In this week’s Knights Do That episode, we speak with Professor of counselor education S. Kent Butler, who champions diversity and inclusion efforts at the university. During his conversation with host Alex Cumming, he shares insight on how we can all be better listeners, the dynamics of mentorship and how to cultivate a space where everyone feels like they belong.
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S. Kent Butler and Knights Do That podcast host Alex Cummings (Photo by Rhiana Raymundo ’19)
Transcript Kent Butler: I think that’s the beauty sitting down and having difficult dialogues. If we allow ourselves to actually really, truly hear each other and listen to where each other’s coming from, understand how my life is impacted by your life and how your privilege has maybe given you this over how I’ve been able to move forward, or somebody else has been able to move forward — all those things, having an understanding of what that is in the person’s life might be able to help people see people for who they are.
Alex Cumming: Welcome back to the Knights Do That podcast. Today’s our third episode, and I’ll be speaking with Kent Butler. He’s a professor of counselor education in the College of Community Innovation and Education. In addition to being a professor here at UCF, he has continued to champion efforts to help the entire university community embrace diversity and inclusion.
He’s conducted extensive research into mentoring among diverse groups and led successful initiatives for African American male students. In today’s episode, we’ll be discussing how we can all be better listeners, the dynamics of mentorship and how we can cultivate a space where everyone feels like they belong.
Let’s get into it.
So Kent, here at UCF, you’re a champion for equity, inclusion and diversity. What does that actually mean for you?
Kent Butler: It means opening the door to access for all intersectionalities, as allowing people’s voices to be heard in spaces that have not necessarily been heard before.
It’s opening up a pathway for individuals who just have been marginalized to be able to find their space in the world, find their promise and be able to move towards their destiny. Because I think that sometimes what ends up happening is the people who control the narrative, control the story so much so that they’re not able to persevere and find their own abilities to kind of find equity and access and be included, feel like they belong. All those things.
Alex Cumming: UCF is such a large place that if you want to dabble in so many different areas, you’re able to, if you find yourself interested in various topics, there’s nothing stopping you from taking a class in the arts and humanities or a social science.
Kent Butler: I think opportunities, though, can be thwarted. I think that there are times when people have the ability but there are people because of their position kind of stand in the way of that access. And so that is part of the role that I believe I bring to the table is helping people see where the implicit biases, help them see where they’re able to allow other people into spaces that they have not normally been in and give them an opportunity, a chance to really shine where they may not have gotten that before. Because to me, implicit bias really is about not being aware and because of that, people who would actually haven’t had chances to do things would have the opportunity to do so. But people who are not aware don’t give them that ability. So it’s almost sad to say that somebody has control over somebody else’s life experiences, but in all actuality, someone does have control when they do not see them for their abilities, but actually are blocked off because they have a different color or they have a disability that they’re working with or something along those lines that stops them from being able to be at the table.
Alex Cumming: Do you find yourself coming into a position as a mentor, somebody that can show them certain roadblocks that may be coming in the way and how they can maneuver the situation to find what they’re passionate about, to find stuff that just sparks joy within themselves?
Kent Butler: I think that’s part of it. I think part of mentorship is really helping people see their own promise. And when, as a mentor, I am able to kind of intercede, I’m helping them jump over the hurdles. I’m helping them see things that they may not have gone through before, especially for students. Especially first-generation students. They may not know exactly how to navigate a university because they have not been there before.
Alex Cumming: Right.
Kent Butler: And so, because you’ve had that, you should be able to reach back and help them move forward. Knowing that they may not know what they don’t know and give them the opportunity from that perspective, to be able to grow, to learn, to understand, but they have to be receptive.
So part of being a mentor is having a mentee that’s going to actually listen and hear what you’re saying to them, and then are able to take that and move the needle a little bit.
Alex Cumming: A mentor is so important. I find in every aspect, somebody who’s been in the spots where you want to be has maybe made the mistakes and learned from it and they can impose that wisdom onto the younger, the mentee. And a lot of times the mentee can be just as much of a teacher as the mentor, because you know, they’re learning in there. Figuring out their way in a new world, in a different era than the mentor went through.
Kent Butler: Yeah. And I would make one correction to that is that the mentor can be younger. The mentor can be of a different culture, a different intersectionality. The mentor is just someone who is able to provide for someone something that they have not had the experiences with.
And so I’ve been in situations where I’ve been the mentor for someone who was a lot older than I was, and it’s because of my ability to have had the access to what they’re seeking.
And so opening the door is really what I think mentors are capable of doing and that when we do that as human beings, as someone who believes in the promise of individuals, that we can create or open up the doorways for people who have not been able to enter it on their own, have not been able to find ways to break the ceiling for themselves.
Alex Cumming: As a mentor, when you see a young person or someone older than you, and they have this spark, can you see that in their eye? And you just say, I want to draw that excitement out. How can we use this to guide your passion?
Kent Butler: Let me use my own narrative and say that people who have mentored me, I didn’t ask for. I was just in situations where they sold into me because they saw promise. The mentee has to be receptive to knowing that someone has their best interest at heart. And when they tell them, “I see this for you, I see you being able to move forward and do this, and I’m going to help you make that move.” And so that’s what they see — they see the promise in you, and then you are able to then take that and if you’re willing to build upon it, you can then enter into spaces where you may not have thought you were going to go.
I’ve had mentors who have told me that I was going to go into leadership. And I looked at them like no, that’s not my career pathway and that’s not what I had planned on doing. And they said, “You have a voice, you have this.” And they helped to strengthen that because a lot of times we don’t use our voices because we think that, we don’t have the right to, or we don’t know quite how to. And so a mentor can help you be able to see where you have weaknesses and help you build upon those.
Alex Cumming: That’s fantastic and rings so true that a lot of times we have the voice, we know what we want to say and almost how to say it. But it can be just guiding it, just putting it in the right direction so it can have the most impact and greatly improve and benefit the most amount of people.
Kent Butler: Most definitely. And that’s the dream, right? Is to create spaces for individuals. We should not be so selfish in our own interior lives that we can’t see and help others to find their promise.
Alex Cumming: There’s so much joy that comes from helping others. There’s so much joy that you can derive from extending an arm and in being in olive branch reached out as opposed to just blocking yourself off and closing yourself and keeping the gifts that you could provide to others, to yourself.
Kent Butler: Yeah. And not expecting a reward. You should go into it with the hopes of helping someone find their pathway. That’s it really. And the gifts come from someone coming to you maybe a year or two later and saying, “When you said this or when this happens, this is what it did for me.” The unexpected thank you goes a long way. It absolutely goes a long way. And it allows you to continue doing the work that you’re doing.
I know that when you try to force a relationship, it doesn’t work. Mentorship is authentic. It really comes from a space where two people see each other and they’re like, I see you. I know what you’re about. I am here to help you and it’s received. And when those types of things happen, it creates the dynamic of people getting to grow together and to help someone where they’re fearful, where they’re scared where they just don’t have the knowledge space.
It really helps them to see themselves in a different light. And sometimes seeing it through others is so much better. Our first mentors were our caregivers, right? It could be, I don’t know each person how they were raised, but me with my mother and my father, others with their caregivers, whomever, they are our first mentors. They’re the ones who help us see who we are and what we can be. And when those mentors don’t do their job, that’s when people get lost. And you don’t want a child or someone that you’re mentoring to be lost. And so when you have their best interest in heart you start to love them and love the process and you just move the needle so much further because of it.
Alex Cumming: I’ve had experiences personally, where my professor or someone that I looked up to might’ve said something. And in the moment they might not have thought anything of it, but it’ll just resonate with you. It’ll stick with you. And you never realize as somebody in a mentor position that the smallest things, a compliment on the right day.
Kent Butler: Yeah.
Alex Cumming: Or just — I see that you’re making progress in a good direction, that can really keep the light going.
Kent Butler: And it’s sowing a seed. That’s really what that does. Right? Because again, as a mentor, you may not know that that’s going to blossom. You just hope that it’s going to. So you’re there helping to water it and to do things along those lines, but sometimes you may not ever see it.
So if I think about your life experiences, you said that you grew up in Orlando and moved to Chicago. While you were in Chicago, I’m quite sure there were people who had touched your life in Orlando that sparked something in you that while you were in Chicago, it’s like, Oh wow, Aha! That’s a moment there that you were able to take that and move it to the next narrative.
And so that is really what it is. It is also someone who is willing to actually give you some constructive criticism as well. You know, tough love is what I call it. And so they are not afraid to, because they built a relationship with you, to tell you the things that you may be doing wrong.
I can imagine that in your career, that’s what a director does. And they tell you that, okay, I wanted you to do this and you moved this way, or you said this this way. And I needed to come out this way. And then the end product is really the beauty of whatever was being created in that acting experience.
So, there’s so many ties to what mentorship can do across so many different domains and we just have to be able to embrace that and know that people have our best interests at heart, because there could be bad mentors, too .
Alex Cumming: Who can steer you in the wrong direction. And that can be even more harmful than being left to sometimes your own accord.
Kent Butler: Yes.
Alex Cumming: Here at UCF, how do you embrace and encourage the culture?
Kent Butler: By being real, speaking truth. Not allowing my voice not to be heard. When I had the opportunity to get into spaces where I hadn’t been before — and this is not like overnight. This is something that you build to. But when you gained the respect of your colleagues who know that you’re speaking from your heart or your truth, they’re able to accept it a little bit better. They’re able to understand where you’re coming from, especially if there’s a common goal.
When I think about my career as a counselor, my role was to make sure that students, especially as a counselor educator, were becoming the best counselors that they could become. And I needed to be sure that my colleagues understood that, as well. And so we were all on the same page. We all wanted the same thing. We wanted our students to be able to graduate and find jobs and be really productive and help their clients move forward. But if we weren’t all on the same page and we were being destructive, egos and that could happen so very easily in so many different workspaces where egos get in the way. But if you have a common mission and common goal, then what ends up happening is everything comes together. This course fits into this course. This interaction fits into this interaction, and you get to start to create a whole being a whole counselor within that person’s self to actually go out and be a productive helping professional.
Alex Cumming: Would the bottom line here come to, how do we make this student the most successful going out? And like you said, keeping it real, the real world is as real as it gets, more often than not.
Kent Butler: And it’s scary to tell somebody something, especially if it seems to be coming across negative. My role in my counselor education role as a gatekeeper. And there are some colleagues who are not willing to tell somebody what they see. Especially if it’s like somebody who comes from the LGBTQ community or somebody who’s coming from a Black or Brown community, and they don’t have that relationship. And they don’t have that ability to see their own blind spots when it comes to how they see someone, the implicit bias that they may have, all those different things. I found myself being able to be that person on the faculty to be able to speak out against that. To help the students in that realm where maybe some of my colleagues just didn’t have it yet.
In terms of helping them see themselves and understand what they were getting themselves into. The gatekeeping processes, especially in counseling, is very important because somebody can go out and do serious harm to clients. And so that mentorship, that supervision that we provide has to be really in a space where our students are able to receive it.
And so we have to rely on each other as counselors. As counselor educators, to be able to see each other and help each other and mentor each other in that process, and then taking the lead on something if somebody else doesn’t have that ability.
Alex Cumming: But in the same way that certain students have strengths and weaknesses that you have to guide with, I’m certain that the fellow counselors, there are some that thrive in specific situations and others in some come from certain backgrounds that another counselor might not understand when it comes to a specific situation of a student.
Kent Butler: Yeah.
Alex Cumming: That, okay let me talk to this individual cause they’ll understand where the students coming from better.
Kent Butler: Right. And so, yeah, we all have our strengths and our weaknesses. And so we have to build upon what those are. So if I have a colleague who’s not able to see somebody else’s promise, then I have the obligation to step in there and help move the needle for that particular student in a way that they can grow.
And again, it usually comes down to when somebody is doing well, it’s okay. Nobody has a problem telling somebody when they’re doing well, but when somebody is not doing well, and then there’s a barrier that comes into play, it’s all hell breaks loose because we’re not then able to do something because people get into their own feelings.
They’re like, well, if I say this, then they’re going to think I’m this. And the worst thing that people feel is, they feel as though if somebody calls them a racist or they see them in that type of a light that then they’ve done the worst thing possible, as opposed to recognizing that we’re in a system that is racist in some regards. And so we are products of that system. And so it’s important for us to recognize that we may not choose to be in a situation where we’re being racist or biased towards individuals having prejudice. But those are life lessons that we’ve learned that we have to unlearn and breakthrough.
And so if you’re not willing or you’re not able to see that you are going down that pathway where you’re impeding upon somebody else’s success, then we have to figure out a way to get people to communicate and talk about that. And that comes from having difficult dialogues.
That’s coming from people again, that’s the tough love that we have to provide for each other to help each other see those things that we don’t necessarily see. There’s a concept called the Johari’s window. Have you ever heard of that?
Alex Cumming: I have.
Kent Butler: And so the Johari’s window is four window panes, for the most part where people either know about themselves and what they know others know; then there’s things that they don’t know about themselves that others know. And then there’s this one category that’s a blind spot. And so we have to be able to help people close that blind spot. We need that window to go from being four panes to three panes, maybe two panes, finally, maybe one pane where a person really understands who they are and how they are seen in the world and how they are able to use all their resources to help others in their journey. And so that’s really the beauty of it all when it comes to mentorship.
We should be able to see pass our own issues our own egos and really work at helping someone else move forward in their journey.
Alex Cumming: So you’re saying that, every so often you have to have this genuine talk with the student about how the system works, because if they want to play the game of the system, they have to understand the rules so they can best function within it.
Kent Butler: There’s two things, right? So telling them about how the journey should be within that system, but also dismantling that system.
There’s a social justice aspect to who we are. So as a counselor, it doesn’t make any sense for me to help someone with their mental wellness and then send them back into a broken system. Because then they’re going to come back and they’re going to still be hurting. They’re still going to be dealing with the issues at hand.
And so what we are equipped to be able to do from a social justice perspective is advocate and help make changes, whether that’s in laws or in the ways that we kind of position ourselves in our jobs, all those things come into play that we need to be able to do to ensure that we are really being what we say we are, and that’s helping our mentees find their promise and do the best that they can.
Alex Cumming: Definitely. You often say that difficult conversations are necessary to making progress. For those who may not know how to start those conversations or to maintain their cool during them what advice would you give?
Kent Butler: Just do it.
Alex Cumming: Just do it.
Kent Butler: Yeah. I mean, if we continue to be fearful, then we’re not going to move the needle. So I don’t know if you saw the conceptual framework that has the comfort zone? And so people love to stay in their comfort zone and then there’s a fair zone and then there’s a learning zone and then there’s a growth zone.
And so if you think of it in that pattern, You got to step outside of your comfort zone. You need to step into the fear. You need to sit in that pain, that fear, that suffering, whatever it is for whatever the issue is that’s at hand and you need to learn about it, and you have to be willing to unlearn some things that you may have learned in your past and understand that your worldview will change based on how you allow others to intercede in your life, as well.
I believe that if you allow others to touch you, you can’t help but grow. But when you deny yourself the opportunities to meet people, to learn from people to share spaces, immerse yourself into other people’s community, if you don’t allow yourself to do that, then you’re losing out.
And so many times people who are allowing themselves to be in the proximity of people who are different from them, they learned that the lessons that they were holding on to weren’t true. And so they’re able to speak out against those things and change that narrative and start to think differently about how they see the world. And that comes from allowing other people to enter into your space.
Alex Cumming: I love that. I love that step process from fear to learning to growth. It’s such a beautiful process.
Kent Butler: Yeah. That’s how you become human, I think is allowing yourself to step out of that. Who wants to be fearful all or their life? It brings anxiety. It brings health issues, all those things that can come, that could be part of what helps to break down the body because we’re holding on to all this fear and anxiety and hatred and all that.
And the people who are able to grow just enjoy life they don’t have all that stress. And so hopefully they can be healthy — whether it be mentally or physically or whatever — those things will be at their disposal, because they don’t allow those things to interfere in how they are able to live their life.
Alex Cumming: So you’re saying just do it take the plunge into the fearful conversations.
Kent Butler: Yeah, because the what ifs are what get into people’s way.
Kent Butler: If I say this, what if they think I’m this? And my question is to them, “Well, if you don’t say it, they may be thinking of it anyway, so go for it.”
You know, just go and have the conversation. You grow into that though. You grow into that. Maybe the first day you’re not going to be as successful, but the thing is this, I think that we have to become active listeners. And we have to allow people to talk. Yesterday I heard somebody say this, and I had not heard this too much before.
I was at a presentation yesterday and person said something about listen two times more than you speak. And I started to think about that. And I wondered, do I do that? Do I stop and actually listen to others? And allow that to marinate for a minute before I speak?
Sometimes people do it the opposite. They want to talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. You know, those are the people that love to hear themselves talk. And then, they’re not listening. So the conversation goes past each other. And so it’s not an active listening.
And so I tell people that they need to listen to hear, not listen to respond. What that means to be an active listener is that I’m not sitting there trying to formulate a question that I’m going to say, or I’m not going to try to get my point out after this person says what they’re going to say.
I’m going to actually listen to what they have to say and see if that has any credence in my own way of thinking. Does it do anything for how I see it as opposed to being so stuck in my ways and so stuck with how I need to get my point across. And those facilitated conversations could be really hard to have because people like to hear themselves talk.
They don’t want others to win the narrative .Their narrative has to be the one that wins. And that’s the sad part of it, is that they’re not able to see past their own selves to see that other people can bring something to the table.
Alex Cumming: In these difficult conversations. It’s less about winning the conversation. It’s about learning, growing, and understanding like you were speaking of…
Kent Butler: Goes back to the comfort zone
Goes back to stepping out of that and learning new ways. And it doesn’t mean that you have to accept it. It means that you’re opening yourself up to being able to hear it and then make that decision.
I think back to all the things that I’ve ever done in life — if I did not believe in it before, if I allowed myself to at least experience it and then say, wait, wow, those lies that I would told about how I interact with this person or this didn’t the ring to be true. So if it didn’t bring it to be true with this person, then maybe this whole group of people are not bad.
Maybe I could look at this in a different way and allow other people to enter into spaces that I never allowed them to do before because I was told that they were bad people or that they would take advantage of me or something along those lines. And the truth of the matter is we need to accept each person for who they are. We need to not lump people into these different categories and say, because I don’t like this category of people I’m going to now shun every single person who identifies in that manner. I have to open the door up.
Alex Cumming: Definitely coming to the conversation, coming to the interaction with an agenda. If you have thispreconceived motive of this is what I believe of this individual, and I’m going to filter everything they say through this lens, where does growth come through that? It doesn’t.
Kent Butler: It doesn’t come. And that’s the loss, right? That’s the thing that we don’t even realize that was taken from us when we were taught that we had to close ourselves off from other people.
Alex Cumming: Yeah. What are some common misconceptions about what it means to accept individuals from different backgrounds or to be an ally. And what do you believe makes a good ally?
Kent Butler: I actually dropped ally from my vocabulary in some regards. I like to use the term co-conspirator
Alex Cumming: Co-conspirator.
Kent Butler: I find that allies are the individuals who tell you that they’re your allies.
So I think you get to choose who your ally is. That’s one thing. And I hear people say, “I’m your ally.” And they come up to you after you’ve maybe spoken out in a meeting and they say, “I like what you just said in that meeting.” And I’m like looking at my ally and I’m saying, “Well, why didn’t you say something in the meeting? Why didn’t you support what I was saying in the meeting?” So I need a co-conspirator I need somebody who will be an accomplice right there with me. Who will say, “Well, I believe what Kent just said is true, and we need to think about that and we need to do something along those lines.” So I’m not the only one that’s speaking in that space. Somebody else is actually standing in the gap and helping.
And what I mean by standing in the gap is somebody who will speak up on my behalf, whether I’m in the room or not. And so if I’m not in the room, a co-conspirator would be like, what did we think about this person? Or did we think about this issue?
Allies to me don’t necessarily do that. And maybe there’s a building of what an ally could be, but for me, I need somebody who’s going to be action oriented, who is going to actually do something. I don’t need somebody who is going to tell me that they’re my ally. I need somebody who is going to go to legislators and go to different supervisors and bosses and speak up on behalf of the student who was downtrodden, the faculty member who’s being bullied, all that.
I need somebody who’s going to stand in the gap, and allies to me don’t necessarily make that happen.
Alex Cumming: I love the term “co-conspirator.” I think that’s, a great way to describe it. Somebody that’ll stand up for you when ou’re not there when you’re not around. Somebody who’s the voice for somebody who’s not present to have their voice heard.
Kent Butler: Yeah. And in all cases, too. Somebody who doesn’t come up to you and say, “I’m sorry to happen to you.” Somebody who’s like, okay, that happened to you. I’m going to speak out against that. And I’m going to go to the people who are in power and I’m going to say that was pretty crappy.
Alex Cumming: That’s the growth mindset. That’s the, instead of letting it lay, picking yourself up, dusting yourself off. Okay. How can I make sure that doesn’t happen again?. How can I make sure that this doesn’t occur?
Kent Butler: I think it’s important for us to see each other and to be there for each other.
I think that’s what builds community. That’s what helps individuals feel good about themselves. Nobody should feel bad about themselves. People are committing suicide. People are hurting. People are feeling depressed all because of what other human beings do to them; whether they’re bullying them or treating them badly or disrespecting them in any type of way, not giving them a voice because they don’t have a degree. Oh God. I think about all those things that we do to other people to make ourselves shine and to make them feel like crap. And I wonder, why is that necessary? What does that serve? What does it serve for you to do that to someone? Each of those things build off of each other.
I think about the person who yells at a store clerk. And the next person who comes in and yells at the store clerk. Because the store clerk really has no control over what might be the rules and the regulations, or what’s happening in the store or whatever have you, but they get yelled at, or they get persecuted or treated badly. And nobody thinks about that — thinks about how that builds up to somebody’s self esteem about themselves. And they shouldn’t have to go through that.
People just need to recognize that you don’t get to treat people any kind of way, other than with respect and yeah, you might get mad or heated about something, but that doesn’t mean that you should take it out on innocent people. And typically that is what I see happening all the time. I see people thinking that their way is the right way and they kick other people to the curb. And it’s not equitable. It’s not fair. And you just make people feel like crap.
Alex Cumming: You lose the humanity.
Kent Butler: Yeah, definitely.
Alex Cumming: You lose the humanity when you remove the human element because you want to justify your ego, justify your long-held beliefs and not enter that as you’re saying that fear zone.
Kent Butler: Yeah. Yeah. And Sometimes we don’t know why we do it. We do it because this is what then taught us all our lives that we have to treat people this way.
I think back to what it must’ve been like during slave times. I do a presentation now looking at what it is my parents were seeking for me and my two sisters. And I got to believe that they wanted the best for us. They brought us into this world so that they can see us grow and develop and have access.
But when we’re seen as less than because of the color of our skin or the city or township that I grew up in or whatever have you, all those things are roadblocks to success. That’s not what they brought me here for. They didn’t want their child to be beaten up or yelled at or seen as less than. They wanted them to be respected.
And I think that’s what every parent wants. Every person should have is the respect of being who they are and meeting them where they are. And hopefully cultivating relationships that are strong because they are people being their authentic selves. And we allowed them to do that.
Alex Cumming: Respect it sounds like can come from these tough conversations to grow respect, to grow and understanding.
Kent Butler: Yeah. A lot of people are fearful of the conversation because they think there’s going to go terribly wrong. But I found that each of these conversations actually come with a really bright spots and it’s how they’re facilitated.
They don’t become yelling matches, and that’s what people are fearful of. And they’re also fearful that they’re going to be seen as this ogre or that they’re seen as a racist or, something along those lines. And actually what comes out of it is an understanding. And I think most people start to understand that because of someone’s life experiences and the way that they were brought up, they see the world this way. And I don’t go into any of my conversations trying to change people. That’s not my role. My role is to expose people. So how I live my life has always been about exposing people to and the hope therefore is for people to actually receive it and grow from it.
So it goes back to that conceptual model again. Come out of your comfort zone, get into the fear of it, all, learn something and then grow.
Alex Cumming: Wow.Kent, what advice would you give to somebody who wants to do what you do?
Kent Butler: Just again, I don’t want to sound like a Nike commercial, but I think You have to know what it is that you want. You have to go after it. You have to be open-minded. You have to be flexible. You have to find your mentors and people who can sow into you. You have to be willing to be wrong and to grow from that. I mean, there’s so much that you have to be able to do in order to do this work.
And if my goal is to bring people with me, then I need to make sure that my actions showcase that. And what I mean by that is you have to be open-minded, you have to be willing to have the conversation and you have to be willing to change yourself. When I teach my courses. I often say to students, I don’t have all the answers. I know you might be coming here thinking that I do, but I don’t always get it right. And that’s the beauty of it, right? Is that when I don’t get it right, then I can do something to help make myself better and change that narrative.
Through my counseling skills, I’ve learned that I need to meet people where they are. And if I go in like gangbusters and try to be beat into someone social justice and advocacy, I’m going to lose them. I need to go meet them where they are. And so I think, not to use cliches or anything like that, but they always say these things like you can get more bees with whatever or honey with this.
I don’t know. I see. I don’t even use them because I don’t even say them right. But you can draw more people to you if you are open to helping create and cultivate a relationship where people can hear you. If I go into a situation and I’m just yelling and screaming, I’m not going to move the needle at all.
I think about what happened in Charleston. I was watching it on TV where you had neo-Nazis and people who were I don’t know what the classification would be, but they were the ones that were walking around to Tiki torches and stuff like that.
And then there were Black Lives Matter individuals. I remember seeing some footage of them, like standing across the street from each other yelling and screaming. And I was like, you know, there’s a time when maybe yelling and screaming is really good, but you know what? Those two sides are not listening or hearing each other. They’re just yelling at us screaming their points of view.
Alex Cumming: Yelling right past each other.
Kent Butler: Yelling right past each other. I’m more of the mindset of, okay. The yelling’s over, let’s sit down and actually have a conversation. Let’s talk about what’s really happening here and really listen to each other.
And when you sit down and you talk with someone and you hear their story, then you’re validating it. The thing I try to help people move away from is I don’t want people to try to one up someone. If I tell you that I got pulled over by a police officer, and this is what happened for me, what purpose does it serve for you to come back at me and say well, I got pulled over by the police too. You’re missing the point and we always don’t move to the point. We don’t talk about the issue at hand. We’re so busy in our own worlds that we don’t allow other people to share where they are in the situation that their pain, their hurt, their suffering gets in a sense disrespected or not heard the voices is as unheard.
So it doesn’t change anything because the person who might be in a position of power or privilege or whatever have you, is not going to sit down and have that conversation. That deep conversation that’s necessary because most people are concerned about what it is that they’re going to have to give up, to have a social, equitable society where everybody can have access and the ability.
I think that’s the beauty sitting down and having difficult dialogues. If we allow ourselves to actually really, truly hear each other and listen to where each other’s coming from, understand how my life is impacted by your life and how your privilege has maybe given you this over how I’ve been able to move forward, or somebody else has been able to move forward — all those things, having an understanding of what that is in the person’s life might be able to help people see people for who they are.
I know that I had feelings about how I saw people in maybe a third-world country. Until I went to a third-world country and I actually immersed in that community and saw what was happening there.
That experience alone stopped me from having these feelings about certain things that I was hearing, because I was able to actually sit with people who were experiencing it. Once the person experiences something is hard to turn back.
I see these commercials that come on TV. I tell people this a lot, you hear the Sarah McLaughlin song come on and everybody’s like, easily turns the channel or does something until you experience it. I saw cancer a whole totally different way until my mother had cancer. When you have the experience and you live through certain things, you see things differently. That’s how I want to live my life. I don’t want to be someone who has the staunch idea behind what this is or what somebody is or what somebody represents and use it against them in a way that hurts them without me having at least some understanding of what life is like for them and what they’re going through.
Alex Cumming: When you find that humanity, you can read as many books in as many papers as you want, but once you…
Kent Butler: When somebody touches you, it’s hard to turn away from that. Because again, you start to see the realness of the situation and it’s not something that’s like you said, in a book something that you can kind of toss to the side. You can’t, you shouldn’t toss people to the side.
Alex Cumming: Never. So what’s one thing that you’re still hoping to do?
Kent Butler: Still hoping to do? Maybe not hoping to do, what hoping to see maybe? I want to see real systemic change. And I want to continue working towards helping that happen.
Alex Cumming: Well Kent, it’s been so fabulous getting to speak with you today. I’ve so enjoyed hearing what you had to say about everything. And I know I have a lot that I’m going to think about, leaving our conversation here. And I just want to say thank you so much for joining us today.
Kent Butler: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Alex Cumming: Anytime.
So thanks again for listening. Be sure to stream and download on whatever platform you use to listen to podcasts. I look forward to you joining me on this journey where we’ll learn how Knights are making a positive impact in our community, our nation, and the world. And gey, if you’re doing something cool, whether that’s at UCF or somewhere, you took UCF that we should know about, send us an email at [email protected]. And maybe we’ll see you on an episode in the future.
This podcast was produced by the UCF marketing department with music composed by college of arts and humanities. Professor Alex Burtzos. Go Knights! And Charge On!