~ Article written by L. Michael Hall PhD ~
Lots of conversations are easy and breezy, we chat away, gossiping a little here and there and seldom do we even remember much of what was said. Such are light and shallow conversations. Then there are the serious conversations- those that make a difference in life, that create turning points, asking someone to marry us, accepting a job offer, deciding to move to another city. And yes there are the difficult conversations- those are the conversations that we really do not want to have, perhaps due to fear of hurting someone’s feelings, evoking their wrath, being unable to handle what may come up, etc. Those we often put off and off and off hoping to never have them.
Then there is another category of conversations
They are they ones that go nowhere and that make us think that we simply live in a different universe than the other person. These impossible conversations arise due to the presuppositions that the other person begins with, the premises that they assume, and that they refuse to even consider as open for discussion. A current one that’s occurring on the mainstream media these days concern a pseudo-subject in the first place, “racism.” And yet by assuming that it exists, those who think this is the answer to every problem cannot even acknowledge the assumptions that they bring to the conversation.
Starting with the word race
Since we can’t have a real conversation without defining our terms, let’s do that. Let’s start with the word “race” and “racism.” We can’t do critical thinking if we don’t start with the unspoken and unrecognized assumptions.
“Race” sounds like a thing, as if you could go out on the street and see “race.” But it is not a thing. It is a mental category. Linguistically, it is a nominalization. That means it is a false noun. It sounds like a noun referring to a real “thing” that’s out there, “a person, place, or thing.” But it is not. I’ve often written about nominalizations since they create so much confusion. They arise when someone takes a verb and turns it into a noun. In doing so, they convert an active and dynamic process into a static “thing” which then, deceiving the mind, generates tremendous confusion.
“Race” as a nominalization contain a hidden verb. But what verb? The term implies that there are many “races.” But are there? Ironically it turns out that there is only one race- the human race. There are no sub-species of humans. We are all made of the same blood and DNA which is why we can so easily intermarry. What we incorrectly call different races are just different family groups within the human race. If this doesn’t immediately strike you as utterly silly- spend some time with this idea. Eventually I hope to puts a big broad smile on your face when you realize that we have invented a whole category of non-existing phenomena by using a pseudo-word (“races”).
How Relating is Evaluative
Given that there are no races, only a singular human race, then the rest of the assumptions fall apart as well. For “racism” means “treating, relating, thinking, talking, acting, etc. to someone in terms of what one evaluates about his or her race.” The -ism here someone treating or relating to another person according to his evaluations about the other person’s so-called “race?” Here’s how incredibly crazy we become- we first invent an entirely false concept (race) and then treat some family groups superior and others Then we think that a mysterious force, “racism,” is the problem and so we try to cure it!
In the end, “racism” is an attitude that a person hold about others. A person views people as superior or inferior due solely to the criteria of family of origin or ethnicity. It is the childish game, “My family is better than yours!” “Racism” is an attitude that a person takes in reference to another person. Then generalizing that attitude, he can feel superior to a whole groups of people.
What is racism?
It a way of thinking that leads to a way of acting. And it can lead to people taking advantage of a position so they create policies that incorporate prejudice against others. When some people do that, it does not mean that the whole society is “racist.” It means that a prejudiced or racist person or people did that. To apply it to everyone is a misguided over-generalization. But some do that to create a gigantic monster to rail against. Now you can be prejudiced against everyone who disagrees with you and call them racist. Those who think the a whole society suffers from “systemic racism” are usually blind to their own racism. But they feel self-righteous so its hard for them to see their own projections.
This leads to the conversation that we then cannot have. Why? Because it is not on equal ground as colleagues. After all one side thinks of themselves not only as right, but absolutely right and above prejudice, while the other side are told that they are racist, blind, and unaware of their racism.
“If you say you are not racist, you are even more blind to the systemic racism of your culture than I thought. That means your racism is out-of-control and Im wasting my time talking to you.”
Therefore irony is that such a statement is as prejudicial as the prejudice the person is objecting to! And it will never be changed that way. The change has to occur in each and every person who thinks in prejudiced ways. The change will be a change in understanding, beliefs, and attitudes. Change at that level will inevitably lead to change in any expression that favors one person over another due to family origin.
What has happened in the US
True enough, racism used to be incorporated in the laws of the US. But almost all of that has changed since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
That was the great contribution of the movement that Martin Luther King Jr. led. Are there still some individuals who harbor hateful attitudes toward others of this or that group? Sure. Are they the majority? No. The 2008 and 2012 showed that. If those elections demonstrated anything, it demonstrated that the US is not a racist society. How could the majority elect (two times) an African American as President if it was, across the board, racist? That’s too vast an over-generalization in spite of today’s media.
Having a difficult conversation, as the term suggests, is difficult. And all of us have times that we need to have that kind of conversation with others. It requires an open and listening state, a state for seeking first to understand and then to be understood. We require empathy and clarity.
It requires trying on another’s thought rather than rejecting it outright.
In other words, it requires focused learning of refined skills. That’s why we begin with the NLP Communication Model and add the higher level skills of the Meta-States Model.
If you are interested to learn these world class communication models, join us for Coaching Essentials