I don’t have an excuse but to love in all circumstances: Love Conquers All
It has been emotionally draining
COVID-19 has caused widespread devastation for us all during what may be the ‘darkest’ period of our generation. Many have lost their lives and the heartbreak for families, friends and healthcare professionals is unbearable. It’s even been worse for some of us from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities, who have felt the disproportionate impact of COVID-19. Suddenly, we’re in despair and feel that this is all very unfair for our communities, especially those from poor socio-economic backgrounds. As if COVID-19 isn’t enough suffering for us to deal with, wounds from any experience of racial abuse and inhumanities of the past appear to have been reopened after the death of George Floyd in the United States of America. Floyd’s death has led to unfathomable anger globally. This anger has forced many people onto the streets, protesting for justice despite risks of them acquiring severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that causes the deadly COVID-19. There is now a global movement aimed at promoting equity. In the midst of all the commotion and sadness, it’s been beautiful to see, (albeit hard for an infection prevention & control practitioner!) that those involved in the Black Lives Matter protests have been from diverse communities/backgrounds suggesting that most people want to see change. We must however never forget that even though BAME communities have been hit hard by COVID-19, all patients have received consistent standards of care in respective healthcare facilities from a diverse workforce; something we should celebrate.
Seizing the moment
There is no doubt that everything that’s been happening has caused considerable distress and discomfort for everyone not just those directly affected, global leaders, healthcare professionals, BAME communities, racists, peacemakers etc. It may be an opportune moment for us to seize this opportunity to reflect on how we see or treat others whose cultural patterns don't match our unconscious expectations. Shaules (2015) suggests that ‘our scripts and schema are deeply integrated into our identity and changing the way we act can feel like a betrayal or negation of ourselves.’ Inevitably, feelings of betraying oneself can hinder any efforts to change our potentially unpleasant attitudes and behaviours and yet we must address inherent pride and prejudices to promote equity. The need for change presents big adaptive dilemmas which can sometimes make it difficult for us to confront foreign social expectations and yet these actions are vital in our diverse communities. The question I keep asking myself is - how can I read subtle and intrinsic social patterns of those who don’t look like me to enable me to adapt accordingly? Change is not easy, particularly when dealing with behaviours & attitudes that you have embraced all your life. And yet in our modern ‘global living’ world, we can seize this moment to make lasting positive changes. We need not only focus on race, but we must also challenge our attitudes and perceptions in relation to all the nine protected characteristics [age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and sex] (Equality Act 2010). This involves us calling out systems (including hate) that don’t allow us to be more tolerant at home or our communities and at work.
How do we start that awkward race conversation?
Many years ago, I worked with Cee, a colleague from Ireland. One day she said to me ‘Lilian please forgive me but sometimes I am just fascinated to work with black people like you…’ You can imagine my thoughts and feelings at the time… fascinated?!! She proceeded ‘My dad told me not to bring him a black man from London when I return home because he would not know how to react ….’ Cee then went on to tell me that when her parents grew up, they’d never seen people of colour in their remote village. I told Cee that in my country of origin there are some people from remote rural areas who have never seen a ‘white’ person and so children tend to ‘gaze in astonishment’ when they see one. We laughed about it but we also knew that we had a lot to learn from each other. We both felt liberated by this conversation and I feel creating opportunities for having open dialogue is a good starting point. Although these types of conversations can be awkward, when carefully handled they can enable people to open up and challenge their inherent prejudices.
But I was discriminated against 30 years ago…
Most of us have experienced different forms of discrimination in our lives, not just those of a racial nature. These experiences are hurtful and can cause permanent psychological scars. Psychological support must be sought at the earliest opportunity to prevent permanent damage or bitterness towards one’s perpetrators. In my career I have heard people say ‘But Lilian, they do ‘see colour’ in you…’ My response is always, ‘yes they may do but it doesn’t mean that I have to ‘see colour’ or be racist towards or hateful in return’. Of course I must challenge racism and in fact I must be anti-racist not just when I see it in others but also in me. I must acknowledge also that there is a lot of work still to be done among diverse black communities on this issue. Challenging discrimination among colleagues is likely to be fruitful when done with love: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” (Matthew 5 vs. 44). Having a constructive dialogue is always useful to enable any concerns to be voiced. In some cases what people perceive to be racism may turn out to be something else.
I am very grateful that so far in my life, I have found it extremely difficult to hate even those individuals who hurt me deeply. Kindness is in my bones/nature and I don’t want to lose that. In times of trouble or difficulty, I always go on my knees and ask God for direction without negating my personal responsibilities. As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said in Daniel 3 vs. 17 & 18 ‘If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.’ In other words, I refuse to let hate or bitterness develop inside of me even if others may view me differently. I use Jesus’s words a lot when dealing with individuals who appear to find pleasure in hating or hurting others ‘Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’. As already highlighted above, it doesn’t mean that I will entertain unacceptable behaviours and attitudes, of course I must challenge them whilst reminding myself ‘Let all things be done decently and in order’ 1st Corinthians 14 vs. 40. I acknowledge that at one time Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers because he was angry but this was not his daily routine: John 2 vs. 13-16 ‘And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables…’ Jesus confronted people’s behaviours in the moment and therefore I must endeavour to challenge what I perceive to be racism when it happens and aim to have that constructive dialogue. If I don’t feel confident then I must report it straightaway or seek support on how I can use my voice in future. People will annoy me and I will certainly get angry but I must never allow that anger to turn into bitterness. Matthew 22 vs. 39 ‘And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.’ I must also learn to forgive if someone apologises for their behaviour or they highlight that their behaviour was not intentional.
Does good leadership have a role to play?
In my previous leadership blog, I mentioned that it takes energy to suppress energies (spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical). It is my job as a leader to call out systems (including hate) that don’t allow me to be happy at home and at work. This action frees up my mind to focus on captivating positive home and work environments where tolerance, kindness and compassion flourishes and diversity is fully embraced and celebrated. Reading biographies of and learning from great leaders can be empowering; therefore I must expand my reading list. Below are a few quotes and words of inspiration from some inspirational women leaders whom I adore and will be watching closely as I continue to grow.
The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern’s leadership style captures my imagination. My desire to lead with humility, strength and compassion is summed up in this Tweet by The Women’s Organisation (@TheWomensOrg) - "One of the criticisms I've faced over the years is that I'm not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I'm empathetic, I'm weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong." - Jacinda Ardern.
Michelle Obama's 2020 Commencement Address | Dear Class Of 2020 demonstrates what a force of nature she really is as she encouraged us all to rise up to the occasion during the most challenging time of our generation as summarised below.
I like this inspirational quote from Melinda Gates: "Make sure you continue to trust what you know now about yourself and stay true to what you believe in”. And yes I will continue to trust my religion as it has been a huge source of encouragement for me. It keeps me calm and collected, and leaves me with no option but to do everything with love.
One of my career defining quotes from my recent critical care experience was “Be kind to yourself”, words echoed by Meghan Markle. Another inspirational quote from Meghan is this: “It’s really important that young women be reminded that their involvement matters and that their voice is heard. Even if it feels like its small, it really can make an impact.” As a middle aged woman, I may well be late for the show but I am certainly doing all I can to be heard whilst spreading positivity and kindness. You can watch Meghan’s recent Black Lives Matter video here.
This quote from Kate Middleton complements Meghan’s words above: “Yes, well I really hope I can make a difference, even in the smallest way. I am looking forward to helping as much as I can.” Enough said!
I also like this quote from one of Florence Nightingale's many inspirational words: “I attribute my success to this:—I never gave or took an excuse” which matches the title of my blog ‘I don’t have an excuse but to love in all circumstances’
Mary Seacole was so determined to realise her dream of serving others that she used her own finances. Nothing could stop her but this quote of hers left me in stitches though :-): “I must say that I don’t appreciate your friend’s kind wishes with respect to my complexion. If it had been as dark as a nigger’s, I should have been just as happy and useful, and as much respected by those whose respect I value: and as to his offer of bleaching me, I should, even if it were practicable, decline it without any thanks.” – Mary Seacole. Humour is always a good thing even in challenging times.
These powerful words from Edith Cavell on the eve of her execution: “I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone”; are life changing words that I must embrace to honour her sacrifices.
Jane Austen’s words acknowledging ‘the inconsistency of all human characters’ in her novel, Pride & Prejudice is as poignant now as ever: “There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.” Certainly if I am dissatisfied with the injustices of this world, I must take action and use my voice.
The Queen’s address to the nation at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic gave hope to many. To enable me to continue to function efficiently, I must always find time to slow down, pause and reflect in prayer or meditation.
By embracing and utilising empowering qualities from these great leaders, I become well equipped to not only tackle racism but also other forms of discrimination/hate or bigotry. And yet with all these leadership qualities, tackling discrimination is complex considering we may never know if people truly display how they feel. I always make reference to a bible verse in Jeremiah 17 vs. 9 - ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ I choose honesty, authenticity and acting with integrity at all times and can only hope this is replicated by my colleagues. With the current global movement though, everyone is being challenged to call out racism or any forms of hate when they identify them in others or themselves. This can only happen if people are truly authentic and honest with themselves. I’m very optimistic change is going to come. As Florence Nightingale said: If a nurse declines to do these kinds of things for her patient, ‘because it is not her business’, I should say that nursing was not her calling. I say ‘if a nurse declines to challenge racism because it is not her business, perhaps nursing is not their calling.’
Is my religion alone enough?
Having strong religious beliefs is important to me but it does not mean that I lead a careless and disrespectful lifestyle and just hope that God will protect me. In fact, 1 Peter 2 vs. 13 says: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;” and so I must be respectful for our leaders too. It’s more important for us who have strong religious beliefs to promote peace in our work environments and communities, but without imposing our religious beliefs on others. I must endeavour to act with respect and dignity; and in an honest manner that promotes positivity. Hopefully my colleagues can also aim to complement that approach. For me, faith without works is dead. I certainly remember a work colleague ‘shouting at me’ whilst working in critical care ‘you’re a black person please make sure your goggles are fitting properly!’ Yep my risk of acquiring SARS-CoV-2 was and is still much higher, therefore I had to be and remain vigilant with all recommended infection prevention and control procedures and COVID-19 guidelines. I am pleased to report that I was very confident I would be ok in critical care given that my organisation worked tirelessly to make sure all staff, regardless of their race/gender etc. had access to the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as per Public Health England (PHE) recommendations. Continual education and reminders on the importance of proper donning and doffing techniques will always remain critical for me and all my colleagues and I certainly don’t expect God to cover me if I am not adhering to best practices. I still needed to be vigilant and remain so when travelling to and from work. I will also endeavour to have adequate Vitamin D intake and follow through outcomes of any actions from the PHE review of COVID-19 deaths recommendations. Thus even though my religion is everything to me, I must always take personal responsibility for doing the right things and following set policies and guidelines accordingly.
How can I remain positive, kind, compassionate & forgiving?
I endeavour to embrace a bible verse in Romans 12 vs. 18, 19 & 21. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 19 - Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord…. 21 - Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. When I live by the above, I become more tolerant of others, particularly those who fall under the 9 protected characteristics. Furthermore, I don’t let my anger mature into bitterness which liberates me and keeps me happy. For those who know me, despite me not having the best teeth in the world :-), I always try and have a smile on my face. I refuse to let my hurt turn into hate. I like a recent tweet from Michael Underwood, which echoes my endeavours. ‘It’s a matter of being honest to yourself... I’m forever learning and checking myself’.
This quote below from Meghan Markle nicely summaries my thoughts from this blog.
“Make a choice: continue living your life feeling muddled in this abyss of self-misunderstanding, or you find your identity independent of it. I think that having the courage to step out of the norm is the most important thing.”
So, I take this opportunity to forgive those who hate or hurt me in the past. I also ask for forgiveness from those whom I may have unintentionally hurt as it’s never my intention.
I must continue to lead righteously, full of compassion and without prejudice or discrimination. Although this is potentially the most challenging time of our generation, it’s also an opportunity for us to foster positive change and make the world a better place for all inhabitants. I am therefore using this moment to embrace #LoveConquersAll and #KindnessMatters to foster positivity at work and at home or our communities. I hope others will do the same. I don't have an excuse, but to love in all circumstances.