conversation.
The podcast was an opportunity for me to learn and better understand how others were pushing down their discomfort in response to a range of experiences, from microaggressions to overt racial inequities. I wanted to ask questions that people were afraid to ask. I wanted to get other perspectives to find out if what I was feeling made sense. I wanted to know how other people of color, particularly Black people were feeling, like really feeling. And I wanted white people to understand how it feels to be marginalized so they could, if even only for an episode, walk in another person’s shoes. I hoped that they might understand not only how heavy and exhausting this experience can be, but also what opportunities exist for people of different races to come together and learn from one another.
What started as a conversation grew into an exercise in deepening empathy. It's not innate for many, but empathy can be nurtured, developed and learned. And hopefully, that empathy continues to build and grow from each episode of "Shifting the Lens," and along with it develops a change of hearts and minds.
I’ve learned over the years that nothing really changes unless you start talking about what the challenges are. You have to confront fears. This means the discomfort may shift from one party or group to another, but many times, in the end, greater understanding can be achieved. I’ve also learned that stories change the world because when we see ourselves through another’s eyes, we make connections, and we develop new perspectives. Hopefully, we also can become more self-aware, more compassionate and less fearful. Imagine this being done on an individual level in all kinds of places and spaces and how much impact that could potentially have. If we zoom out, then collectively, it's a movement. And with that movement a new chapter begins.
With that, I invite you to tune into "Shifting the Lens," challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone, start having difficult but rewarding conversations and continue to build that empathy muscle. I’d also like to invite you to get comfortable with getting uncomfortable.