Saturday, September 24, 2016

Privilege - A New Perspective

Privilege is a word that seems to raise quite a bit of defensiveness and is wielded as almost a weapon. Yet it is something many struggle to understand; particularly those who experience it.

To be clear, people have no more control over whether they are born into a group of privilege then they do of being born in a target group.

The trick is, however, it’s much harder to see, feel, or understand from inside privilege. 

I am of white-passing privilege. I understand my white privilege from a unique perspective that you can read more about here.

As a result of that experience, I have thought A LOT about that experience and my responsibility as a person who experiences white privilege.

I have come to understand privilege as a lack of contrast

Let me give you a very visual explanation of what I mean.

It is as if we are all born with a blue sheet of paper. This is our birthright – pure potential, unadulterated by social conditioning, constructs, or their prejudice and discrimination. 

The more blue, the more there is an experience of easy access, ample opportunity, inherent safety, and a general positive life experience. Who you are, what your name is, how you look, how you talk, how you walk, who you love, how you define the World...  All of these things are accepted as typical when all of those things reside in the blue.

As life unfolds, however, certain contrasts arise. They come in the form of differences, things that stand out from what is accepted as "normal." They become oppressions - things that limit access to pure potential.

These differences begin to compromise the blue sheet; create a different appearance, a different experience. The blue sheet doesn't change, mind you. The differences are overlays. The blue sheet remains intact behind the differences.

Perhaps you were born into our country as a person of color.

Where's the blue now? It is still behind that yellow triangle. But what happened to the experience of that yellow? What happened to the privilege?

It got smaller. Being born a person of color in our country removes privilege; the experience changes that corner from one of blue to one of yellow. It is now different. It is changed in appearance and experience.

Those who aren't of color don't notice. Their privlege isn't impacted. Their blue sheet still looks like this.

They have no experience of the yellow. White people don't feel it, can't see the yellow contrast. White people are literally, in this example, colored blind to that yellow.

Consider a person born into poverty.

Again, the blue is reduced; the privilege is compromised.

What happens if you experience both; you arrive as a person of color who experiences poverty.

Pretty intense, right? There's even less blue, even less privilege.

Now consider many of the other target classes.

Maybe you’re a woman or identify as something other than male.

Or are non-Christian.


Do you see how the access to the blue has changed? How it has grown smaller?  The access to privilege has decreased.

But the blue sheet is unchanged. It's sitting behind all the yellow, orange, red and green. Because it is behind it all, experiencing none of the color, it remains clueless! It's not unlike standing behind speakers - you can't hear what's being projected.

Remember, that blue sheet is privilege. And now it is smaller! And it got smaller by adding more and more colors, more and more contrast, more and more difference, more and more diversity!

Imagine if the things within our culture that are identified as “less than," those people who experience oppression, were all in one person’s experience; those things based on age, ability, appearance, birth status, family of origin, first language, continent of citizenship…
It could look like this.

 Or this. 

Where is the blue now?

Remember, it's still there. Privilege doesn't go away. It's just that not all people have access to it.

And those who have access to more (or all) don't even notice. They can't. They are color-blind. They have to actively walk in front of the picture to see it; they have to engage with those who experience the differences.

When they do, they need to remember they are blind to the contrast. They need to stand ready to hear, even when it's hard. We must do it without discounting the experience; without trying to understand it through the blue sheet.

Because we can't.

We are blind to the experience of oppressions we do not ourselves experience.

Ironically, if the diversity of all these differences were embraced, it would look more like this:

This represents the integration of diversity, equal access and recognition - from the blue across the spectrum.

Give you something to think about? I hope so.

Privilege as contrast.

No shame.

No blame.

But certainly responsibility......        I will leave that for another day, however.

Look forward to your thoughts.

With Respect,
Leah R. Kyaio

Monday, September 5, 2016

Outside the Box Definitions – Cultural Competence

One of those buzz words: cultural competence. Google search shows over 10 million results. 

Ten. Million.

Quite the buzz word!

But what is it; what IS cultural competence.

Historically, as a diversity trainer, I have come to understand cultural competence as the skills and tools needed to successfully interact with cultures not my own. It requires an awareness of my own culture and how others might differ. Skills that seem to be related include: 
  • Communication 
  • Conflict  
  • Leadership

The recommendations for how to make oneself more culturally competent include things like: 
  • Learn about yourself. 
  • Learn about other cultures. 
  • Take opportunities to engage with diverse groups.

It has often been a checklist; a series of boxes checked as skills are “taught,” usually in drive-by professional development.

However, many of those skills are framed within the idea of “understanding” or behavior. There doesn't seem to be a universal measurement of that understanding, however.

Yes, there are standards of cultural competence that have been developed by many industries. Their measurement is determined almost exclusively by behavior. 

Consider how one might measure the following mandates for individuals and organizations (from the National Center for Cultural Competence):

  1. value diversity and similarities among all peoples;
  2. understand and effectively respond to cultural differences;
  3. engage in cultural self-assessment at the individual and organizational levels;
  4. make adaptations to the delivery of services and enabling supports; and
  5. institutionalize cultural knowledge.
Most of the skills defined by those standards are considered “soft skills.” Soft skills are those skills identified as people skills, social skills, or interpersonal skills. In industries where soft skills are key – social work and education, for example – it makes sense that these values would be important.

What is fascinating, then, is that when money gets tight, cultural competency programs are one of the first things cut. More on that in a later post!

Cultural competence: the skills of knowing the culture of oneself, the culture of others, and being able to successfully interact with others utilizing people skills. This would make one Culturally Competent.

When we look at the definition of competent we find it means “adequate, not exceptional.”

What we are really looking for, then, is cultural adequacy. 


Leads to another interesting question.

Cultural Adequacy. Is it enough?

What do you think?

With Respect,

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What I'm doing so Stanford and Orlando never happen again. Join me?

In the quest of why, we blame. 

Religious fanaticism, guns, the victims, the system, each other.... the list goes on. Whether we are talking about the Stanford Rapist or the Orlando Massacre, the focus is wholly on who is to blame.

We gather our pitchforks and torches and want justice to prevail! Someone is to blame!! We have to do something so it never happens again!!

Mostly, we cast that blame to others.

What if I told you that YOU are to blame; that I am to blame?

We ARE to blame for the Stanford Rapist. We ARE to blame for the Orlando Massacre.

Not because I'm this color or that, 

           this religion or another, 
                       that shade of gender or sexuality or this one....

I am to blame because I am contributing to the cause.

It's true. 

Even in the aftermath we are priming the pump for the next tragedy, the next horror that sweeps the media and puts images in our heads that only belong in nightmares and bad movies.

                     Every time I walk away from a situation where I 

                     had a chance to stand up -
  • racist humor
  • religious targeting
  • homophobic comments
  • sexist harassment
  • bullying
  • name calling.
                     Every time I engage in
  • racist humor
  • religious targeting
  • homophobic comments
  • sexist harassment
  • bullying
  • name calling

Yeah, maybe it's just on FB - a "like" of this sexist comment (but it was FUNNY), a share of that name-calling post (it's true, you know he really is a...), a homophobic status that I rant against (yes, even that continues the harmful rhetoric, calls attention to it).

Every time I participate or let it slide,
        I am priming the pump, letting the river of hate and pain 

        go unfettered.

What's interesting is I have the power to change it.   

      So do you.

                  No, really - hear me out.

I have the power of change in every day life, in every day situations. It's pretty simple really, all I have to do is:

               BE RESPECTFUL - ALL THE TIME: 

                          WORDS & ACTIONS.

See, I don't have control over anyone else; not the government and gun control, not the mental health system, or how other people think. 

 I DO, however, have control over ME. I am not powerless.

I can respect myself - no self degradation, no harsh judgement of me, and clear boundaries that require others respect me, as well.

Respect others - no judgement of choices in clothing, food, politics, religion....
       Yes, even those on FB with  whom  I don't agree.

Respect the World - taking care of my planet, my community, my things.

        That means I don't name call, I don't insult, I don't bully 

        or intimidate.  

            I don't force my opinions and perspectives on others, 
            demanding it is the only way.

I don't support others who do those things either.

  • I use my words to speak my truth without judgement or blame.
  • I accept that the diversity I see around me is a gift.
  • I understand that everyone has a right to their perspective - and I could learn a lot from those perspectives that are different than mine (even the "extremists") without being threatened by them.


  • I do hold people accountable in ways that can be heard.
  • I do stop my own habits that lead to blame, judgement, and hatred of others.
  • I also then call those habits out when I see it in my circle of people; my friends, family, and community.
  • And ask them to call me out, to hold me accountable.

If EVERY ONE of us did that


We'd change the  World.

And all I changed was ME.

Join me? It's simple really:

Respect myself
Respect others
Respect the World

With Respect,

Leah R. Kyaio, M.Ed.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. - 

Not just a word; It's a real thing!

Respect is at the core of all healthy relationships. But what is it exactly?

It is a word we throw around like we all mean the same thing, all have the same ideas about how it feels, looks, and manifests. Yet respect has cultural, environmental, experiential, developmental, and personal influences for each and every one of us. When I say RESPECT it may or may not be the same thing as when you say RESPECT.

I realized in my work that I had to be clear about what I meant, what I expected, when I said the word "RESPECT."

After all, my business is With Respect, LLC.

That’s why I developed an acronym. It has given me something to manage my own behavior, something to teach and train from, and something I can teach as a tool to be used against racism and sexism in business. I use it everywhere from my living room to my boardroom.

This is my acronym for RESPECT. Feel free to develop your own; from your living room to your boardroom.

R = Remember. This is the art of pulling these ideas out of the back of our brain into the front. We have to dust it off, bring it to the forefront of our mind where it can be seen and used. In everything we do, every day, RESPECT is a consideration, it is the order of the day.

E = Empathy. The importance of putting ourselves in another's shoes. This is about feelings; knowing how others might feel in another situation. That pain you feel when someone else stubs their toe? That’s empathy. That proves you have it. That’s why it’s so important that we use it; we are hard wired for it.

S = Sincerity. The impeccability of the word – of My Word. Say what you mean and mean what you say. It is about thinking before we speak; saying exactly what we intend to do, what we believe to be true, what we might think. Then comes the follow through on action; the behavior has to support the Word. Oh, and by the way, it’s not just what you say on the outside of your head… it’s what goes on inside as well. I wouldn’t call you stupid (that’s not respectful) which means I also don’t call myself stupid.

P = Patience. There are several different kinds of patience. The kind that can wait in line or at a traffic light for hours (so not me!) and the kind that engages with people, mindful that each of us is in a different place, doing the best we can, and waits for them to catch up. It’s about being able to use our empathy and helping people get to where they need to be at their pace. When I’m the boss, I have to provide instruction and guidance in ways that people can hear and then I have to do what I can to move them toward those expectations in supportive ways. I don’t wait for the first time they fall outside the lines and “catch” them. I stay at hand and guide, answering questions, asking questions, mentoring, and teaching.

E = Equity. Not the kind you have in the financing of your house. This is justice; the level playing field, the idea that all people are created equal and deserve equal treatment and access regardless of how they look, sound, smell, or appear. If I need glasses, I get them. It doesn’t mean everyone on my shift gets glasses just because I have them. Those who need them, get them. Those who need something else, get that. It’s about striving to succeed within a group as a group.

C = Compassion. This is the action of empathy; it happens without judgement, listening without agenda, speaking from the heart. It is doing the right thing because it is the right thing. I also call it humanity.

T = Truthfulness. This is honesty provided in a way that can be heard. Your girlfriend, having asked how the outfit she is trying on looks, will probably react better and hear you without being insulted if you say, "Green isn't your color" rather than "OMG! That's hideous!"

Respect isn’t about fear. Fear motivates people to do what’s expected when there’s a chance to get caught. It is an external force that doesn’t serve well for long-term impact. How many of us speed until the cop shows up and then we slow down to the right speed? That's respecting the speed limit out of fear. It's because the speed limit isn’t meaningful to us; we only follow the rule when we might get caught because we fear the consequences, not because we respect the rule.

True respect INSPIRES; comes from within. It is our favorite teacher in school in whose class we tried really hard because we wanted to impress them or not disappoint them. We wanted them to think as highly of us as we did of them. That’s the beginning of respect. Nurtured and guided, that becomes what we here at With Respect, LLC talk about as I-WE-US. But that’s the next blog!

What I offer here is a tool, something you can apply tomorrow to see changes in places and relationships that are meaningful to you, particularly in the workplace.This is pretty typical for me; I like to offer tools you can use immediately.

Try this acronym out – act on it, post it, talk about it – then let me know what it does for you, how things might be different or people might engage differently with you. Feel free to comment below or contact me here.

Oh, and because this tool is a resource for you to use, you can email me here and I would be happy to send you a nice 8 1/2" X 11" electronic visual available for your use. (We are also ordering t-shirts with our logo and the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. acronym on them that will run about $24. If you’re interested, let me know that in the email too.)

This is the first blog in the new series “Blogging With Respect.”

We here at With Respect, LLC have embarked in a new direction that brings together all the fabulousness of the services we have historically offered and takes them to the next level. I’d love it if you looked around and gave us some feedback on what you see.

The website is here.

That’s why I wanted to provide the definition now, at the beginning of our new conversation, because, well, our business is called With Respect, LLC and I use the word A LOT. You need to know what I mean when I say it.

I also encourage you to develop your own acronym, by yourself or in a group that you work with, even within your family. Developing your own can provide you with the ownership that is crucial in being able to live within the guidelines.

The reality about respect is that I don't have to like you to respect you. You and I may not see eye to eye, may have a personality conflict or may just not get along but that in no way gives me permission to be anything less than respectful with you. Doing that with grace and ease takes practice (and some people give us lots of opportunities to practice!) but it can be done. This is one tool that helps us remember that and learn how to do it.

For today, think about your idea of respect. What does it look like? How does it feel? How does it manifest.

Remember, if you haven't done so already, follow me on this blog using the link to the right. Also, if you like what you read, please pass this on to those you know would like to hear it too. And, as always, I look forward to your comments as we grow and learn together!

With Respect,

Leah R. Kyaio