It feels like this year we have reached a critical moment in our development as a species. We are being called to dig deep and rethink how we are living and most importantly, how we treat one another and how we love.
We are being called upon to rise up and fight against two deadly virus strains, COVID-19 and racism. Whilst the former seemed like an unimaginable thing to overcome a few short weeks ago, my sense is that it will wind up being a lot more straightforward than the latter.
For the former, we have seen different responses, but overwhelmingly have been seeing organisations leading with love where they can, and adopting a family first mentality. We have seen folks moving heaven and earth to care for one another. In a fairly stark state of affairs I am happy to say that we’ve seen a lot of love.
The latter though involves something much deeper than a lot of people feel comfortable stepping into. It calls for calls for a whole new spectrum of love. It calls for people to step into a space of deep personal inquiry and exposure to things that cause discomfort. Humans have an inbuilt protection system that seeks to escape pain, which sometimes can be useful. This time, however, we have to override that system, we have to love enough to put aside our personal discomfort and dive in anyway.
Getting comfortable with discomfort
What I would say to people feeling any degree of discomfort right now at the idea of diving into this level of inquiry, is to compare that discomfort to the lifetime of abuse that black people have experienced, over and over again. When you think about it in those terms, it becomes a little easier to reconcile any moderate discomfort of your own.
The call right now is for deep analysis of the structure of the world we are living in and positive change across every level. To have any hope at doing that, we have to understand the complexity of the challenge in a real way. And by we, I really mean white people. This is a time for awakening and awareness.
Lead with love
As business leaders and as human beings I would like to see more of us being honest about not having the answers just yet, of being prepared to listen, to learn and to gradually iterate our organisations and society in a way that gives rise to positive momentum for our black communities.
Here are some of the things I am choosing right now to support that mission:
1. Seeking education
There are so many phenomenal talks online happening right now, there are so many documentaries and talks already available, there are so many books to read and people to listen to. The only thing you really need to do is to step into the unknowing and be prepared to listen, be prepared to unlearn the things you think you know about yourself and the world around you. Here is a great resource as a starter for ten, and I will keep sharing more as I find them.
My loving audit of my current internal and external environments is only just getting started. As someone who has always taken an active interest in other peoples lived experience, I have been shocked by just how much more I have learnt (and unlearnt) in the past week and my learning will continue. I am tangibly and increasingly aware of my privilege.
2. Sharing ideas, even if they feel a little clumsy
Change often starts with the sharing of ideas, before taking a specific action. Who are the people you might be able to reach out to discuss some of what you are already thinking? If you want to reach out to me to have a conversation about this, clumsy or otherwise, I would love to hear from you. I am committed to sharing ideas as often as possible with as many people as possible, this week alone I have six calls set up with people to discuss this very topic.
3. Taking the time to connect with people and really listen
I am thrilled to hear the phrase ’employee activism’ more and more. That for me is a positive sign that we are getting something right, even in a small way, for it means that we have so far been successful in creating an environment where people feel sufficiently empowered to step up and have their voice heard.
My ask to you all as employees is that you keep speaking up. Keep showing businesses where the blind spots are. In technology we hire people quite deliberately who will challenge, who will help us see what we are missing. This will be essential for us to move towards an anti racist environment for all.
4. Creating a safe space for the education of others
We need to call out what we see and hold one another to account on what those things are, but we have to keep loving each other in the process. We have to be prepared to forgive one another when we get things wrong, and in doing so, love harder than we ever have before to really make progress here.
As business leaders and as human beings, this is where we have to lead from the front on our openness to challenge. We have to normalise difficult conversations and help everyone step into the discomfort by creating an environment where it is safe to do so.
5. Being collaborative
Human beings are born whole and with everything we ever really need to thrive within us. If we are in a difficult moment in time and aren’t thriving, we simply haven’t configured ourselves in quite the right way to be able to access the parts of ourselves that we need to overcome those things. Once we learn how to access our toolkit, we can learn to configure ourselves in the right way to thrive. All with our own natural resources.
My hopeful heart would like to apply that analogy to current state of our society. I believe that we have all we need to put ourselves back together the right way this time, with our collective natural resources. But it will take all of us, and I mean all of us, to really make that change happen and to work together to find the right configuration to enable us all to truly thrive.
Start small to create big changes
Whilst we are a long way from a solution here and I sure don’t have the answers yet, what I do know how to do, is to change things, having done so much of it in my own world.
When faced with change in my own tiny plot of earth, at first the magnitude of the change needed has often felt overwhelming. The only way I have been successful in creating radical change in my life, is by breaking everything down into tiny choices. Rather than attempting to swallow the watermelon whole, by cutting it into slices.
When we break the big things down into the thousand tiny choices that they really are, things become way more manageable. It’s almost like you trick yourself into believing the simplicity, in order that you can grow into the space needed to make the big change. Those tiny thousand choices soon add up to the big change that seemed too big to fathom.
We won’t suddenly build an anti-racist society by simply doing one big thing. It will be those thousands of tiny choices that we all make in our own lives that add up to creating the kind of radical change we all need to see.
Let’s commit to taking those baby steps day to day and keep asking ourselves; in this moment, in this day, in this scenario, is there something I can choose here that will support this transformation? Or to use the words of Abadesi Osunsade; “Is this going to help to build an anti racist society or is this going to hurt it?”