“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” I have always loved this quote from Maya Angelou, but I’ve recently gained a different understanding and appreciation of it. As I think it has been for many people, the last few months have been an intense period of learning and growth for me. To be honest, however, I did not pursue this learning and growth; actually to be super honest, I probably would have opted out of this learning and growth if given the choice. Yet once I decided to embrace the process of knowing better, doing better was an easy next step for me.
Over the last few months, I have had conversations about what it’s like to be a Black person in my own community. I have been reading and listening and talking and doing a lot of self-inquiry about my own beliefs, behaviors and attitudes around race. Without the murder of George Floyd and the protests following, I don’t think I would have ever learned what I have learned. Because of it, though, I will raise my daughter differently, run my business differently, vote in every single election and conduct myself differently in my day-to-day life.
Over the last few months, I have also experienced what it’s like to lose my business and financial security. I have seen how overwhelming the unemployment process is and how there is a real likelihood that my once -thriving business will not survive this pandemic. Without it happening to me, though, I don’t think I would have ever learned what I have learned. Because of it, I will always shop local, vote in every single election, and treat others with extra compassion and kindness.
See, I’m a good empathetic human being (as I would argue all of you are too). When I see suffering, I want to help – that is a natural response. My most important job then is to pursue learning and to educate myself. It is not enough to say, “well, I didn’t know.” I need to know about issues that don’t directly affect me; I need to ask people how they are doing and really listen to their answer; I need to do the work of self-inquiry on a regular basis – not just during times of crisis. What I have learned is that doing better once knowing better is the easy part – the challenge is to make the effort to know better before education comes knocking at my door.