Updated: Nov 3, 2021
Since 2000 I have been writing for business audiences, but 2020 shifted my scope to now include the work of social justice in or outside of the office. I am not sure what my role is in it yet, but I do believe that we all play one in correcting the errors of our past.
The silver bullet solution is to focus on one another’s needs versus whether or not we agree with one another’s positions, but all the knowledge in the world hasn’t stopped us from living in an “us and them" world, so what gives.
2020-2021 has been a re-education for many. It was shocking to me that someone wouldn’t want to put a mask on if another person expressed a need for it. It discouraged me to watch organizations scramble to respond to the needs of the BLM movement by appointing unqualified executives because of their race and desire for positive change, not their ability to achieve it. How many companies gave the job of Chief Inclusion Officer to someone who is an expert in engineering or medicine, but had no training in organizational dynamics or cross-cultural bridgework?
At one point my white fragility even overwhelmed my belief that I could do something about the state of social interactions today, but I refuse to give up on the idea the problem is so big that each one of us can’t still tip the scale.
This inevitably leads me back to the 5 values that I have found are universally accepted across cultures and political positions:
1. Respect for Others
2. Acceptance of Differences
3. Healthy Adaptation
4. Do No Harm
5. Repeat (it’s a continuous cycle)
If we can lean into our shared values of respect by remembering that when someone offends us, it probably wasn’t on purpose, then we can quell the typical reactions of dismissing or over internalizing. Yet coaching during 2020-2021 was more intense because people were focused on their positions regarding vaccines and racism and what we should all do about it, versus the person in front of them asking for healthy adaptation.
I remember the health care workers trying to block people from coming to their hospitals without masks or grocery store managers blocking protesters. Some of my friends would express disgust at how “bad” or “stupid” those protesters were, but I didn’t buy it. Everyone who doesn’t agree with me and you isn’t stupid or bad. They are just different.
And what about the needs of people who are inherently suspicious of authority or who don’t believe in vaccines? How can we say that the US is the land of the free, but at the same time that people who don’t agree with you are stupid?
I couldn’t reconcile that some of the same people pro-vaccine people were criticizing would be the exact ones that might race into a burning building or put their lives on the line to save us. We know that labels are necessary to organize information, but when they shift into stereotypes (a natural human tendency) they are incomprehensibly destructive to society.
So one thing everyone can do is lean away from implicit and explicit generalizations. Just because you met someone who is nice from Brazil, doesn’t mean everyone from Brazil will be nice to you. It sounds obvious, but we don’t live in these truths. On the contrary, we grab onto generalizations that are destructive to even our own well-being. Just because a person doesn’t want a vaccine, doesn’t mean they are republican, pro-Trump, or stupid. It means their culture is different and therefore all parties are responsible for building bridges between diverging belief systems for constructive organizational and social change.
Because of a lack of Intercultural Competency Development, companies have given people ultimatums to sign documents with which they don’t agree. The result, people sign a lie and resolve themselves to having to keep their view quiet. No shifts in competencies around respect are achieved and a lack of truthful communication is now rampant in organizations, whether they want to acknowledge it or not.
Like the comic where the consultant says to the clients, “You want us to DO what we recommend?” groups and people have a lot of ideas about what to do, but when the hard work of actually doing it takes place – no one can hide from our natural bias.
So what next? How can the competency development that is starting to happen in organizations be expanded to Main Street? I’m not sure yet, but goodness knows, I won’t stop trying to figure it out.