Choose: A Joint Search for Mutually Satisfactory Solutions OR A War of Wills and Ego

However you might feel about the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and the larger movement, I think we can widely agree that "no parent should ever have to explain to their kids how to talk to the police so that they don't become an innocent victim someday".

If we put together all of the people that agree with that assessment, it is my opinion that we would have a clear majority in America.

Yet, much of the language that I see in the discussion of this is expressed in the language of a war of wills. Those-of-us-who-do chant the hashtag will continue to do so defiantly until those-of-us-who-do-not all give in. Or something...

We don't really know what the end game is. We don't know why we're arguing. All we know is we are labelling more and more people racist. (Once upon a time you actually had to do something against someone to be racist. Now all you have to do is take a nuanced position.)

I'll hazard a guess on the endgame if we continue down that road. A war of wills turns into a war of ego. No one likes to give in and they remember it in resentment when they do. (Yes, this is nearly verbatim from "Getting Past No." Wisdom doesn't have to be original... just true.)

The time for a program of awareness has come and gone. The people who care to be aware have overwhelming evidence that something strange is going on and it's going to be hard work to change it. The time is now ripe for a shift from awareness toward the joint search for mutually satisfactory solutions.

We need ideas. Specific ones. Ones that condemn neither Black Americans or Police Officers as being inherently wrong or at fault. Ones that don't attack white people for having been born white. Ones that don't condemn people who mean well but aren't sure what to do.

Condemning is cheap, lazy, and seductive. Do you have it within you to propose instead?

With specific proposals, we can leverage that majority that I think exists. We can name specific action. We can lead.

None of us chose this situation. No human being would. But it is in the nature of life as human that we must rise to take responsibility for things that are "not our fault".

To Enroll People To Your Cause, Respect Them

I just had an interaction online with an author on Medium. It will be my last one with this author. His style of "discussion" is not for me.

The author is one I have had interactions with in the past and they have been mostly civil and optimistic. Increasingly, I notice that he's being more free with his words. And I dismissed it last time when he dismissed my ideas as "crazy talk". This time, I have more data points to notice a pattern.

As background, the author is writing because he would like to get people off of the sidelines and into the streets in support of Black Lives Matter. In his recent article, the author stated:

What I don’t get is how anyone who believes they’ll never be able to understand what it’s like to be black in America (I interpret that as “because I’m not black I’ll never truly understand, so why try”) can believe that the Black Lives Matter movement is making the plight of black people worse?

It sounded like a statement of honest inquiry. So, I wrote two replies: One about how there is no substitute for direct experience. And another relating my experience of initial and evolving reactions to the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag.

And it turns out that he wasn't interested in understanding such a perspective any better. Maybe he's frustrated, but he was also disrespectful in his reply and I decided that maybe we weren't people who could have a discussion after all.

What I notice is that he engaged in name-calling rather than to acknowledge that my sharing of what I notice may have some value as part of the discussion, even as he might disagree. I also noticed some assymetry. As pertains to his cause, he wants you to relate to his experience (i.e. "Understand what it's like to be black in America..."). But as pertaining to my experience, a quick glance at his reply suggests that he only wants me to understand his reasoning.

Empathy isn't a one-way street. Is it?

What sort of person expects your empathy but grants you none in return? Apparently, a person that also can't seem to talk about your perspective without also diminishing it at the same time. He called my words, "floating a turd" and included quips like "no shit". Is this respectful?

Now I have no problem with disagreement. But my minimum bar is respect for what I have to say. And if my interlocutor can't grant me that, our interchange does not qualify as a civil discussion.

Maybe he feels like blame and name-calling and false either-or dichotomies are the way to get people off the sidelines but I know nearly no one who will join a cause because a proponent of that movement was disrespectful to what they had to say.

What An Invitation Looks Like

How would I go about inviting people to come off the sidelines?

Look... You may not agree or even get what Black Lives Matter is about but we are on the streets to protest unequal handling by law enforcement. We may not know exactly what policies to propose, but if you joined us for a walk, we can at least show that we do not support the way things are now. And if you're there, fewer bad things may happen to us while we are out there. We don't want trouble, we just want the law to be applied equally to all. Can you walk with us?

That's it.

I wouldn't tell you what you ought to think or how you need to change yourself (or whether you're part of the problem because of what you say).

I'd tell you what I notice.

And if I wanted your help, I'd ask very specifically what kind of help and explain why it is needed.

As a person appealing to another person's humanity, I would muster every effort to be patient and calm. This would be hard. The situation is grossly unjust, which is a trigger issue for me. It makes me furious. My blood boils every time I think about it.

But my triggers are my responsibility even if they are not my fault. They are mine to notice and to figure out how to deal with because I am a grown-assed man and I take that seriously.

You Can't Influence Someone While Judging Them

The reason I shared my perspective with the author at all is that I think there are many people who would rise to a respectful and specific invitation. They won't do it because what you said made them feel guilty. They won't do it if they have concerns that a demonstration might turn into an uncontrolled mob.

They don't like feeling attacked and don't help those who seem to attack. They're not stupid and they're not unjust, so don't even suggest it.

I think a great many people who are not black do care and would help but they aren't exactly sure how, when, or where. These people need to be organized and lead by some calm, collected people who respect them and do the hard work to enroll them into the cause.

Their daily lives are important to them. Your cause is important to you. Yes your cause is also important to them because it's a universal principle, but that point is subtle and hard to get across. Respect that.

Everyone has their priorities and you're asking people to change it. RESPECT THAT.

Respect everyone.

And if you can't? Then expect people who care to stay on the sidelines. And console yourself with your name-calling and casting of aspersions. Those grapes were probably sour anyway.


The Reason You Can’t Understand What Black Americans Are Going Through

Choose Ownership When The World Feels Grim

What happens when we own the bad things that happen rather than trying to understand who is to blame and who is right and wrong? When we own them, sometimes it will hurt. But when we own them, we also ask what is within our sphere of influence that we can change in order to reduce the chance of a bad thing happening.

We reach out to people to get ideas. We search within ourselves. And we start to experiment with different ways of getting things done that may be less fragile than what we do today.

Any situation where we accept blame and take responsibility is an opportunity and a privilege. These are THE BEST opportunities because we know one version of something that is possible and has happened, and it wasn't good.

We can devote our energy to improving our processes and systems against a real scenario. This is how progress is made. Making a difference in the world is nothing more than investing your emotional energy to think and act to make some thing, person, or system better.

What happens to our emotional experience and self esteem when we take ownership?

Ownership is facing the messy world and taking it on to impose order over one small bit of it. The act of taking ownership means transitioning from the states of apathy, victimhood, and blame toward thought and action. You will never be more fully yourself than when thinking and acting.

Ownership means that this time, whether it works or not, we are doing this. We are not helpless. We've got this. (How do these words make you feel?)

Take ownership enough times and you may come to realize something that has been true all along: We don't need to run to go get help. We are the help. We just have to show up.

With enough practice under our belt, we show up consistently. We show up sooner. We tactically deploy our emotional detachment so that we don't act blindly. This lets us take a step back and take in the broader view and make sure we are aren't missing some crucial data.

But we never detach 100%. We show up because we care.

Choose to Care and Choose Ownership

Choose ownership and lean into it and I promise you, the situation will feel less grim. When faced with darkness all around, you have chosen to be the light. And the morale boost your teammates get may help them to fight harder and run faster as well. And it will probably turn out that they are a light for you, to help you to keep your morale going.

When your actions are a positive impact on morale, you know you are making a difference. This is the meaningful work you've been looking for. You have become the sort of impact you have always wanted for everyone around you. Soak it up!