In the past, I have often thought I was a powerful force to be reckoned with when it came to defending myself and others against unfairness and inequality. More often than not my intense emotions may have overpowered my ability to respond calmly or respectfully; thus, my actions have not always aligned with my values.
You see, my parents and grandparents taught me to practice respect for myself and for others even in times of conflict.
My father, especially, instilled a great sense of pride in who we were as First Nations people and the rich history that had shaped our lives while reminding me to remain grounded in respect for our place among all others.
He encouraged me to practice the many Saulteaux customs and traditions, but I never felt forced. He taught me to respect what others hold a deep reverence for, so long as they are not harming others. And that I must not encroach upon those whose cultural practices, and spiritual and religious choices differed from mine.
I was guided with a strong emphasis on searching out and discovering my own true identity -- while carefully considering our historical foundations.
Despite those lessons and trying to achieve a balance between being proud and humble, I have reacted -- sometimes not so fairly -- against asinine attempts to belittle people through stereotyping, racism, and just plain bullying: whether it was directed at Aboriginal people or Non-Aboriginal people.
I have a very strong sense of pride and love for people and causes. Witnessing attacks against what I hold dear has a way of waking up fierceness within me. That fierceness has often led me to overstep boundaries.
Of course, there are much better ways to protect what I value than to react angrily to those who spew racist rants, unfair labels, and other words spoken with the intent to harm an individual or group of people. There are more than enough people whose lips have been scarred by hateful and intolerant words meant to cloak individuals together in shame. Why should I become one of them?
That is not to say I cannot and should not stand up for myself or others, but if I am firmly rooted in my identity and I practice responding in kindness then I am able to respond with respect for myself and for others. How can someone diminish who I am with words? They cannot.
It is important to discover our true identity ‚Äď whatever that may be for each individual ‚Äď and to let it take root. When that is firmly established, no acts of racism, bigotry, or bullying should convince us to believe we are not worthy of respect, love, and kindness.
My identity is a source of strength and great pride for me but I try to never look down on others. I have faltered along the way when it comes to aligning my actions with my values and I have had to remind myself of what is important and to respond with consideration. This has uncovered surprising opportunities of relating to others and learning from them.
Being prepared to extend kindness and respect in conflict and knowing who we are helps us to recognize our similarities amongst each other rather than our differences, promoting harmony and tolerance rather than retaliation and disrespect.
It‚Äôs never too late to learn how to become kinder and more respectful. All things improve with practice. And who better to practice on than yourself?
Lori Q. McGavin is a Saskatoon freelance writer. Her column appears every fourth Friday in rotation with Jessica Iron Joseph, Sharon Thomas and Kevin Joseph. firstname.lastname@example.org