As a mother of a preschool aged son, I have been reflecting on what values I most want to instill in our family ethic. What were the seminal values of my own upbringing? Respect for authority, helping wherever possible, neighborliness, frugality, work before play. These were the expectations in my New England-based family, and thankfully I mostly agree with them, because they are deeply ingrained in who I am and how I live today. I couldn’t completely eschew them if I tried.
The Golden Rule is one of those values. Of course we should treat others the way we’d want to be treated, right? To me, this was axiomatic—until recently, when the PNA encouraged me to attend a workshop about leading in a multicultural organization. My attendance, along with two coworkers, was part of my work with the PNA Cultural Engagement Workgroup, focused on social justice and equity issues in our community. The training was led by two fabulous presenters from Cultures Connecting, which provides professional development to help organizations enter into conversations about race, culture, and social justice. The facilitators challenged us to consider that to respectfully connect with people from cultures other than our own, we need to take the Golden Rule and make it even better. Instead, they said, we should consider trying to do unto others as they would have done unto them! I later learned that the business management sector has named this concept the Platinum Rule.
It’s important to me that my son learn to feel empathy for others. We talk a lot about feelings, and I’m helping him learn to name his own and others’. Often I have asked, after he yanks my carefully folded laundry and tosses it onto the floor (or some such destructive act), “How do you think you would feel if someone took apart your train set and threw it all over the floor (or some such analogy)?” I’m honestly not sure if this is even a legitimate parenting technique. But now I wonder, does this feedback miss the point entirely? Does this help him imagine how I am feeling? And more importantly, am I taking the opportunity to imagine how he is feeling? Separated in our different stages of life and brain development, we will never really know. But the journey is in trying to imagine.
Putting myself in other people’s shoes at home, at work as Volunteer Coordinator, and in the greater community involves carefully listening to their words and paying close attention to their body language. It also requires a level of understanding of the ingrained cultural values they might hold and the family history in the background—and how they may differ from my own cultural values and history. I realize that I still have a lot to learn about the diverse cultures of the people I live and work alongside in Seattle and the community we build at the PNA. The more I can learn about our community’s multicultural history and the ethics different groups tend to impart on their children, the more empathy and respect I can hope to share. My son at age 3 is wired to observe with exquisite sensitivity the reactions that follow after his every attempt to communicate with someone (these are not always as vexing as knocking the laundry on the floor). Can I as an adult, well marinated in white, middle-class, Puritan-based, college-educated culture, be so attentive and learn so astutely from my interactions with others?
I’m proud to be part of an organization that openly seeks to be inclusive and welcoming to people from all backgrounds. The Cultural Engagement Workgroup regularly hosts events featuring works such as Seattle in Black and White, Put This on the Map, and Looking Like the Enemy. These books, films, and discussions have expanded my awareness of how others in my community may view themselves and why they may hold different values than my own. Each event brings people together to exchange perspectives openly and honestly and leaves me feeling better equipped to try to treat others the way they may wish to be treated.
Many people are fearful of conversations about diversity, race, power, and inequality. Beyond the jargon of politically correct or taboo phrases, the fear of insulting someone or being judged, and the specter of deeply rooted social inequities, the heart of this work for me is learning and deep empathy. If I expect my son to respect all people equally, I have a lifelong journey of learning the Platinum Rule along with him.
If you’re interested in the work we are doing to be more culturally competent and inclusive, we welcome your input or resources. Please comment here, visit our webpage, or contact the Cultural Engagement Workgroup chair.
Ali Saperstein, PNA Volunteer Coordinator