“Some of my best friends are….”

“I don’t think of you as…”

“Where are you really from?”

Most people have heard these phrases, said Maura J. Cullen, Ph.D. Some people have even said them.

Cullen, an expert in diversity education, calls these types of remarks “dumb things well-intended people say.”

They also are micro-aggressions, defined as small, commonplace verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities, intentional or unintentional, that convey hostility. They all add up in what she calls the Pile on Principle or POP.

“Imagine a lifetime of feeling stepped on,” she said. “Either people explode or they implode.”

Cullen offered practical ways to quickly transform the quality and effectiveness of interactions in a presentation on April 6 at the John H. Ammon Medical Education Center. The event is part of a monthly series sponsored by Christiana Care’s Multicultural Heritage Committee.

She spoke about the complex and varied aspects of diversity, including different age groups, ethnicities and sexual orientation.

“This about all of us,” she said. “Everyone has a gender. Everyone has a race.”

Cullen said people sometimes make statements intended to be supportive or complimentary but end up being problematic.

“I’m lesbian and at the end of one of my talks a man came up to me and said, ‘Maura, I don’t think of you as lesbian. I think of you as a regular person. I think of you as normal,’” she said.

Cullen said it’s more important to consider the impact of what we say rather than the intention. If well-intended words hurt or offend an individual that pain is still real.

“Impact trumps intent every time,” she said.