“Inclusion, Unity, and Loving Better” – Sensitive Conversations on Topics Like Race

Sister Tracy Y. Browning, 2nd Counselor in the Primary General Presidency

Latter-day Saint Women Podcast

Question posed to Sister Browning: “I’ve had lots of friends lately just talk to me about how hurt they are by even family members that have different opinions and it’s so sad. It’s been heartbreaking for them, you know, just around several different issues. I just wanted to know from your perspective and experience how can we give each other grace in this world that we’re living in where people have such different opinions that cause this contention even with our families.”

Answer from Sister Browning: 

“I want to acknowledge the conversations that are happening in the homes and then in online spaces or wherever these conversations are happening. They’re important but we want to acknowledge that they can be difficult and that’s OK. It’s OK for them to be difficult because we’re talking about things that maybe we haven’t normally talked about and we don’t have a lot of experience talking about. We want to make sure our expectations around the outcomes of these conversations are realistic. I say that so that we can kind of continue to have those conversations. Sometimes if we have an expectation that is unrealistic for how we’re gonna approach having sensitive conversations on topics like race, and civil unrest, and police brutality, and a lot of these things, if they don’t go the way that we expect them we tend to shut down and we wanna avoid having that conversation more. But really now is the time for us to start the listening exercise, and the questions, asking of questions, rather than polarizing ourselves within our own opinions immediately. Let’s do the work to understand. You know that saying that says, “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.”? We want to start with that work and we can do that in our families. In families we love each other and we want to understand each other and we want to be unified. That does not mean that everyone has to have the same opinion all the time. That’s not necessarily what unity requires. Differences can exist among people that are unified. We always are looking and reaching for those higher principles that we have in common rather than tactical solutions to things. Making the tactical solutions to the problem is the area that divides us. 

…Remember, the objective here is not to stay in the same position. It’s always to become more, to become better, to become different. We’re on a path of becoming and in order to become, we have to have grace extended to us. That happens in these areas where we start in one place not knowing a lot and we’re trying to get to another place where we know a little bit more and we’re trying to figure out what we can do with what we’ve learned and how we can actually act on what we’ve learned. We need grace in order to figure this out. It’s not something that’s always going to be spontaneous about our own effort, others will help us in that refining process, so we have to be willing to accept grace and we have to be willing to extend it, especially in families. As we offer grace to people that we love in a family setting and we help to really extend a hand that brings them to a place of them becoming better than wherever they were, that’s an important principle. As we look to God to also help elevate us and to bring us up so that we can be better because we know there’s only so much that we can do and we look for outside help. Help that is divine and help that is from people who love us and understand us.

…When I talk about grace in these situations where we’re having these tough conversations I probably wanna underscore that we all should recognize that these are sensitive topics and it is important for us to maybe start out by saying, “Hey, I want you to know that I acknowledged that these topics are sensitive and that I don’t understand everything because maybe of my background, and because I don’t have access to a lot of information that helps me to put some of the stuff in context. But know that if I ask a question, if I say it imperfectly, it isn’t because I’m trying to be offensive. I’m not trying to be divisive or hurtful. I’m trying to learn, so can I ask for that forgiveness in advance. Know that there isn’t anything intentional in this conversation that I’m trying to do to divide us. I’m actually trying to get closer to you or trying to get closer in my understanding, but I don’t know, I don’t have all the words yet. I’m trying to understand how to get those words.” As a person who is receiving that and who’s being asked to extend the grace from a person who is asking for it, we ought to remember that that is such a beautiful thing for someone to tell us outright that they’re not trying to hurt. That allows us to really go, “Yeah, that means that when you say something that may not necessarily align with your intention that I am willing to offer loving and gentle correction. It’s not something that is going to feel harsh, but it’s going to help you in that process of becoming whatever that becoming is, the connection that you’re seeking with me or your understanding of the topic, or I’m going to be safe with what I share with you. I know that if I’m vulnerable and I share experiences with you because you started out by kind of acknowledging that we want this to be a safe conversation, I’m gonna be vulnerable and I’m gonna share some things with you and trust that you’re gonna hold those things in safety and we can move forward and understanding.” ”