Self reflection & awareness

Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s position and imagining how they would think and feel in various circumstances, especially if they are in a protected group. For example, on the receiving end of ‘humour’ and comments targeted at specific groups – ‘gays’, disabled people, mothers in law.

Use empathy to think about your own behaviour and the impact it may have on others – think about the consequences of ‘it was only a joke’!!

Understanding – linked with empathy, this is the need to develop understanding about:

  • The ways our attitudes might amount to prejudice
  • The ways our attitudes can affect our behaviour and potentially lead to discriminatory or prejudiced behaviour
  • The types of behaviour that might lead to a lack of fairness or reveal prejudice
  • The consequences of our attitudes and behaviour for ourselves and others

Awareness (of people’s needs and requirements) – as well as developing an awareness of the effects of your and others’ behaviour, it’s useful to also develop awareness of any particular needs that someone else might have.

For example, if someone is deaf but also a lip reader it’s helpful if you keep your hands away from your mouth when in conversation, and not look away mid-sentence.

It’s helpful to be aware of different religious festivals and the implications of these for different people.

Don’t assume that everyone is heterosexual and/or has a family that they feel part of. Sometimes home can be a dangerous place to be and family are to be feared.

Awareness ( of language) – think about your use of language – what you say and how you say it as this is the message that others pick up whether they are your intentional audience or overhear remarks!

Comments about language and political correctness (PC) can floor people, so it’s worth thinking about how to manage these types of comments before you have to.

Sensitivity – we expect others to pick up on how we are feeling and not stamp all over our feelings and opinions, and in turn they expect (or should expect) the same from us, particularly in situations with people who have different ways of thinking and behaving, different cultural backgrounds and values or different needs.

Consequences – pretty much everything we do has consequences. In the area of equalities this is particularly true and the consequences may be serious and long lasting. Comments or behaviours that may seem trivial or ‘throw-away’ may undermine or criticise the core of someone’s identity.

Thinking about the consequences of your actions might stop you making a prejudiced decision or inadvertently putting your foot in it!  It might also push you into taking action where keeping quiet would mean that you are seen as condoning what someone else has said or done.

Desire to be fair – in a sense this underpins everything. Sometimes we get into defensive mode and are able to justify our actions to ourselves when it seems too difficult to do something else.  However, we can’t really play at fair treatment only when it suits. We have to have a genuine desire to reflect, change our existing attitudes and behaviour in order to address our prejudices and act in non-discriminatory ways. This might mean challenging some of the beliefs about people and ‘things’ that we have been brought up with and believe to be right and true!!  Being fair means being fair to everyone, whoever they are.

People are quite good at spotting whether we are genuine or not rather than just paying lip service. We are bound to make mistakes and ‘not get it right’ – sometimes, maybe lots of times. If we genuinely want to be fair, we might just need to put our hands up, apologise and learn from our experiences.

Reflective thinking – this is about having the ability to reflect on our attitudes and behaviour and think through our experiences honestly. It’s useful to ‘learn from our mistakes’ but before we can learn we need to accept the mistake and reflect on what we need to do to avoid making it again or how we could do things differently next time.

We may need to push aside our tendency to justify and defend our views – ‘I was only joking’, ‘I didn’t mean it like that’, ‘why is everyone so PC’, ‘I can’t see that that’s offensive’ etc – if it matters to someone and/or someone is offended, that is the reality – why would we want to continue to offend knowing that this is the case?

To help you reflect more specifically on your community engagement practice you may want to look at our Reflective Practice ‘on the tin’ blog (soon to be published).

Does my use of words include or exclude certain people?

Do I use stereotypes? Are there any words that I use that might give offence?

Do I find myself talking about ‘political correctness’ without really stopping to think what it means?

What do I do when people dismiss equalities as ‘political correctness’?

Do I make assumptions about individuals?

Could what I am saying be interpreted as patronising and disempowering?

Are there any words that I routinely use that might cause offence?



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