Disclaimer: The following views are based on my personal experience, and do not reflect the experiences or observations of those who were present at the Servant Leadership Dinner at Agnes Scott.
On February 15, 2017, The Lowery Institute Change Agents were invited to Agnes Scott College to expand their knowledge on diversity and inclusion. First, we had to come up with a list of 5 things that each person at our table had in common. Initially, I thought it would be straight forward. However, as we discussed our individual characteristics and upbringings, I realized that I subconsciously convinced myself that, when someone looks like me, we have enough in common to be open with them about my life, my experiences, and my opinions because, surely they will understand and agree with me. Wrong! Every single person’s life experiences are different. As a people we must learn to take time to get to know individuals, especially if we want to grow and work within the community long-term. While I am not an advocate for those who are easily offended; to make blanket statements, assume that the audience has a clear understanding of my perspective, and they will not respond from their own, possibly different perspective, is socially irresponsible. Yet, people do it all of the time. From this exercise I learned to assume less, listen more, ask more questions, ask for clarification, repeat messages, process, remember context and culture, and then come to helpful and progressive conclusions, if necessary.
Second, there was an exercise in knowing our comfort zones. Basically, we had to walk towards signs that either made us feel like the world may have been misinterpreting us, judging us, or making us feel uncomfortable for whatever reason. This exercise was the most effective for me because it gave me the opportunity to express my frustration with people’s assumptions about my life. People often assume that I am always happy because my life is perfect. This assumption causes a lot of people to treat me poorly. The truth is, I choose to be happy every single day. I fight to stay happy, and to block out things that do not benefit my physical, emotional, or spiritual well-being. Also, people assume that because I am a Christian, I should live my life a certain way. Based on this assumption, people judge my life when they feel like they are seeing how I live. The assumption that all Christians live the same has caused me to distance myself from most religious practices, and exercise my spiritual relationship with a God that cannot be reduced to 66 chapters. By doing this, I have been the happiest I have ever been. I refuse to allow others assumptions about me make me feel bad about my happiness, shape my life, or how I see the world.
Finally, there was an exercise of reflection and courage. We were asked to step on, and cross over a line if we identified with a certain thought process or conduct. Some of the concepts presented forced me to question whether or not I was proud of the life I have lived thus far, and what should I do to make better decisions in the future, if my past decisions did not yield the return I wanted. I was also forced to face my insecurities, and stand on things that, while I did not feel bad about, I did not have the confidence to openly stand for. This exercise taught me to live in my truth. No one else has to agree with my life, nor should anyone’s opinion shape how I conduct my personal endeavors. So long as I am abiding by the law and my conduct is done with the intent to make me happy and not harm anyone else, I, and others should, live life for us. As the saying goes, do what makes YOU happy.
In closing, the February servant leadership dinner provided me an opportunity to reflect, renew my confidence, and be proud of the woman that I am today.
Thank you for taking the time to read, “February Servant Leadership Dinner Reflection” by Sharece Naomi Thomas. If you enjoyed this article or it has moved you in any way, please consider supporting the Joseph and Evelyn Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights at www.loweryinstitute.org. Let us be the change!