The United Church of Christ’s New York Conference requires all its pastors to complete anti-racism training, part of the Conference’s push to weed out unconscious bias and help pastors and congregations become truly welcoming to all God’s children.
When I took this training, one of the things we learned about was the idea of microaggressions – seemingly innocuous or slight intrusions on the dignity or personhood of persons of color. One example (and this didn’t seem especially micro to me!) is someone in conversation with a person of Native American descent, asking that person, “Oh, did you grow up in a tepee?” Hard to believe anyone is that obtuse or that unconsciously offensive, but apparently it happens!
So microaggressions are worth watching out for. But there’s a corollary phenomenon that’s worth embracing: micro-affirmations. These are habits of interaction that affirm the person in front of you: an open and listening affect, a genuine interest in the person’s life, eye contact, not interrupting, making sure the person is included in whatever conversation is happening. Tone of voice can carry huge weight. One way to hugely influence another person’s life is to discern and speak out loud a quality or talent that he or she has: “You always know just the right thing to say in a time of sorrow,” for example.
All of this might just be a fancy repackaging of basic human decency. But in a society that many of us recognize as coarser and less communitarian than it used to be, it’s the kind of thing that can move the mountain an inch at a time. Be the change you want to see in the world! Do it up small, but make it a habit, and see what results.