Archive for November 2016

We’re All In This Together

November 16, 2016wordswag_14792552365823

Like so many people here in the United State and around the world, I’ve had a very strong reaction to our election.  Given the pre-election polls, I was shocked by the outcome, and given how I voted, I was disappointed by it.  As I’ve ridden the roller coaster of intense emotions over the past week and listened to reactions, read articles, and talked with people in my life – I’ve been struck by the profound level of division and disconnection in our society, which actually concerns me as much as almost anything else right now.

Elections often get nasty and we tend to hold our political views passionately.  However, as a student of American politics (my degree from college is in American Studies) who has followed campaigns pretty closely for most of my adult life, this one has been particularly negative and divisive.  And, with issues of race, gender, and class being so prominent in the debate, it took on even more intensity and fear than I’ve ever seen or experienced.

In response to some of my feelings and insights about the election – specifically related to my concerns about the treatment of women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community, I wrote an “open letter to my fellow straight white men” last week and posted it on social media.  It felt both important and scary for me to write this piece and share it.

The feedback has been mixed, but enlightening – lots of comments of support, as well as many comments of disagreement.  More than disagreeing with me, however, I’ve received a number of personal attacks – people calling me horrible names (especially onTwitter), questioning my manhood and intelligence, and more.

I realize that people’s emotions are running hot right now, but I wasn’t quite prepared for this reaction.  However, I think this is important to pay attention to on a few levels. After my initial shock and stopping myself from reacting back in anger, I’ve read through all of the comments and have been sitting with my feelings of anger, sadness, confusion, defensiveness, fear, and more. When we feel attacked, it’s easier to either fight back or run away…but I think it’s even more important to lean in, get curious, and be willing to engage.

Engaging in dialogue or debate about important issues online is tricky and often unproductive – I rarely do it. I also don’t often get intense negative reactions to the things I write and say – both because of the general topics I focus on and also because of the size and nature of the audience with whom I’m communicating.

One of the main reasons I don’t usually write about or talk about politics, as well as issues of race, gender, class, oppression, and/or anything else that may be considered “controversial,” is because I don’t want to create more division – there is so much of this in our culture as it is. My work, as well as my overall approach to life, is focused on inclusiveness as much as possible. I also, quite frankly, don’t really like being called names, attacked, or criticized – I’m a pretty sensitive person, so throughout my life and with my work, I have chosen to stay away from things and topics that might open me up to harsh judgments from others.

This election outcome and the feelings and reactions of the past week have pointed out a few things to me about this. First of all, for a variety of reasons, I think it’s important for me (and many of us) to be willing get past our fears and talk about these important topics, even and especially if they’re uncomfortable. Second of all, this is hard and most of us, myself included, aren’t that skilled, experienced or comfortable doing it – especially with the intensity of the emotions and the situation right now. We also often have blind spots and insecurities – some of which we’re aware of, some of which we aren’t.  And, third of all, there is a lot of anger, fear, and separation in our country and our world right now. I’m not sure I was as fully aware of it before the election as I am now.  It’s there and although the intensity of this past week may dissipate a bit as we move into the holiday season, the underlying issues and disconnections don’t seem to be going away on their own or anytime soon.

My primary question to myself right now is: How can we lean in and engage with one another about these important issues in an authentic and productive way?  The challenge I’m sitting with personally at the moment is how to speak up for what I believe to be true and important, and at the same time do so in a way that brings me closer to those who may disagree with me?

My main questions to all of us are: How can we speak our minds and keep our hearts open? How can we stand up for those we believe are being discriminated against, and not discriminate against others in the process? How can we engage in big, complex problems, and come up with solutions (not just argue and make things worse)?  How can we be both fierce and kind at the same time? How can we see and take responsibility for our own bias and arrogance, and actually listen to one another with understanding?

I’m not sure there are easy answers to any of these questions, but it feels as important as ever to be asking them right now.  I do believe strongly that if we’re willing to ask and answer these questions, and if we have the courage to engage with each other in a productive way, it’s going to take an enormous amount of authenticity by all of us.

As I’ve learned over the past many years studying human behavior and relationships, and specifically inquiring into the nature of authenticity, it’s much easier said than done to be authentic.  Authenticity is about having the courage to be honest, first and foremost.  But, it’s also about having the self-awareness to remove our self-righteousness and the confidence to embrace vulnerability.  Honesty, without self-righteousness, and with vulnerability is what true authenticity is all about.

Dr. Martin Luther King said “We have no morally persuasive power with those who can feel our underlying contempt for them.”

What’s tricky about this for most of us is that when we’re being self-righteous, we don’t think we’re being self-righteous, we think we’re RIGHT.  Self-righteousness fundamentally separates us from one another.  If I’m “right” about something and you don’t agree with me, that makes you “wrong,” and now we have a wall between us.  The natural human response to self-righteousness is defensiveness.

On the other hand, when we have the courage and confidence to be vulnerable, we let down our guard and share what’s true and real within us.  The natural human response to vulnerability is empathy.  Empathy brings us together and connects us with one another.  It also reminds us that we’re more alike than we are different – even when we disagree.

As hard as it may be for some of us right now, it seems to me that what we need is more empathy, understanding, and compassion for one another as human beings.  Some of us are mortified by the election results, some of us are thrilled.  I think that most of us are some version of scared – this is a change and a big change. Like with any change, we don’t know what will happen and how it will turn out.  Whether we think it’s likely to be terrible, move our country in the wrong direction, and have a negative impact on us and those we love, or we think it is going to be wonderful, move our country in the right direction, and have a positive impact on us and those we love, we simply have no way of knowing at this moment.

What we do know for sure, is that we can’t really do too much without each other.  In other words, WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!

How are you feeling about the election?  What can you do?  How can we work together and come together after all of this?  Share your thoughts, feelings, and insights about this below.


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An open letter to my fellow straight white men…

November 14, 2016

It’s time for us to step up straight white men! This campaign and this election have exposed many issues in our country and our world…issues that have been there for a very long time, and although we’ve made progress on them through the years, it’s time for real change and we’re a big part of that.

Being a straight white man, although it comes with an enormous amount of privilege – some of which we’re aware of and much we simply take for granted, can be challenging and painful in certain ways that we rarely talk about. I have spent much of my life feeling (or avoiding) the shame of what white men have done (and are still doing) to women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and those less privileged.

We often don’t like to acknowledge this because it feels awful, there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it, and it’s an incredibly painful and powerless experience. It’s also scary, uncomfortable, and vulnerable to talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, and oppression of any kind – especially as a straight white man. We usually aren’t as aware of it as those who are directly impacted and even when we are, we worry that we shouldn’t talk about these things because we may hurt, upset, or offend people…or be judged, misunderstood, shamed, or attacked…called a racist, sexist, or homophobe ourselves. So, we choose to stay oblivious, to avoid it, or just sit on our hands, which is safer and easier.

Many of us have dealt with our own challenges and obstacles in life – just because we’re white, straight, and male, doesn’t mean we were born with a silver spoon in our mouth, haven’t worked hard, don’t deal with our own issues, or don’t deserve any of the success or opportunity we may have experienced. And, yes, some of us have dealt with various forms of “reverse racism” or “reverse sexism” both personally and professionally. We also like to point to the fact that much progress has been made for women, people of color, and other minorities in our culture, which is true. Or we see, hear, and read about horrible acts of hate or abuse and say to ourselves (or others), “I would never do that…I’m one of the good guys.”

However, it’s important for us to both acknowledge the privilege and power we have as straight white men and also the responsibility. The vast majority of us are not abusing women, sexually assaulting them, treating them as objects, or consciously trying to hold them back. We’re also not overtly racist or homophobic – treating people of color or gay people in rude, cruel, and oppressive ways.

Yet, these things continue to exist in our culture all over the place – and there is so much pain, suffering, fear, and trauma associated with this for so many people in our world right now. Women are being abused, assaulted, and raped all the time – right in our communities and on college campuses. Plus, just about every woman we know has been impacted directly by sexism and even sexual assault – just ask them, as awkward as that may be to bring up. Every person of color and gay person we know has dealt with racism or homophobia in their lives – in many cases in a traumatic way. Unarmed black men are dying in the streets. Muslims are being targeted and taunted. Kids are being bullied in school for being “different.” Hatred, cruelty, and oppression are taking place in both big and small ways – even if we don’t see it in our own lives or families regularly.

We just experienced a Presidential campaign and election that was filled with overt and covert racism, sexism, and hatred. I choose to believe that the vast majority of the people who voted for Donald Trump are not racist, sexist, and homophobic. However, his campaign, his rhetoric, and his election have given a sense of permission and “normalcy” to hatred, fear, and discrimination of minorities, immigrants, women, and other groups…and that is NOT okay.

As good, strong, kind, loving, compassionate, and powerful men who love our country, our significant others, our friends, and our children, we have an important role to play in this…even if we may not always see it or feel comfortable with it.

Every straight white man I know has been in situations where other straight white men around us were being overtly or covertly racist, sexist, or homophobic. While we may not have participated in it directly (although in some cases we have, especially when we were young and less conscious), we have often not done or said anything to stop it…or to at least make it clear that it’s not okay. We can no longer do this!

For better or worse, people listen to us in a particular way given our race, gender, and orientation. It may not be fair or justified (both positively and negatively), but it’s true. And even though it can be scary and uncomfortable, and some people might judge us, think we’re arrogant, insensitive, self-righteous, soft, over-sensitive, too PC, or worse, it’s time for us to step up, lean in, speak up, and do more to support the women and girls around us, and our brothers and sisters of color, everyone in the LGBTQ community, Muslims, immigrants, and any oppressed or under-represented group in our culture…i.e. everyone who is not white, not straight, and not male.

We also need to pay more attention, look, listen, and feel with as much awareness, compassion, and empathy as we can. We have to call out racism, sexism, and oppression when we see it – both personally and also in our organizations, institutions, and our society at large. This is not easy or comfortable, and isn’t usually encouraged or appreciated by those we may be calling out…but it’s essential. Sometimes we’re in a better, safer, and stronger position to call this out than the individuals or groups who are being discriminated against themselves.

This isn’t about liberal or conservative, Clinton supporter or Trump supporter, or even about our nation…it’s actually bigger than that…it’s about loving, caring for, and supporting our fellow human beings. We are brothers, sons, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, coaches, mentors, friends, and more. We are men…and at the core of our nature, we are here to provide and protect…that is our job and our responsibility, above and beyond whatever we do for a living.

And, as straight white men, we are in a unique and important position of privilege and power. We can influence change…we can stand up for kindness and compassion…and for those who need us to stand up with them or for them. We must! This moment in our history calls for our courage and strength…it’s not “someone else’s problem.” We’re all in this together…

With Love, Passion, and Courage,

Mike Robbins

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