The Participation Blog

Saying the Wrong Thing

Having worked in public participation for well over three decades, I’ve worked with thousands of people who don’t look anything like me. (Lucky for them.) I’m no saint, but I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I’ve intentionally ignored or dismissed people who are different, nor have I tried to be inequitable. To the best of my recollection, I’ve never purposely excluded anyone or any group based on who they were or who they represented. Now, of course, I say that from my perspective as an old, mostly privileged, White dude. With the rightful emergence of the Black Lives Matterand Me Too movements, and the backlashes against wokeness, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has taken on a level of importance and prominence that scares a lot of well-intentioned people. Culture changes, and it’s tough to keep up. I love some old TV shows that – as innocent as they were for their time – are just wrong for this time. Otis Campbell, Mayberry’s lovable town drunk, wouldn’t fly today. Depictions of Native Americans in old TV and movie westerns make me cringe. (I’ve always liked the way Lyle Lovett handled the relationship between the Lone Ranger and Tonto.) And I’ve said stupid things in the recent past that were perfectly acceptable in the 80s, 90s and before, but just aren’t today, and I’ve been called on it, and like to think I’ve learned. So now, maybe like you, I suffer from a certain level of – let’s call it, FOSTWT – fear of saying the wrong thing. I found this helpful.