Regular readers of this column know that it touches on all aspects of wellness –emotional, spiritual, physical, relational, vocational, and intellectual. In this column wellness is the filter through which I observe and reflect on the world around us. And so it is through this filter that I reflect this time on the topic of racism in the light of the verdict regarding the death of Trayvon Martin.
I cannot say with certitude exactly in what ways racial biases were a factor the night that George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin nor if it was with out a doubt a factor in the verdict that was reached regarding Zimmerman. It is hard for me to imagine, however, that racial bias was not a factor in what happened, simply because racial bias–often unconscious– is so prevalent in ourselves and in our culture. What I can say from a wellness perspective is that when racism is present in any of us it is an indication of a low degree of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual wellness. Racial biases, like all biases, do not come from a place of strength or wellness.
Earlier this week I attended a national wellness conference and greatly enjoyed one of the break-out workshops that focused on the connection between humor and wellness. I will probably write more about this workshop in another column as it was so full of wisdom, but for now I want to share one particularly important insight. The leader talked about the many positive benefits of humor, i.e. how it helps us to manage our fears (think of all the jokes about growing older), and how it helps bring us together around common experiences (“It’s been so hot this week in our part of the country, that…….”). This kind of humor enhances wellness as it brings us together and helps us feel that we all in the situation together.
Our leader also pointed out though that humor can also tear down or diminish wellness when it is used as a weapon. Using humor as a weapon is the genesis of every joke that makes fun of and puts down a person or group of persons based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or any other category. This kind of humor is rooted in insecurity and a lack of wellness, just like the kind of racial and other biases I mentioned earlier. This kind of humor is an attempt build up one’s self or one’s group at the expense of putting down another.
So what can we learn from all this? If we are committed to healing our biases toward people who are in any way different from us, and if we are committed to healing our own fears and insecurities that lead to our biases, is there something specific we can do differently? There are probably many things we can do, but one specific thing I would like to hold up for us–and I include myself in this as well–is to be more intentional about being curious.
When you have the opportunity to meet someone who is different from you, try practicing curiosity, working to get to know them. Curiosity is how we learn and grow. Whereas biases and prejudices are constrictive and cut off growth, curiosity is expansive. How many times have you had the experience of having your initial opinion or judgement of a person be completely transformed once you get to know that person more fully? Being curious enough about the new person to listen to their story is what makes that transformation possible.
It’s worth noting that word curiosity comes from the same root as the words cure and care. To be curious is to care enough to get to know someone for who they really are. Think for a moment how wonderfully caring it feels when someone is curious enough to take the time to really get to know you and who you really are.
In closing, I would like to offer one other way in which practicing curiosity can help bring about cure. In light of the attention surrounding the Martin/Zimmerman case, I hope we will all take some time to be more curious about our own biases and prejudices– racial and otherwise. High level wellness requires intentional, on-going self-reflection and along with a willingness to confess to ourselves ways in which we are not as well as we would like to be. This is why I believe that if we are willing to practice curiosity on a regular basis, we have a chance to create small steps toward a twofold cure. Not only do we create the opportunity to move one step closer to curing the prejudices and biases that haunt our society, but we also have the opportunity to move one step closer to curing the prejudices and biases that haunt our own hearts and souls.