Let's Talk About It: Why It's Good To Talk About Difficult Topics
July 1, 2020
It might sound old to say, “These are unprecedented times,” but it is the truth. Much has happened around us since we rang in 2020: the Australian wild fires, the impeachment trial of the President, the death of Kobe Bryant, the UK withdrawing from the EU, the failure of the Iowa Caucuses, a guilty verdict for Harvey Weinstein, Elizabeth Warren dropping out of the Presidential race, COVID-19, the plummeting DOW, Biden becoming the presumptive nominee, suspension of sporting events, the death of George Floyd, the protests, Black Lives Matter, the fall of confederate statues, the Supreme Court rulings protecting LBGTQ+ workplace rights, and the list goes on. This warp speed series of events has left many of us feeling tired, worried, sad, frustrated, disgusted, and hopeful.
This myriad of feelings and emotions do not disappear when we open our computers to start our workday. They do not disappear as we respond to e-mails or sit in Zoom meetings. They do not disappear as we read through reports to discern talking points. These feelings sit with us, hang over us, and dwell within us. We need to talk about them. I feel lucky because in Goodwin's weekly staff meetings, our dean carves out time for us to do just that – talk about it. He encourages us to share our feelings and our stories regarding what is happening around us.
Why is this important?
Some weeks we say less than others. Some of us always have a story to share or a feeling to express, while others listen. Our stories and thoughts are sometimes raw and sometimes funny. And our exchanges often continue outside of our collective meetings. We share news, we share articles to better educate ourselves, we share personal experiences, and this is healthy! It opens a dialogue into tough topics, such as race, white privilege, immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, and sexual harassment.
I am certain, if my colleague and I were polled, we'd share some ideals and political positions, while we'd diverge on others because we come from different backgrounds, regions of the country and our life experiences have been different. We are first generation college graduates. We are the great granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, sons and daughters of military veterans, car salesmen, police officers, teachers and politicians. We are the son of a third-generation Black educator. We are immigrants and the children of immigrants, we were raised by both parents and single parents, and we are parents to young Black men. We carry our experience and it informs every decision we make, and our ability to communicate with one another keeps our minds and our hearts open to listening to the experience of others, which is fundamental to empathy. It is through an empathetic lens that we move forward and can truly hear about another’s life experience. When women and men can talk about what sexual harassment looks and feels like, we begin to reveal the shared female experience. When colleagues who live in Philadelphia talk about their experience protesting, we see beyond what the news reports; and when a white woman can talk with her colleagues about what white privilege looks like, we begin to peel back the many dusty layers of silence and acceptance.
The process of sharing our experiences and our stories helps us grow as human beings. It helps us to be more aware and open to other perspectives and life experiences other than our own. In other words, it helps us step out of our small world into a much larger one with empathy, compassion and curiosity. I would be naïve to think that this type of dialogue is happening everywhere. But, if you have the opportunity to open such a dialogue with your team, please do so. While the process can pull on emotions, the greater benefit is that is stretches us as human beings and we all could benefit from that right now (and always).
Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies