Years ago, I remember reading the report of an assessment we did of access to phones in households. It was a combination of an ‘ah ha’ moment and an ‘oh sh**t’ moment. There, laid out in front of me in all its data glory, was the reality of how gendered access to devices was in the households we seek to serve. Access was first for the men, then boys, then women, then girls. Unfortunately we didn’t look at compounding issues like disability.
But this was a moment of clarity and learning for me. And it led to redesigning aspects of our interventions. But also I was embarrassed, ashamed, and regretful. It was so obvious so why didn’t I think about this long before. How had I missed this perspective for so long?
One of the by-products of learning and change can be regret and shame for past behaviour. We often don’t talk about this but it rattles around in many people’s psyche. It can happen as we gain a new insight (as above) but it can also happen in change. When we frame change as the new being ‘good’ and the old way being ‘bad’, ‘backward’, ‘wrong’ we set people up for the shame gremlins running wild. Especially people who have connected their identity to the ‘old way’. Needless to say, this is unhelpful as people in shame tend to crumple or lash out in anger. Neither helps in a change process.
However, there are situations when we realise our privilege, our classism, our racism, our bias, our sexism, and so on, when shame and regret are appropriate and we need to ask for forgiveness. There is immense power in being able to say, ‘I was wrong and I’m sorry.’ And there is power in understand that our technology, our data is full of bias with perspectives of those in power baked in. It is not the poor who write the code for our software, it is the privileged rich.
Change is fraught with emotion. Therefore when we seek to bring about change in the world and in our organisations, we need to expect it. And we need to carry with us buckets full of grace and empathy.