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President’s Column: An Appeal for Charity

By Kenneth Skale, Psy.D.

Today we see mounting tension across many intersections of culture and politics. Shootings of unarmed African-Americans and persisting social inequities have ignited a firestorm of anger, protest, and intense rhetoric across the nation, which has led to engagement and activism for some and fear and alienation for others. One consequence has been the erosion of collaborative dialogue and the steady polarization of our discourse.

The LACPA Board of Directors observed eight minutes and forty-six seconds of silence at our June meeting, both to acknowledge the death of George Floyd and reflect upon current events. Afterward, guests and Board members shared their
feedback about LACPA’s public statement and commitments to combat racism and foster inclusivity. The conversation was
productive; however, I could not ignore the feeling of nervous tension that pervaded the discussion. Several others in attendance expressed having a similar experience that night. This feeling was not new to me, as it seems more and more common in discussions about polarizing topics, particularly race. I have come to understand it as fear—fear of offending, fear of being shamed, fear of sounding racist. Perhaps you experience a similar feeling when the topic of race comes up in a public forum. People, especially white folks, get quiet and unmistakably ner- vous. I view this fear and concomitant silence as perhaps the greatest barrier to address- ing issues of racism, inequality, and discrimination as a profession and a society.

We must strive to do better, and I believe we can draw on our clinical experience for direction. When I consider my work in addiction, I am reminded that clients seldom agree to pursue sobriety unless they feel completely respected and understood. Extrapolating this to our larger discourse, I believe we would do well to employ the Charity Principle, which charges us with interpreting a speaker’s motives and message in the strongest, most rational way possible. Imagine how our discussions could transform if everyone had the confidence that their peers would take for granted their sincerity, thoughtfulness, and good intentions. LACPA has re-committed to fostering this level of safety and respect as we have these necessary, courageous conversations. I encourage each of you to engage in our Community Outreach events, Continuing Education programs, and our new Diversity Town Hall meetings to connect and grow in an atmosphere of mutual respect and collaboration. I believe that each of us committing to this ideal will foster a more inclusive, dynamic conversation within LACPA and bring us closer to the world President Obama spoke about not so long ago. ▲