I couldn’t help myself. It started with friendly banter, but it didn’t take long before I was ranting about racial inequality, wearing masks, and what good leadership looks like.
You may be the type who stays clear of race, COVID-19, and politics—no matter who’s in the conversation. But I have always enjoyed a good debate with knowledgeable people. I like testing my ideas, values, and stances with friends and family who will love me after the sparring ends. To my great sadness, those people are becoming fewer and fewer.
After this week, they may be fewer still because I failed to self-regulate. I lashed out about the more than 170,000 deaths from a pandemic too many people still think is a hoax. I cried out about the injustice of the disproportionate numbers of the dead who are black and brown people, essential and frontline workers, and healthcare professionals. I practically shouted my outrage for how a public health issue became a political one. I admonished ignorant voters in a democracy dependent on an educated electorate. I vented my fears of economic collapse, rampant bigotry, and a failed democracy. I even shed a tear for humanity.
I am not an epidemiologist or an expert on race relations, but I know something about leadership and what motivation science tells us about human nature. I’m a well-read political junky with well-formed opinions. But as I wrote in one of four apologies this past week: “That doesn’t make me right and it should not make me self-righteous.”
A Bold Alternative
Common wisdom encourages us to talk about our perspectives and tug at our differences in hope of finding common ground. But whether you’re talking about today’s critical issues or doing your best to avoid them, it’s not working. We aren’t coalescing. We are pushing each other apart—either through our words or our silence.
I realize we have choices when it comes to how we communicate about thorny issues.
Avoid thinking about controversial issues, having an opinion, and discussing them out loud.
Speak up and speak out because you’re self-righteously angry, fearful, or frustrated with a need to change someone else’s opinion
Stop talking out loud while doing the inner work necessary to become the change you want to see
Speak up and speak out from a place of compassion, caring, love, and genuine concern for others—not your own agenda
Stop talking because you are the change you want to see and your life speaks for itself.
Where do you stand? Today, Number 1 doesn’t feel appropriate. Silence born of avoidance is moral disengagement at a time when the world needs morally engaged citizens. Number 2 seems more rampant than ever (speaking for myself, at least).
What if those of us who admit to Number 1 and 2 embrace an alternative approach? What if we begin with Number 3, hoping to be equipped one day to practice Number 4 or 5?
What if we truly embraced Gandhi’s advice to become the change we want to see in the world? What if we took Albert Camus’ idea to heart and did the inner work required to be absolutely free of the judgment, bias, hostility, fear, disinterest, need to be right and win, anger, and moral disengagement that keep us imprisoned—and keeps all those who are victims of our thinking imprisoned along with us?
Each of us needs to find our own path to free ourselves—and potentially help liberate the world from what divides us. I’ve made my plan. You might find it helpful. Or not. 😊
A Plan for Doing the Inner Work of Becoming Free
My plan is to create choice, connection, and competence as a general, global, fully integrated way of living. When you’ve mastered creating choice, connection, and competence in your daily living, you experience self-actualization. Your life reflects an overarching growth and integrative process that are functioning effectively.
1. I choose to stop engaging in conversations that fill my need to express my opinion, judgement, or perceived wisdom. I will not encourage conversations that result in us becoming even more entrenched in our self-righteousness. Instead, I’ll have conversations with my higher self through meditation. I’ll reflect on why I believe what I believe. If I catch myself in a conversation, I will seek to understand, practice patience, and learn as much as I can. Grist for the mill.
2. I am creating connection being more other-focused, compassionate, and concerned for the welfare of the whole. My intention is to let go of my self-focused perspective and judgment of others, so I can better seek the divinity in everyone. Each person I meet is a mirror. Acknowledging their divine nature is the only way I’ll ever see it in myself.
3. I am creating competence by scrupulously monitoring the integrity of my resources, validating facts, and embracing the truth—wherever it takes me. I am exploring the source of my beliefs and consciously developing the quality of my values. I commit to high-information decision making (and voting).
Many of you are a step ahead on the path of doing the inner work necessary to combat lazy thinking and sloppy feeling. I received an unprecedented number of responses to last month’s CHOMP where encouraged people to reflect on their beliefs about human nature before they come to conclusions about the root causes of racial inequality.
I’ve selected a sampling of comments, resources, and ideas that represent a variety of perspectives, including from non-Americans. (If your comment isn’t included, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t valued.)
A.M.: Always good to challenge ourselves and reevaluate our perspective. I've been doing this a lot lately and it's peaceful—even though it's painful. Strange blend of feelings. We must better understand other people's experiences. I just bought James Baldwin's book...found the documentary on him fascinating. Plan to watch the debate he did with William F Buckley, too.
E.H.: I agree we need to help. No way are we near a level playing field. Three sources I recently watched have deepened my understanding of racial bias and injustice.
Just Mercy—must-see movie based on a true story. What happened in 1987 is still happening today.
Oprah Winfrey’s YouTube 2-part series, Where Do We Go from Here? Part 1 and Part 2
M.M.: I’ve taken a couple of the Harvard tests, but never on race, so I took it this morning. I expected to come out relatively neutral, without any strong preference for either Black or White people. Turns out, though, that I actually scored in the 2% of people who have a strong automatic preference for Black people over White people. Fascinating.
B.H.: We don't care. "I got mine, you don't count." That attitude allows us to label people as "The Other" and treat them differently. Black, Brown, Asian—they are different and therefore by definition, inferior. In the richest country in the world, it allows us to pass by people living on the street and do nothing. It also explains our political divide, The Other, is not worthy of listening to, they may be treated with contempt. We have forgotten the concept of Power With as opposed to Power Over. Our business models are built around pyramids, not rectangles or circles. For me to win, you must lose. One of my favorite books has a concept: "The true mark of a Master is not how many students he/she has, rather it is how many she/he has helped to achieve mastery."
D.C.: Thank you Susan for his blog. This issue is so important, and that it permeates our whole society, requires that we continue to talk about it even though it’s uncomfortable. It started in the 16th century when we began importing African people as slaves. Slavery only ended about 150 years ago and was followed by horrible conditions for African Americans right up to the current day. The horrible treatment of Native Americans throughout our history and right up to the present day reflects our white supremacy attitude.
It is obvious in all our systems like the criminal justice system, the legal system, the economic system, the education system, the housing system, and on and on. Slavery was followed by separate and equal which was really separate and unequal and that existed legally in this country until the civil rights act of 1965. I remember being in civil rights demonstrations in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s over many of those issues. Sexism parallels racism and continues to exist throughout our various systems.
You are right on. We can’t solve the problem until we admit that there is a problem and that’s why it’s so important that we keep talking about this and taking action.
S.C.: I received the following post that I wanted to share with you after reading your message. I found his explanation very helpful in succinctly describing white privilege and the equity divide across our history based upon racism. Michael Barrow is with Michael Barbanti
A.E.: Being a citizen from the 3rd world (Africa), let me share with you how I react to your newsletter. This might contribute to answering your question about assumptions sustaining different kind of inequalities.
In 2012, a military putsch happened against a civilian government (which originated from free elections after decades of dictatorship) in Egypt. US and Western European countries immediately recognized and sustained the new dictators. Though American laws prohibit selling arms or giving any financial aid to any government emanating from a putsch, the US administration enforced this law and sold weapons to militaries in power.
I think this behavior resulted from a deep assumption: democracy is for rich and advanced countries, not for 3rd world countries. Defending this behavior, an American Senator said: we don’t have to forget that we went through a lot of hardships before we establish a democratic system!
K.P.: I tend to shy away from topics like this with work associates (which is interesting in itself, since I do not consider this a political topic) but I felt compelled to let you know I enjoyed reading your thoughts. May we all aim for a brighter future.
M.T.: Big amen from me on meritocracy. Much has been written about this myth and the trap it creates into thinking “if I just work harder, I will get ahead.” It is not just a racism trap—it is a classism trap for all working-class folk. It hits Blacks harder due to the wealth they were not allowed to amass in slavery (and doubly their labor amassed for the owners) and that was continually denied them during reconstruction. Jim Crow also created a prison boom which continued their free labor, mainly in the south. This was all way before redlining even, which was a continuation of systemic oppression.
Another big amen on the broad brush of your friends using “some people.” I smell fundamental attribution error here. My setbacks are because I got a raw deal, those other people had setbacks because they didn’t try hard enough (Myth of Meritocracy again). Rush got fired 9 times because he has an insufferable ego; I cannot imagine him in any workplace other than his own. May God bless him, and I wish him deep peace.
That said, we see great examples of optimal motivation from the slave era, similar to Victor Frankl. Their choices to sing, to create music, to have joy, to seek education, and still seek freedom, to me, are every bit as admirable as Frankl.
Happy Independence Day. May we (the privileged) become educated, willing to act, and become good followers of Black leaders as we together seek the promise of our nation.
R.S.: If you haven't read Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s book, Stony the Road, about Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow, I recommend it. I grew up in Jim Crow Texas in the 40's and 50's. The book explains why we whites have some of the prejudices that we do and that helps to overcome them.
Are you familiar with Francis Perkins, the true architect of the New Deal? Her theory of government is almost identical to that of Albert Einstein: “The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.” Frances Perkins was a giant: https://francesperkinscenter.org/life-new/
C.O.: I am not a scholar on race. But I believe that yes, we do have a problem. It is hundreds of years old and will hopefully weaken with each coming generation. But we can accelerate change! I have been investing time in reading the work of scholars in this area and working to become anti-racist. My husband and children are black. I am white. And while I may seem “woke” by outward appearance because of my love and choices, I am still learning every day. I am glad to see you as a partner in that. Recommended reading https://www.amazon.com/Privilege-Power-Difference-Allan-Johnson-ebook/dp/B06XCTHLSP
A.P.: You write about assumed constraints. That was helpful. After the assumptions we make for ourselves, we have unlimited assumptions for the world around us. We assume we are better, and others are not. And that above all is wrong. Unfortunately, we cannot stop the planet and reset the world. But we can always try to make it a peaceful place to be.
A.K.: First I thought, well that looks interesting, let's try this test out. Although I'm not American, I was struck with the very first question: Why does inequality exist? I didn't really know how to answer and decided to get my girlfriend’s opinion too. We had a discussion for at least a half an hour. We still do not have a common answer or a clear and proud one for ourselves. WOW. This is really deep once you try to choose between the "right" and "your" answer, understand what "do" we believe, and "should" we believe!!!
I decided to involve my best friends, with whom I can openly discuss these. You really did something that deserves a huge hug, for humanity.
J.I.: I was in the US only some 18 months, however, I believe very much in the power of systemic thinking. This article about the archetype “success to the successful” that may explain part of the problem. The point is that if somebody starts from a disadvantaged position in a competitive environment, usually it will get worse (self-fulfilling-prophecies). In some cases, an unjustified lack of commitment can contribute to the problem, but most of the time is a problem with the “system.”
K.W.: We all need to do our part to dismantle white supremacy. I think the discomfort is when you know you are getting it right. I recently read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and learned a lot.
If you missed my SmartBrief on Leadership article that started all this, check it out, here.
With love and gratitude,
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