The Pain of Exclusion and Power of Empathy

I’ll Go First

Okay, …here goes...I am a CIS-gendered, white heterosexual man with almost every privilege imaginable…including the tall guy privilege (at my height, I was 6’4” but shrinking). And, I also identify as an Italian American family man. At my house, we say “family is whoever is around the table”, and “everyone has a voice”. We may disagree but everyone is heard and seen for who they are.

As a member of the dominant group, white heterosexual men, I am aware that I have lots of power and position to influence who sits around the table. I imagine many men like me sit in the question, WHY?…I’ve worked hard, why should I use my position and power for others? We’ll come back to this... 

When I think back to my upbringing, and I can only speak for myself, during my adolescence, I experienced many painful instances of being excluded by other young men who looked like me. Not being invited to parties (sometimes intentionally misled, ditched and laughed at), and picked on because of my emotionality, are a few examples of what I endured. All I wanted was to be included. It stung more because they were supposed to be my friends.

Most of my high school and college years had me wanting to belong to the “in group” of athletes, the cool fraternity and to hang with the other outgoing boys. I often felt like an outsider. It was painful. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. 

But the real pain comes from shame… the shame that because I am a white man, that this stuff doesn’t compare to people who don’t have the privilege of being in the dominant group and that their pain is more worthy of being shared. While I am a member of the dominant culture, I often felt the experience of not belonging. Even writing this, I have to try not to diminish my own experience. Ugh!

I imagine that all of us, have at some point felt the pain and discomfort of not being included. It’s part of the human experience that calls all of us to feel… to empathize and then to act, if we choose to…Here my intention is making an appeal not just to men, but people, to consciously put themselves on the path of being an ally. 

Putting Yourself on the Path to Becoming an Ally

My ask is, if you can personally identify with the pain of exclusion, are you willing to help someone else avoid that experience? Are you willing to be part of what it takes to be an ally who fosters inclusion? Are you willing to make a personal commitment to follow the path of becoming an ally?

Anyone can be an ally to anybody. (The party you are an ally to decides… that’s another topic, and important to be clear on). We all need an ally at some point in our careers. Recognizing the responsibility is an opportunity to contribute to the creation of an environment where everyone feels like they show up to work with their whole self intact. 

Whether we are aware or not, many of us are already on the path of allyship; according to Jennifer Brown’s ally continuum, there are four stages: Unaware-Aware-Action-Advocate. Wherever you see yourself, good on you for looking. 

The work of being an ally is  an ongoing process. My business partner, Dale Thomas Vaughn, created the Ally’s Journey as action steps, a framework we use in our work in engaging men. Since then, we have found the Ally’s Journey also applies to allyship in general. The Ally’s Journey is a process with no definitive ending. In fact, it’s not uncommon to return to the beginning to rework the steps, depending on the context.

The four steps of the Ally’s Journey

  1. Acknowledge my advantages

  2. Take responsibility for the impact of my bias and privilege; and clean things up when necessary.

  3. Listen with empathy and compassion.

  4. Commit to new practices and behaviors.

The Better Man Conference 2019 program will examine these steps in depth, with experiential exercises to drive home the learning.

Why Build a Conference Around the Ally’s Journey?

I’ve attended and hosted many conferences where I listened to “rock star” speakers who did an incredible job of inspiring me. In our post-conference surveys and in conversations with many people, I keep hearing about the value of exercises and experiences.  

Panels and keynotes are also valuable, but we are anxious to get into it. We want to hold a space for learning some of the tools that have brought value to our clients. We realized that our rock star is the programming experience. It’s our ability to create a safe space for people, men, women, and gender non-conforming folks, to feel like there is a place where they can be real. A safe space to make the mistakes and ask the questions that are part of the growth required to become an effective ally.

We understand that outside of the safe space, socially, we aren’t there yet. Most of us want to do the right thing and connect with people who don’t look like us or who are members of another culture, but fear keeps us reluctant or even frozen because the stakes are high and we don’t want to be shamed or judged. We aren’t sure how to connect or what the consequences will be when, not if, we make a mistake. 

The BMC is here to create a space for meeting curious people and the organizations they represent, where they are, without shame or blame. 

The Ally’s Journey recognizes our common experiences and gives us a common language, uniting us, whether it’s men being allies to women, POC, LGBTQ, different abilities. It’s a language available to anyone with the desire to be an ally.

What It’s Going to Take

I’m known to say the work requires a conscious partnership of the head and heart that helps us to be aware of unconscious influences affecting all of us.

It will require us to feel…to acknowledge and honor our emotions instead of them “running us”. A great example is fear…an emotion that many of us, especially men, feel when it comes to the possibility that we might say or do the wrong thing regardless of our best intentions.

It will require our full humanity…to own the discomfort that we are likely to make mistakes..that to err is human…and that healthy shame is ok.

And last of all, it will require courage...a word with a Latin root Cor- meaning to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.

It will require that we GET IN THE GAME. It’s no secret that you can’t win if you don’t play.  Each of us has a part, no matter where we’re starting from. Bring your team and all of the diverse experiences that make you who you are. It takes all kinds of people coming from all kinds of places. We’re here to help you and your organization grow. Join us.

Ray Arata