As I check the morning news, I see there has been another massive night of rage in our country.
It makes me sad to see this. I believe there are many contributing factors that fan the flame sparked by George Floyd’s death, including lingering racism, fear, lack of trust, socioeconomic issues, tribalism, educational inequalities, pent-up sequestration anger, the government, the media, Antifa, and many others. Most of all, I believe it comes down to feelings of helplessness and desperation experienced by many people who are not capable of changing their situation.
To be perfectly clear, I love this country, capitalism, the opportunities available to all, 99.99% of our first responders and people in uniform (especially the police), free speech, and learning about opinions and thoughts that are different than mine. I am a middle-aged, successful, self-made white guy who created my own success, and I am openly proud of it. I am in a 20+ year, loving, bi-racial marriage to a Muslim immigrant. I have experienced racism and sexism firsthand, yet I do not pretend to know what it feels like to get pulled over for “driving while black”. I am not a fan of this administration (or any of the previous ones, really); I lean very much towards the libertarian party. I study history and believe that there has never been another country and economic system, ever, that has done more good for people around the world. The United States is far from perfect; however, it may be the best the world has ever seen. We cannot accept where things are. We need to continue striving to improve it.
There you go. That is who I am, and I own it. In one paragraph, I have likely pissed off many. If so, I am okay with it. It is real, not spun to sound politically correct.
If you are still reading this, you are likely either filled with rage or curious to learn about my perspectives. I have a purpose for being this blunt with my opinions.
I am involved with a small mastermind group, and we met the other night via Zoom. There are eight of us, all from different parts of the country, with diverse backgrounds and ages. Our facilitator had previously asked one of the members and a good friend of mine, a half African American guy, to talk through what it was like for him growing up, as well as his perspective about our current environment. We discussed what it felt like to be pulled over due to skin color, what it was like to experience within-race bias due to one’s success, the impact of one’s socioeconomic status, and other related issues. It was wonderful to be in an open, trusting environment to have such a great discussion. In my work sessions, I advise senior leaders to have a “spirit of curiosity” when leading and managing – seeking first to understand perspectives, motivations, and concerns. So, this Zoom meeting was an excellent opportunity for me to practice what I preach.
I have met many people from all over the world who have immigrated to the US. I felt at odds with what I was hearing. I know many immigrants who landed in this country with nothing, little to no education, sometimes with language barriers, who quickly became productive and thriving citizens. I also considered a recent mountain biking trip to the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas, where there is larger number of economically disadvantaged whites than any minority. I also truly believe there are opportunities for anyone in this country if they are willing to work hard. I have experienced this firsthand and, at one point, transitioned from penniless to a success.
I was having conflicting thoughts as our discussion progressed…
Our conversation then dove into the concept of “white privilege”. Candidly, as someone who has tried and failed a lot, worked more 80-hour weeks than I can count, and had to fight to get where I am, I have been resistant to, if not outright resentful, of this idea. However, in the spirit of curiosity, I wanted to understand the perspective. This was not a comfortable conversation, but a quality conversation.
Over the course of our evening discussion, a light bulb went off in my head. I realized in so many ways, these apparently contradictory ideas were all correct. The accuracy depended on the perspective from which they are viewed. I began to understand that the rage displayed in the protests (then riots) is a result of desperation. It is a feeling that nothing can change. There is no option for things to improve. I think the penniless immigrant who may not even speak the language does not have this perspective. The immigrant feels there is opportunity and future, and that tomorrow will be better. I can say that I am completely confident that if I had to start from scratch, with no financial resources or contacts, I could do so in this country with no problem.
However, I believe most of the people looting a Target store do not feel this empowerment or confidence that tomorrow will be better.
Just as I have the confidence knowing that if I needed to start over, I could and that I would thrive, the new immigrant has a strong internal belief that there are endless opportunities and that tomorrow will be better than today. I know and trust that through hard work and commitment, anyone can be successful. Perhaps this is the meaning of “white privilege” that I was not understanding before.
I wonder if the true inequality problem in the US is more of a disparity in confidence and a belief that a better life is possible versus a belief that nothing will change and growth is impossible.
This is an adjusted perspective that I need to consider. As this grows, I may have a different view on the civil unrest.
For years, I have had a personal “Life-Changing Goal” (LCG) of introducing one million people to a new way of thinking and impacting 100,000 lives for the better. With this adjustment in my thinking, I am starting to get my brain wrapped around the idea that maybe this thinking does not have to be limited to strategic planning and goal setting. I am starting to explore how I can have a greater impact on those who may feel frustration and hopelessness.
I would like to tie in a leadership thought: Just as this short piece hopefully challenged your comfort level and expanded your perspective, it is my hope that everyone embraces the notion that we do not all look at opportunities in the same way. It is about perspective and experience.
One of the major impacts senior leaders can have on an organization is to initiate a sense of curiosity that leads to understanding and empowering peoples’ thinking on what is possible. Empowering the people in your organization to think differently can unleash greatness. Empowering this thinking can result in growth on many levels and will benefit everyone involved.
I hope that embracing, cultivating, and teaching this form of empowered thinking will encourage others to grow. Ideally, the students become the teachers, and the impact begins reaching outside the workplace. Ultimately, through a spirit of curiosity and empowerment, we can all begin to make a difference.
Are you a leader looking to make a difference? Could your organization use more curiosity and empowerment? We can help with that! Reach out to us today to learn more.