Any connection to the media recently likely led you to two events that burn in the current social conscience. One of those is a slow burn, while the other is a flash-point. The slow burn refers to COVID-19, a biological virus that has impacted us all, directly or indirectly. The flash-point occurred on the evening of Monday, May 25, 2020 when a black man named George Floyd was killed by a white male police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As of this writing, that police officer is charged with second-degree murder, and the three other police officers who were present at the time also have been charged with aiding and abetting that murder.
George Floyd’s death was a flashpoint that led to many rallies and protests that are now into their fourth week. Calls are being made—loudly—to put an end to forms of racism and discrimination that have been woven into the fabric of our society for generations. These calls are being heard not only throughout the United States, but also in Canada and the rest of the world, as people are speaking up for what they want and, more importantly, what they need.
On the topic of needs, there are undeniable realities to what we all need. We all need food, sleep, water, and air. It doesn’t stop there.
To live happier lives, once we are nourished, rested, and breathing, we also need to feel safe and secure. From there, according to one model, we need to feel a sense of love and belonging. Once those needs are met, we then work on our own self-image, self-worth, and self-esteem. From there, with all of those things in place, we continue to thoughtfully develop the best versions of ourselves that we can.
One therapeutic approach to achieve the best version of ourselves is known as Self-Determination Theory, and it consists of three things: autonomy, agency and connection. Autonomy refers to people’s ability and need to decide where to go and how to get there. Agency refers to people’s ability to act on that sense of autonomy. If I am being an active agent in my own life, then I am using my own voice to speak for my feelings, my needs, and even extending that to speak for others who have difficulty speaking for themselves, or who cannot do so. Connection refers to that sense of belonging that we all need if we are to have a meaningful context wherein we can be autonomous and flex our agency.
Whether you are a child, teenager, or adult, whatever the colour of your skin, whether you identify as male or female or remain fluid in your gender identity, whether you are a millionaire or struggling to pay your bills, wherever in the world you were born, and wherever your life’s experiences have brought you so far, we all need a sense of autonomy, agency, and connection in our lives. These things are no less negotiable than the need to eat or breathe. To talk of autonomy is to focus that ability on self and to be mindful of how we show up in society. We can make the space for difficult conversations that look both at skin colour and beyond it to the empowerment of individuals and groups in society who have not enjoyed the privileges that others may be very familiar with. In this context, ‘empowerment’ should really be read as supporting and enabling autonomy to achieve greater belonging and a more accepting society for all.
There is no magic wand to make things better. There is time, and what we do with that time. We can sit together, listen, and even say, “I am here with you. I am listening.” We can say these things out of deep compassion for both self and other. We can say, “I see you as an equal, fallible as I am, and capable of goodness as I am.”
Every human being deserves dignity, respect, empathy, compassion, autonomy, agency, and connection. These happen with courageous conversations where we are willing to listen and be present, even at difficult or uncomfortable times. On a social level, people are making it clear that change is needed and that voices that have been silenced or ignored will be heard. Being heard and changing what doesn’t work are two things that people may struggle with on individual levels too. If you are struggling with these two events that continue to burn in our social conscience, it is okay to seek help, as these are challenging times and challenging events to navigate.