Rod’s Retort: Close Your Eyes And Envision///

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Left Behind

No one wants to be left behind. We want to be part of the group, the family, the community, the society. I think the presidency of Barak Obama and the now current presidency of Donald Trump have ignited long forgotten and largely ignored feelings in this country. Progress happens and when something new comes along people often feel challenged, inadequate, and threatened.

This week I want to further explore Keith’s last blog Close Your Eyes and Envision but feel I should first give some context from my life and then I will eventually tie the two together, I promise <wink>.

My experience mentoring

During the past few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to mentor some amazing folks, mostly straight out of college. I remember an early conversation a recent college hire, specifically her asking if I’d consider mentorship. I was surprised partially because I’d not considered mentoring anyone and I I felt ill-equipped to deliver. I remember thinking and said aloud, “why? What can I bring to the table? You’re smarter than me and I’ll likely be working for you in the not too distant future.” This was an accurate assessment based on what she’s doing today. Turns out I was able to assist with a few things, although that’s not the point of this. My response and thoughts provide a peek into what I was feeling at the time, inadequate and threatened. I saw her and her class of new hires as these young ones with a ton of skill and ability. It was initially very threatening, I felt as is my job was somehow threatened and wondered why I’d want to teach my replacement(s).

Spoiler alert, my job was not threatened. At all. My feelings were completely unfounded. See my explanation of an amygdala response here. I suppose I was afraid of being left behind.

Thoughts on Keith’s Analogy

Keith’s blog last week is his genius homegrown analogy to explain what he sees as a big problem in the US (likely even the world) right now.
He provides an astute observation on what white America (and frankly many industries) are experiencing these days. It’s not really a right or wrong thing – it’s just a great look at what’s happening and “a” if not “the” cause of backlash felt by so many groups (black, brown, women, gay, immigrant, etc..) today.

Entitlement is a tricky thing and it tries to wrap us all up one way or another.
People who’ve traditionally held a job or industry, tend to feel entitled to it. When others, new people, outsiders, people that look different gain access there is a feeling of betrayal and unfairness. Even if others have been unfairly excluded from that very job (industry) for years, decades, longer.

The first time I heard the analogy it I was annoyed.

Not with Keith, with the fact that he’s right. The average white American is mad that they are “losing” opportunities and afraid of becoming irrelevant as a group. Annoyed that a fair fraction of white America is actually mad that others finally have an opportunity to catch up in some (not all) areas, that a black man made it to the White House and many more things I’m sure. I’m not surprised, just really annoyed by the fact of it all.

Then I read it again and I sat with it for a bit. I realized a few things. Firstly, who’d want to give up position or power? I’m sure I wouldn’t. Also, there have been moments in which I’ve been that person. The person that was perfectly capable of achieving or doing more, while complaining about someone else getting what I felt ‘should’ be mine. Not to mention having felt a sliver of fear that I may no longer be necessary because others are more capable.

Basically, I’m saying one some level I understand where the sentiments come from. And it sucks. I don’t like or agree with the sentiments, I do get from whence they come.

The thing about Empathy

It’s a choice.

It really is. That is why it sucks so much. It’s so much easier to ignore it when I don’t want to use it. I’d much rather smack people until they wake up and see the full picture than understand where they are coming from. You know, understand why they don’t see it. In this case, I do see it, I do get it. Our brains are wired for survival. Some of us are more keen toward that end than others but it’s our primary directive if you will. Overriding that directive takes a shit ton (I have the math somewhere for how much that is) of conscious thought, will, and desire. Most people don’t override it, I don’t blame them It requires a lot of energy and the payoff isn’t guaranteed to be worth it.

On to why I told my mentor story. I told it because through it I have glimpsed a fraction of what people feel when their job is on the line due to something new. I feel a tiny fraction of what they feel and I remember it. Through that, I can find it in me to express empathy, although I don’t want to.

Empathy, we need more.

My Learnings & How I’m Applying Them

Well, I’ve taken this blog as a personal challenge to do 2 things:

1) Take a deeper look into where people are coming from. Specifically, those that complain about diversity, equality, times changing. Now, there are obviously bigoted people – I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about those that are genuinely confused because the landscape has changed and they haven’t and they actually feel as if they’ve been treated unfairly. Human beings are built to survive, so at a basic level, I can understand this feeling they have. On another level I can tap into similar feelings I’ve experienced and employ empathy. If I’m to overshare (as I’m want to do), this isn’t easy for me. My immediate response is to say tough shit, get over it… Then I realize that’s not in line with my personal mission: [Connection + Purpose] nor is it in-line with the mission of More in Common Podcast. Here I am trying to evolve and come to the common ground. Not sure where this will take me, but I’m sure I’ll be sharing it as it happens.

2) Approach conversations about inequality from a different angle. Keith’s analogy is brilliant and perhaps I can use it to reach a few people.

RodneyKeith Richardson