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Love Letters

What changes people?

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Written by Kelly Diels

before we get started, here’s what I’ve got going on for you at www.kellydiels.com:

ok, onward


Hello,

Once upon a time, in the cultural nadir that was 2016, I had a massive argument with a woman I loved. She’d been one of my dearest friends for most of my young adult life. A mutual school friend of ours — let’s pretend his name is Jeff because it is — had posted a racist meme; I’d pushed back at him. To add personal insult to collective injury, the meme looked a lot like me and my family: a white woman pregnant, surrounded by her little black kids.

And yet my friend kept liking and merrily commenting on Jeff’s other statuses and photos.

We got on the phone. I was angry with her and disappointed in her and told her so. I told her she was enabling racism. She cried. She told me I was too angry, too political, etc etc.

My heart wizened — now that I knew that racism wasn’t a deal-breaker for her, she could no longer disappoint me — but I didn’t unfriend her.

***

A similar story with a close family member. She publicly freaked out on my timeline and then tried to discipline me behind the scenes for posting Black Lives Matter content.

I had several fractious phone calls and conversations with her and family gatherings got really awkward but I didn’t unfriend her.

***

I hoped, by staying in contact and not unfriending them, that my values would combine with the values and output of other people in their lives, and influence them in some small way.

So I stayed connected, and I did NOT do what they’d demanded of me. I didn’t stop posting feminist, anti-racist content. I kept sharing. I even doubled-down and shared and created MORE.

***

Now, it seems that their views have changed. Now both of them are outraged and posting anti-Trump, anti-racist content.

It’s not because of me. I tried to intervene with both of them and failed, miserably.

They’ve changed because over the last three years, many many MANY people around them were posting material similar to mine, underlining norms, and making their values clear. I was just the first to intervene and have a direct conversation.

I didn’t change anything; but together, with the people who were also piping up, we changed the context around them — and that changed them.

A changed context changes people.

***

I was talking to someone last week about prepping myself for a conversation with the guy who does the landscaping for my neighbours. I just realized, when his son came to help him, that his son is the kid who called my daughter the n-word.

The person I was talking to thought I should drop it; the school’s already talked to the parents and he’s been disciplined; and besides, the conversation probably wouldn’t change anything.

I said, “90% of my conversations with white people about racism fail. No one ever sees the light in one conversation and it’s still important that I have those conversations, anyway.”

I look at those conversations like planting seeds. They’re not going to flower right away. (And also the soil is going to fight me and infuriate me and tell me I’m too angry.)

But when my efforts are backed up by lots of other people in their spheres, expressing similar values, then something important happens: the culture around someone changes, and that in turn changes them.

A changed context changes people.

As one person, I don’t really have that much impact. But the proliferation of anti-racist, pro-justice viewpoints around them, across time, DOES have an impact.

This is why I’m always saying we are the culture makers. It’s the we that’s critical. WE change the culture.

I know that alone, I usually can’t change someone’s views. I fail at it all the time. I never expect to ‘win’ those conversations.

As an I, I’m pretty ineffectual. But I know that WE can change the context and the culture around people, and that, like dominoes, is what causes them to change.

Let’s change the norms and the culture around us. That, across time, will change many of the people who were otherwise resistant.

In other words: keep lifting your voice, keep posting, keep having challenging conversations you expect to lose, and we will too — and the sum of all our voices and the norms we’re establishing & underlining creates a new context.

You don’t have to win. I don’t have to win. 1:1, we will probably do a LOT of losing. But all of our voices, together, becomes a chorus…and we’ll be surprised at who eventually starts singing along.

A changed context changes people.

So all those political posts you share, all the infuriating people you didn’t unfriend, and all those failed conversations? We’re doing it too, and together we ARE changing the context.

Let’s keep context-shifting. Let’s keep culture making. The future we’re dreaming of depends on us MAKING IT.

And we are.

together we rise,

Kelly

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Don’t (Just) Unfriend Them

Every week, I send you a

Sunday Love Letter

I write them so that…

  1. You remember your culture-making power
  2. You have the inspiration + tools you need to grow a business that generates money AND justice

Let’s create a future in which we all flourish.

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