“MICROAFFECTION: a subtle but endearing or comforting comment or action directed at others that is often unintentional or unconsciously affirms their worth and dignity, without any hint of condescension.” — JimBurklo.com
Part of the response to microagression is education. We need to be intentional about preventing ourselves from unintentionally demeaning categories of people in ways that can make them feel marginalized. We need to listen to those who are on the receiving end of such encounters, so we’ll know not what not to say and not to do.
And another response is the cultivation of microaffection: priming ourselves for moments when, spontaneously, we go out of our way to make others feel like they are dignified, respectable, truly beloved members of society. It takes forethought in order to be able to offer kindness without forethought. It takes spiritual discipline to make it automatic for us to share warmth with people just because they’re people.
Microaffection came my way last week. I was riding my beach bike across campus. It’s called the OMbulance: I put a sign on the front of the basket, surrounded by the symbols of the world’s religions. In a spiritual emergency at USC, who ya gonna call? As I was riding, one of my shoelaces got spun around in the pedal. There I was, trapped on my bike at an obscure corner of the campus, unable even to dismount it to fix the problem. A gentleman came along with a big smile on his face and asked if I needed help. “Oh yes!” I answered, and before I could say more, he untangled my shoelace from the pedal and walked away, wishing me well. He helped me in a way that reduced, rather than increased, my sense of embarrassment in my predicament.
I have work to do, myself, to make kindness and respect so ingrained in my soul that they are automatic responses in moments of emotional challenge. Universities and institutions of all kinds have work to do, also, to create atmospheres that inculcate this kind of mindfulness, to prevent microagression and to encourage microaffection.