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  • Writer's pictureIlsa Govan

No Fixing: Norms for Engaging in Courageous Conversations


No Fixing is an important norm for engaging in courageous conversations and anti-racist activism. I’ve found this easiest to explain with a metaphorical story.

A few months ago I was riding my bike home from work when I was hit by a car. I was going straight and I saw the driver at an upcoming intersection look left, directly past me, then pull out into the intersection to make a right hand turn. Luckily she was moving slowly, as I was right in front of her (in the bike lane, btw) when she drove into the intersection. She knocked me over, causing a bit of damage to the bike, but mostly just scaring both of us.

When she got out of the car, the first thing she said was along the lines of, “Oh, I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you!” She was crying while asking if I was okay.

At that point, I felt the need to comfort her, tell her it was alright, that I was doing fine. Physically, I was. Mentally, I was really shook up, as this also brought back the time I was nearly killed in another car/bike collision where the driver didn’t see me. So, while reassuring her, I was simultaneously processing my past trauma.

What does this have to do with cultural competence? When people who are well-intentioned perpetuate racism unconsciously, they often respond with, “That’s not what I meant”. Thus, the attention gets focused on helping them feel better, or Fixing, rather than on the injury they caused.

Whether someone literally or figuratively “doesn’t see you” doesn’t change the fact that they knocked you down. I know that you didn’t see me, didn’t even consider that I might be sharing the road with you. However, what I want to know is are you truly sorry for what you did? And not just are you sorry, but will this experience change your behavior?

When we immediately jump to comforting or fixing the pain of causing harm to others, we sometimes overlook who really needs to be supported in this situation. That is not to say that causing a collision doesn’t involve it’s own form of trauma, I’ve certainly been devastated by unintentionally hurting people, but let’s take the time to feel that pain.

From there we can see why this happened and what we can do differently in the future. The driver who hit me paid for my bike repairs and sent a card saying she was much more conscious of cyclists now. Maybe others can learn from this experience as well, so we don’t all have to knock someone down in order to increase our consciousness. But if and when we do, we can focus on the impact, not the intent.

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