This article was originally published on PhiladelphiaMFT.com.
Last week we celebrated the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. Dr. King gave his time energy and subsequently his life fighting for equality and civil rights. 48 years after his death, we are still feeling the impact of his love and sacrifice. Unfortunately in 2016 we are still fighting the same battles for equality across the board: race, gender, sexual orientation as well as faith. People like Dr. King are a rarity to come by; however we can all work towards being better allies to humanity and here is a list on how to make a small, but felt difference:
If you decided to become an ally to a group of people that are fighting for equality; one of the biggest things you can do is listen. And listen. And listen some more. Being an ally means you’re understanding that part of the experience of a group of people that go unnoticed is that they want to be heard and validated about their experiences. The first step to validating an experience is to actively listen to them and their hardships; no matter how different they are from your own experiences.
2. Be empathetic
having empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Even though you may never have experienced racism, sexism, or xenophobia; you DO understand the feelings that these experiences can cause others. We all know what it feels like to be humiliated, disliked, and shamed. Tap into those feelings when listening and validating the experiences of others.
3. Be Honest and Ask Questions
One of the best ways to be an ally is to be honest about your own feelings about their experience. Admit when you don’t understand something. Ask questions about how it made them feel. Be honest about never having an experience like that and most importantly ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP. Don’t assume you know what can be done to improve the situation; always ask “what can I do if you want and need help with this.”
4. Stand up in Small Ways
We all won’t be Ghandi or Dr. King but some of the most powerful things we can do is stand up in small ways. Finding the courage to stand up for inequality can be challenging but it gets easier when we start small and build from there. If you see a small injustice (a friend speaking negatively about race or the LGBTQ community for example.) speak up about it. One of the most important things you can do is be an ally in spaces where the people you’re an ally to aren’t welcomed.