Words matter in creating a climate and culture of trust

  • Published
  • By Ms. Mindy Morris, Equal Opportunity Director
  • 628 ABW Equal Opportunity Office

Trust is built over time generally based on character, commitment, competence, and compassion.  Service members (military and civilian) must trust each other in order to execute our no-fail mission.  Sometimes, the environment created diminishes someone purposefully or accidentally, and everyone is empowered to prevent and stop those occurrences. 

Our teammates are full of their own intersectional diversity identity markers – there are different cultural and educational backgrounds, languages, marital statuses, family statuses, religions, personalities, and a plethora of other dynamics.  It is our privilege to get to know each of these unique individuals, as well as let ourselves be known to understand how we best fit and contribute to our mission sets.  Enter conversations with empathy and curiosity – there are things everyone you meet can teach you.

Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 1350.02, DoD Military Equal Opportunity Program, states that service members are treated with dignity and respect and are afforded equal opportunity in an environment free from prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy), gender identity or sexual orientation.   Additionally, DoDI 1020.03 and 1020.04 speak to unlawful harassment (sexual, bullying, hazing) in the armed forces for military and civilians, respectively.

American psychologist Gordon Allport proposed a scale of prejudice in 1954 that shows how prejudice (a pre-judgement contrary to something) is ranked by the increasing harm they produce.  Generally speaking, if a person or members of a group become comfortable at one stage, they are more likely to move on to the next.  These stages are: 1) anti-locution (speaking against); 2) avoidance (isolation, ostracism); 3) discrimination (distinguishing differences); 4) physical attack (can be a hate crime); and 5) extermination (genocide, ethnic cleansing). 

The most common is anti-locution expressed verbally, through social media or texts.  Words can contribute to unlawful harassment and erode mission effectiveness; these diminish and detract from the trust culture.  Some examples are: “You’re too pretty to be gay.” “That is a made up religion.” “Why are you going to marry one of them?” “Go back to your own country.” “I really like the way you fit in those jeans.” “You do not belong here.” 

Most have heard “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” The truth is words can cause much harm.  Microaggressions are small slights people experience daily over time, which is why many people say it is like “death from a thousand paper cuts.”  I encourage you to treat people the way they want to be treated (the platinum rule).  Be part of creating an environment people want to come to.    

Air Force Title 10 members, eligible retirees and active duty dependents and Air Force civilians experiencing unlawful discrimination or harassment are encouraged to use your chain of command for lowest level resolution; however, the Equal Opportunity office also functions as an avenue of resolution.  Please contact us at 843-963-3662 or email 628ABW.EO.EqualOpportunity@us.af.mil with any questions or concerns.