Lately I read a lot of articles about racism, sexism and other situations where there is a privileged group of people and a group of people that don’t have that privilege. And the latter speaking up for themselves. This is a very prominent issue in the world currently and I think it is good that the darkness that is present in our societies, is put into the spotlight, in order to see what is going on. As a developer I am very aware of the issues around diversity in the tech world and I intend to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. I am a white, well educated woman in tech, and as such fall into the categories of as well privileged as underrepresented people.
I have no personal stories of discrimination or sexism being a woman in tech. As such I consider myself fortunate. However, I do have my own story of abuse: I have been bullied a lot as a young child and teen. And I think that having experienced that and having learned from that has given me some insight.
I notice in some articles about discrimination that feelings of guilt come up. Guilt about not having been aware of things. Guilt of not having said or done the right things. Actually guilt of being on the level of awareness and consciousness that I currently am. These feelings cause a closing of the heart, while I actually aim to open my heart. How can we, when we experience these feelings of guilt, keep listening with an open mind and an open heart?
I think it is important, when we consider ourselves to be ‘good people’, that that doesn’t mean we have to be perfect. Or that all of a sudden we become bad people when we discover that we too have ignorance, discrimination and cruelty inside. As a matter of fact, I think many of the things we disapprove of in other people, are present in ourselves as well. We just fear our own darkness so much, that we never dare to look at it. I think it is an important prerequisite for compassionate listening, that we first learn to forgive ourselves for our own part in the problem. And that we approach the conversation with an honest intention to grow and open our minds. This is a process of learning that can be really rewarding.
Having been bullied I might have had some similar experiences as people that are on the receiving end of sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism etc. today. I was not accepted for who I was, and me being different was somehow a trigger for some people to project all their frustration on me. It was really not fun or easy being in that situation, and I don’t think it could have been expected of me to respond to this in a wise and mature way, considering the fear I experienced at that time, and my young age. At the same time, the kids that bullied me, were unaware of their own feelings of frustration and of the group dynamics that were going on and that led to their behavior. I think that the behavior of many adults is caused by similar unconscious processes. Feeling crap and taking it out on other people. Or, more subtly, feeling burdened, tired, unhappy, unfulfilled and not having the energy or the awareness to consider the needs of other people.
I’m not saying this to condone discrimination, cruelty or indifference. However I always seek connection rather than separation. When I recognize that I too close my heart and fail to take care of other people when struggling with life, I can speak up for myself without blaming and making the other person a bad person. I can be firm and assertive, without pushing the other away. When I forgive myself for the racism, sexism, and other separating thoughts that I too have, I can stay open and listen to other people’s pain and blaming behaviour with compassion and understanding. And when I fail to stay open and take in the blame and experience the guilt, or when I feel victimized myself and feel anger and the need to blame, I intend to first take care of my own pain. Mindfulness helps me to stay aware of my feelings, which will hopefully give me the power to respond with more wisdom instead of reacting unconsciously.
I realize that I am on a learning journey. There is much that I’m unaware of, and the insights that I now have, will likely change along the way. They will mature and evolve as I learn more. I intend to give myself this learning space, because I know that it is very likely that I will say or do something that will make me the one who is the oppressor at a certain moment. It is impossible to be perfect, it is possible however to be willing to grow.
I also realize that in this blog post, I discussed just a small element of the problem of inequality and discrimination, in tech and outside of tech. There are so many facets, so many viewpoints, books can be written about it. So there will certainly be more blog posts in the future that will focus on different aspects of these issues and how that relates to mindfulness and the life of developers. Stay tuned.