Yesterday, I spoke out on Twitter about a panel discussion at a religious conference entitled “The Dangers of Social Justice.” I pointed out the problem of having five white men lead a discussion that labels justice as “dangerous” when women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized groups are most likely to benefit from social justice work. Ironically, those voices had zero representation on the panel. What followed left me rattled enough to want to share a bit about it here.
There was a swift, negative response from supporters of this particular doctrine and of the panel itself. Their rebukes quickly devolved into trolling, name-calling and barely-veiled threats. It was enough to bring me to block some of the worst offenders and then mute the conversation entirely. I closed the laptop last evening with more than a bit of a Twitter “hangover” from all the toxicity.
This morning I woke up to find that some of their threats were more than threats. My first email of the day was waiting for me before 5:30am. It was from a client informing me that overnight they received an anonymous email about me and my business. This email, with the subject line “Of Serious Concern,” encouraged my client to cease working with me because I was “abhorrent” and “racist” (as in racist against white people). It is very likely that this anonymous person has sent the same email to others who have not reached out to me. I am thankful that the person who reached out to me knows my reputation enough to take the email for what it is: retaliation for speaking out.
I share this with you for two reasons. First and foremost, it gives me an opportunity to let you know a bit more about me if you don’t already. I will always stand up for the marginalized, for the ones not invited to the table, and for speaking truth to power. I engage in civil discourse, and will not suffer incivility. I will do that in my personal life and in my professional life. That way, whether you are my friend or colleague, neighbor or client you know me as authentically the same. I coach people and organizations that integrity means that our inside values can be seen and heard on the outside. If I cannot live by what I coach, then my own integrity would be lost. We all fall short of that at times, but it is my hope for us all (individually and as larger organizations and communities) that we choose courage over comfort.
The second thing is this: there is a lesson about resilience here. Being resilient does not mean you have to weather abusive behavior. It does not make us tougher to “take it,” nor does it make us a coward to walk away from it. One of the best protective factors that builds our resilience are healthy boundaries. Healthy boundaries help us recognize when our emotional safety is being attacked. As Brene Brown explains, emotional safety doesn’t mean avoiding getting our feelings hurt. It does mean, however, recognizing and escaping from demeaning and dehumanizing language or behaviors. That is true in face-to-face conflict, and it is even more important online where things get uglier more quickly. Walk away, block, mute, disconnect. It is your right to establish the boundaries that are necessary for you. No one can tell you what is or is not important to your resilience. Sometimes it is going toe to toe with someone when you see injustice. Sometimes it is taking a nap on the deck on a warm spring late afternoon. The former was yesterday for me. Today? Today there is a perfect breeze on the deck and it is calling my name.