If there is one thing I learned while doing antidiscrimination work within an institution, it would be that we let arrogance stand in the way of change. Sometimes it isn’t conscious or mal-intentioned, but it almost always functions as a shield for criticism.
We are arrogant in the way we talk about experiences outside of our own. We are arrogant in the ways we suggest simple solutions for complex issues. We are arrogant by not reflecting what role we play in those issues.
When talking about diversity, antidiscrimination and equality, the discussion often happens outside of ourselves, as if these topics don’t correlate with the space, we are occupying but are just interesting enough for us to share our opinions about.
As soon as topics like equality, diversity or antidiscrimination come up in institutional spaces, the conversation mostly starts revolving around how far we have already come. Although we have to be honest and realize that most of these accomplishments were achieved in the past and therefor actually belong to others. There were people who had to fight very hard in order to get us to where we are at this moment and it would be quite arrogant to proud ourselves on their actions, wouldn’t it?
Rather than looking backwards, we should be looking forwards in order to realize how far we still have to go.
In that sense being less arrogant but rather humble is to allow ourselves to see the flaws of our current reality, which can be frightening but necessary to be able to work towards changing them.
Especially when talking about social topics in a broader context, we should talk about our role that we play in our society first. When criticizing the structures in institutions, we simultaneously should ask ourselves what spaces we are occupying and how we are reproducing these structures. We need to be humble enough to be able to talk about these issues without treating them as structures outside of our own.
When starting discussions, we have to pay more attention to who is invited to talk and who isn’t and in what way this is mirroring the issues we want to actually solve. By only speaking within our peer group or by only sharing space with people who already profit from the structures the way they are, we won’t be able to develop new inclusive solutions.
The biggest fear I observed in institutional spaces is masked by arrogant rage and triggered by the frustrating feeling of not being allowed to speak freely.
As long as you have good intentions you should be allowed to say whatever, however and whenever you want, right? But just like looking backwards won’t help us moving forwards, reflecting outwards won’t be possible if we don’t reflect inwards first.
While recognizing the part we play in the structures surrounding us is vital, there are many other aspects of our identity that influence our position. Some, like ones political views, ones sexual identity or ones gender identity can develop, while the way we were socialized, the financial stability we grew up with, our cultural upbringing, the color of ones skin, ones age or sometimes ones abilities can not. All of these aspects create the baseline of who we are. Of course, it is up to us, how much we want to identify with these different parts of ourselves. But in order to understand our position in the dialog we have to reflect on what our identity means and what it reflects to the outside.
Even in our nowadays individualistic society, we still are part of a history and we therefor represent something. To be humble is to recognize your own position, what it means and what it represents in order to take it under account when choosing to talk about certain topics. It’s not about not saying anything at all but more about realizing how to say it and when to say it and sometimes to choose to let others speak for themselves. Being humble is to reflect your own position, even if you don’t have to and accept the privileges and advantages that come with it. We don’t need to compare them, but we have to understand what they mean in a broader social context in order to understand each other.
‘Humble.’ is not as much a demand, as it is a suggestion to be able to work together more effectively by criticizing ourselves first before criticizing everything around us.