Tough Talk


Conversations with the racist co-worker and the jealous mother-in-lawLaura Nicole Garbers has a master’s degree in counseling. She has worked with a diverse range of clients with mental, emotional, behavioral, spiritual and physical health concerns, promoting health through counseling and creative therapies, including sensing, expression and movement.

Dear Laura,
There’s a new co-worker in my office who is obviously a racist. I’m so tired of hearing him talk about his race and the great music of his race and the great politicians, actors, etc. Is there any way of stopping this this person from focusing on race? It would be so much better if he could just focus on human qualities instead.

Dear J.M.,
You have two options: You can either help yourself to cope or help this man to change. There’s always that kind of a give and take between a person and his environment. You have to ask yourself: How much can I protect myself from my environment and how much can I alter it? Racism is not an easy thing to deal with. It’s an emotional issue for most people and a difficult one to discuss. Behavioral qualities can’t be drawn along racial lines, and in my opinion, whether a person is a good musician, worker, athlete, politician or health care provider has little to nothing to do with race and everything to do with the individual. And certainly, speaking in terms of humanity is more unifying that speaking in terms of race. It’s important that you speak to this person and explain your thoughts and feelings. Make sure you are truthful and reasonable in your approach; be direct without being aggressive and be sure not to get drawn into an argument, especially one about race. Focus on the fact that his words are hurtful and noninclusive. Being open and honest about your inner world can often lead to a healthy discussion and a clearing of the air. However, if his attitude doesn’t change and he continues to make race an issue, you can either extricate yourself from the environment or discuss the situation with your human resources department.
Best wishes,?Laura

Hey, Laura,
What do you think about a mother-in-law who always seems upset with the fact that I’m a good cook? At many family functions and holidays, I either bring a dish or cook for the family, and she often seems tense or irritated by the compliments I receive. Should I confront her about her jealousy?

Dear B.D.,
Ah, the old mother-in-law is back at it again. Before you confront her, as is in every confrontation, it may be good to know a little bit more about the situation. In this specific case, you need to figure out whether or not she’s really jealous. It would be uncomfortable for you both if you assumed jealousy when it may in fact be disappointment in the self, anger or sadness with her own lack of skill, or even some other personal feeling. Perhaps you could broach the topic when you see her getting upset, and simply ask her how she’s feeling, if she’s okay, or if there’s something wrong. If you approach her with sensitivity and a heartfelt curiosity as to what’s going on with her, you may be able to melt any resistance and get to the bottom of the situation. On the other hand, if she is jealous of you or irritated with you, she may have a tougher shell. It may also work for you to include her in your cooking and work on a meal together, or for you to step back a little from the kitchen and let her take a bit more control. Family relationships are complicated things. Although one hopes that everyone can get along and show love and be content with themselves and their roles, there can be miscommunication, role confusion and boundary issues, as well as unhealthy competition in families. Perhaps what needs to be shown is an effort to right the wrong. Sometimes, even if you’re the one more in the right, an extra effort on your part to show kindness and good will can make a troubled situation a bit better.
Best wishes,

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