By Devan Moonsamy – CEO The ICHAF Training Institute
Conscientise is a somewhat new (1960s) and tricky-to-pronounce term, but the concept is a wonderful ally in the diversity process. Some pronounce the word as con-chi-en-chise; others say con-chen-tize. The latter seems to be the most common in South Africa and is the simplest. Never mind how you say it, though, so long as you get busy with it. A basic definition is that it is to make yourself and others aware of important social and political issues.
Conscientising is ensuring everyone knows their rights and responsibilities, but it also includes those nuances and subtle understandings that are more difficult to put into a list of dos and don’ts. To illustrate what it means to be conscientised in the workplace, think of someone coming in late to work. How a manager approaches the problem should differ based on their (conscientised) understanding of the employee and their circumstances. For those who have no choice but to use public transport to get to work, particularly unreliable forms of transport, and especially on a day when there has been a strike, the response should be one of understanding and sympathy for the stress they are likely feeling. What about employees with very young children? How do they warrant special consideration at times?
A conscientisied person is aware of these types of factors and their gravity, and will generally be better equipped to handle diversity and a variety of problems. In the workplace, conscientising is part of education, training and development. It is specifically identified as a precursor to the action of challenging inequalities in treatment and opportunities. People must know the power they have to do good and correct wrongs before they can achieve the ideals of equality and a non-racist society.
Combating racism is thus about conscientising ourselves and others. Notions of race-based inferiority are combated by means of attitude adjustments, something we as individuals are responsible for. It can certainly go a long way if we strive to educate those around us in a respectful manner or sometimes speaking in more firm terms if we are faced with deep-rooted racism which is causing harm to others.
By cleansing and greatly improving our attitudes about race we will have a healthier mindset, more authentic relationships, and thus greater chances of success in our relationships in and outside the workplace.
South Africa has a very painful past, and our wounds are not going to heal quickly. Many bridges between our diverse people need to be built and maintained. We can heal as individuals and as diverse groups of people working towards common goals. Conscientising is one very powerful way to do so.
The above is adapted from Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us by Devan Moonsamy, available from the ICHAF Training Institute and all leading books stores.