Ok so I was going to put out a piece on something else entirely for this week and then a few things landed that changed my mind. So get ready for a diversion folks.
Warning/Disclaimer: This article is my personal opinion and directly addresses difficult and complex social issues. I am not an expert, however I do run a company that promotes inclusivity and accessibility, and I do work hard to learn, so I am damned if I am going to sit quietly. If the topics are uncomfortable, they are meant to be, and if you don’t feel able to deal with them, then please skip this article.
Normal service will be resumed in due course.
Recent Events & the Ethos of Bear Essentials
Unless you have been living under a rock, you are very likely aware that many events have transpired lately around the world, events which touch deeply on the issue of inclusivity. Bear Essentials (and yours truly) hold very strong views on this subject, indeed the concept of an accessible and inclusive culture is foundational to Bear Essentials, and to our approach to the coffee industry as well as the wider world around us.
It’s also apparent that this ethos is shared by many. 2,000+ people and companies follow our social media feeds, and that’s a number I still struggle to digest. Bear Essentials is a two handed affair, powered by myself and Em. Truly we are humbled by the amazing and continued growth of our little piece of the coffee world.
I am fully aware that remaining politically and socially neutral is accepted to be good practice in any business that needs customers. But hell, one of the biggest advantages of setting up as Bear Essentials was that “rules” could be tossed as needed.
To have any kind of platform in the world right now and remain silent would leave me feeling hollow, so I won’t.
Being Specifically Nonspecific
I am not going to take up your time with individual topical views from me, Em has been, and continues to be, working our social media in such a way as to respect, promote and share views and opinions on those topics a thousand times more qualified than mine.
Rather I want to talk about the general sense of the world right now, and why I believe we all need to ask ourselves some hard questions.
The Growing Culture of Hate & Judgement
From events in the USA surrounding the murder of George Floyd, through the curtailing of civil rights in Hong Kong, all the way to the recent launch of a shame focused rhetoric on obesity, under the guise of Covid 19 prevention (not even touching the science here, but its far from that clear cut folks) in the UK, and so much more, in so many other places and ways that I won’t even try to articulate, there is a culture growing, and it’s one I have a serious problem with.
We are living in a time when events and pressures are creating a series of tangible decision points in our world. For most of us the past few months have brought immense amounts of our “normality” into question, and we are desperately trying to adapt and keep up. We are being asked some hard questions, and our governing bodies are having to make hard calls.
The problem is, not all these calls are good ones. Decisions and rhetoric from many of our leaders are drifting into dangerous territory. In the pressure of current times I can sense a growing focus on isolationist and national interest policy, along with a tendency to marginalise minority views.
Come on Bear. Really? Stick to Coffee!
One. Nope. Two. If you question the accuracy of my assertions, I would encourage you to look around you, check the news, and crucially read up on the views of some of those in the centre of the various storms.
The reality of our times, is that we are in real danger of validating hate through inaction.
I’m just going to leave that sentence in it’s own space, maybe read it again, and think on it.
Ok Do You Have A Point?
I hope so.
I could write a huge amount about the need to understand and accept others. I could quote words of wisdom and wax on the need to heed them. Or I could just be a Bear….
Follow Rule One: Don’t be a Dick.
That’s it folks, at its simplest. If you want to see these issues for what they are, and to do something about it, your first port of call is to check yourself. I’m going to try and help to facilitate that process.
Before we go any further though, I would like to make something very clear. I have been, am, and despite my best efforts most likely still will be, guilty of needing the same perspective and mindset changes I will be discussing.
I am a white male living in a first world country, and I am as deeply entrenched in the privilege of that position as anyone. I have been part of the problem, and I want to change that.
Now I am not in the habit of slinging mud, and I am certainly not suggesting that readers are actively promoting discrimination. What I am trying to point out is the passive actions, or lack thereof, which allow such views to gain acceptance. Let me shoot out an example, one on which I feel able to speak with some confidence.
In the wake of Covid 19 home working has become an immensely common, and incredibly useful practice. Tech stores sold out of laptops and related gear as companies equipped their staff to work in the “new normal”. Interestingly this has also promoted a lot of discussion about productivity and positive effects in using home working as a tool in general. There are firms who are intending to continue their adaptations after Covid passes.
So this is amazing right? Good stuff. But what has this got to do with your point Bear?
Well let’s talk about something less comfortable. These adaptations, tech purchasing, flexible hours, home working, et al, they have been discussed for years in another framework. That framework is in enabling those with restrictive conditions to work, and the most common (by no means universal, but overwhelmingly majority) response has been along the lines of:
“We are so sorry, you’re a great person, clearly capable and qualified, and we would really love to do this for you. But you must see the problem. The expense is far too great. Really we are sorry. If you could just manage XYZ then we could take you on, but the needs you outline are just too hard to reasonably accommodate.”
Note: The phrasing above is an amalgamation of my own and other people’s real experiences in attempting to work around needs. It is not hyperbole, nor dramatism. I assure you it’s very real.
See the issue? A minority need is entirely too much to ask… until it becomes a majority need, then it’s time to “think outside of the box”.
Let me be abundantly clear. The above issue is societal ableism. Plain and simple. Covid 19 and the need to adapt just laid bare the issue.
But that’s not being talked about, or rather more accurately, it’s only really being talked about within the groups of society who are affected by it. Businesses and the government have adapted with staggering and commendable speed, but only when it had to happen for the majority abled workforce. What message does that send? More to the point…
What message is sent in managing charges, and using law enforcement and the army to enforce civil obedience after the reaction to a black man dying as his windpipe is crushed. By an officer of the law?
What are we saying when a nation can toss the agreed terms of a city’s change of national position, enforce civil rights limitation, and we respond with trade sanctions while watching on TV as crowds of protestors are gassed and attacked.
What message do we send by just shrugging as our government uses a global pandemic to promote fat shaming, to reduce national obesity, under the paper thin scientific evidence of a link to Covid 19?
Is this the world you want for yourself? For your kids?
Ok, Ok. But it’s Too Big!
So it’s natural to read all the above and say it’s awful but what can one person do? Really it is. I am not suggesting that the world can change in an instant, nor that you can change it all. But I do suggest you think about what you can change. Here’s an idea or two…
You Can: Change Your Responses.
When someone points out an issue, whether of race, faith, creed, physical need or anything else. You can alter how you respond. Do yourself a favour and take a breath before you speak, think about what you are about to say. Odds are you will want to defend your position and ensure that people know you mean no offence, and certainly aren’t actively discriminating. That may well be true. But it also doesn’t matter. Not a damn.
Even if there was no intent, the very fact that someone brings up a potential issue means something is there to be addressed. No need to defend the past, or to over explain. Instead try something like “I’m sorry and I hear you. I’ll do my best to learn more, to understand and to adjust to your needs.”
Then go do just that (more on this later), the key here is to acknowledge that an issue clearly needs addressing and to do as much as you can, as soon as possible. A passable analogy would be that when the sink is overflowing you turn off the water before you start to figure out why.
You Can: Change the Environment You Occupy.
At work, in life, take a look around. Do you see accommodation, accessibility, inclusion and positive reinforcement? If yes, then make a noise about it, and make sure you strive to keep it going and growing. If no, then ask questions, make suggestions and discuss what you see. Oh and check your ego. Just because you have amazing access for wheelchairs doesn’t mean you have nailed every other need, nor that you are as inclusive as you want to be.
No person, workplace, or organization can see everything and get it right all the time. The only way things can change or improve is if people talk.
You Can: Learn.
Saved the big one until the end. Above all else what you can do is to spend some time engaging with issues. Please don’t just go to your minority or disabled friend and ask them to educate you, we kinda have life to deal with already. Instead check out the internet, books, social media feeds along with all the other sources out there and listen to the voices of those who know, and have already given you the resources you need to learn from.
Oh here’s a thing. Please, please, pretty please. Learn who is writing/speaking about the issue before you engage. If it’s the voice of someone who doesn’t actually embody the topic, maybe give it a miss. Seriously. The most well qualified doctor or expert, while very capable, has fuck and all idea about the reality of living with a condition. The best read white male ethnologist with a booker prize, has fuck all idea what real life is about as a black woman. Blunt but true.
That’s All Folks
Ok so this has been a long one, and I am not sorry. But I do appreciate you sticking with it and reading through. I hope it’s been of use, that perhaps a little thought provocation has been valuable?
My very best wishes and all the love to you all.
About Bear Essentials Coffee
Thanks, – Bear