The flashing lights of the cop car were in the rearview mirror, and I felt a wave of fear wash over me. I had absolutely no idea why I was being pulled over. I tried to ground myself by getting a clear picture of the situation: My body was in a rental car in Texas, my heart was in my throat, my stomach was in a knot, and all of a sudden my mind was with one of my clients.
My client was a young black man, barely 18, he was tall and athletic, he had big plans, he was confident, he was calculating, and he had a lot of trouble with the law.
By contrast, I am an adult white woman. I am small next to his towering frame. I am decidedly on a career path, and intuitive in my approach. As I sat in that unfamiliar car in that unfamiliar city, feeling the unfamiliar anxiety of wondering what that policeman was going to tell me I had done wrong, I thought of my young client and realized: Oh, this not at all unfamiliar to him. This terrible, uncomfortable, uncertain fear is probably very familiar to this person I cared about and was invested in.
I ended up driving away with a warning for speeding in a school zone, and more importantly with a reminder of why it’s important to acknowledge difference with my clients. Those few moments of uncertainty and fear gave me insight into his daily experience that changed the course of our work together.
The differences between me and client were stark and easy to point to: beyond our race and ages, we had different rules to for life. But difference is always there, no matter how much alike two people may seem. It can be easy and comforting to identify similarities and think “oh I know, I know, I know” but when we do that we miss so much! So in session, I try to ask my clients about difference. “What is that like?” “Can you tell me more about the impact of that experience?” “I want to understand, can you teach me?” “How does it feel to talk to me, a [insert difference here], about this?” Even when I feel certain that I can anticipate the answer I am often surprised, and I always learn something.
How can you get curious and open about difference today? What might you learn?
If you want to talk more about difference, contact Marion at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-430-2405.