Recently I’ve found myself getting into some infuriating debates on social media (mostly with fellow white folks) about racism, law enforcement, the current state of our country, and, specifically, the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
I’m usually pretty good at not engaging with people and in discussions that don’t seem respectful or productive. I’m all up for healthy debate, for being challenged, and for trying to influence people. I’m also passionate about finding common ground and working to see things from different perspectives. These are some of the main reasons I wrote my most recent book, We’re All in This Together, and wanted it come out in 2020, in the midst of this incredibly divisive time.
Last night someone I don’t know came at me aggressively on Instagram and instead of just ignoring it, I went down the rabbit hole for a while and got really triggered and angry. Thankfully, my wife Michelle talked me down and helped me disengage.
As I tried to calm down and got into bed, I cracked open our friend Glennon Doyle’s book, Untamed, and happened to open it right to a chapter called “racists.” As I read, I began to breath more deeply. She beautifully articulated a few things in this chapter that really resonated with me.
Close to 90 percent of white people approve of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, while only about 30 percent of white people approved of him during the civil rights movement (which is about the same percentage of white people who approved of Colin Kaepernick when he first took a knee in protest back in 2016).
Glennon quoted a piece of Dr. King’s famous 1963 essay, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in which he wrote this:
“I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’.”
Wow…these words hit me like a ton of bricks for a few reasons. First of all, what Dr. King was writing about back in 1963 from that Birmingham jail is what I am seeing and hearing a lot of these days. Some of the people I’ve been arguing with have even used Dr. King as an example essentially saying “he did it the right way,” but then accusing those who are protesting today for doing it the “wrong way.” This makes me crazy…I find it incredibly disrespectful and disingenuous.
But, second of all, the deeper truth I had to grapple with as I read these powerful words is my own moderation, my own racism, and the subtle ways in which I actually do the things that Dr. King is calling out in this essay, which perpetuate racial inequality and white supremacy.
Like the smoke in the air in California right now, we’ve all been breathing in the toxicity of racism here in America our whole lives – it’s in us whether we want to own it or not.
I think a big part of what’s happening right now in our country is that many people are waking up a bit more to this toxicity and seeing the devastating and deadly impact it has had and is still having on black and brown people, and on our entire society.
Those of us who simply get to learn about systemic racism (and not experience it directly) are incredibly privileged. And, we have the opportunity to use this privilege to actually make our country fairer, more just, and more humane.
To do this we’re going to have to continue to grapple with not only how the racism of our country impacts us personally, but how we internalize it and even perpetuate it, both consciously and unconsciously. And, in doing this, we can continue to both learn and unlearn, and we can also actively participate in the changes that are necessary. While this is not easy or comfortable, it is essential.
As we get closer to the election here in the US, I have a feeling that things are going to be increasingly intense and volatile. I feel scared, sad, and angry…and, at the same time, I also feel excited, hopeful, and ready.
We have a lot of work to do – within ourselves and our country. And, as Dr. King also famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
There is a weariness that a lot of us are experiencing these days with everything going on in the United States and the world the past few weeks and months.
As I talked about on a recent podcast episode, there are some specific things I think we can focus on right now to navigate these challenging times and hang in there.
- Pace Yourself. This is one that I struggle with and have been challenged by recently, but it’s essential. Even if we have tons of passion, lots to do, and feel called to act, serve, respond, speak up, or engage, it’s important for us to take breaks, care for ourselves, and remember that it’s usually a marathon not a sprint – which is so true right now.
- Check in with Others. When we get stressed and there is so much uncertainty around us, like these days, there’s a tendency many of us have to go into fight-or-flight survival mode. While this totally makes sense, it’s also important for us to pay attention to those around us whom we live with, work with, and know. So many people are hurting right now for lots of reasons. Checking in with others allows us to offer our support to those who can use it and also helps us shift our focus off of ourselves, which can benefit everyone involved.
- Stay in the Present Moment. This moment right now is all we ever have and where our personal power resides. In the present moment we have choice and we can discern. When we’re stuck in the past or worried about the future, our power, influence, and perspective are all limited. With things being so unstable these days, it makes sense that we’re concerned about the future. However, the more we can challenge ourselves to stay in the present moment, the better we’ll be at navigating the difficulties and disruptions we’re facing.
- Remember…This, Too, Shall Pass. Without minimizing or diminishing the seriousness of the moment in history we find ourselves in today – in the midst of a global pandemic and at a time of painful, yet important reckoning in America about systemic racism, it can be helpful for us to take the long view. Most of us will be fortunate enough to survive this experience and we will collectively get to the other side of it. Nothing in life is forever and the intensity of this time will pass. Having this perspective will serve us in so many ways.
- Don’t Waste This Crisis. Many years ago, when I was going through a difficult period in my life, a therapist I was seeing said to me, “Don’t waste a good crisis.” She was challenging me to look at the learning opportunities in the midst of my painful struggle. There is so much opportunity for change, growth, and transformation for us right now – personally, culturally, and more. It is up to us to do the work necessary to make these shifts, learn from this experience, and create sustainable change.
I know this is a rough and exhausting time for so many of us. What we’re facing is unprecedented on many levels. And, as hard as it is, if we dig deep, lean on each other, and remember how strong we are – individually and collectively – we can not only make it through, we can become better and more resilient in the process.
Even though we’re in this same storm, yet different boats, I also think it’s important to remember and focus on the idea that we’re all in this thing at the same time. We can and we will get through this.
Feel free to leave a question or comment below.
This has been one of the most intense periods I’ve ever experienced in our country and our world in my lifetime (I was born in 1974).
I’ve been feeling angry, sad, scared, helpless, shocked, and much more. The emotional roller coaster that most of us have been on the past few months with the pandemic seems to have gone into overdrive with the tragic, senseless, and brutal murder of George Floyd.
In the midst of the protests, reactions, outrage, curfews, news coverage, and more – I’ve been hearing a lot of people ask the question, “What can I do?”
I think the answer to this question does depend a bit on who we are, where we are, our level of privilege and power in our society, our background and identity, our experience, and more.
And, even with all of these variables and differences, here are a few ideas I have for how we can each be a positive force for change in our country and our world right now:
1. Listen and Learn– There are so many brilliant and powerful voices from within the African American community and other communities who have deep wisdom and perspective to teach. A book I recommend is called How to Be an Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi. And, whether we read this book or other books, the more willing we are to listen to those who have insight and important lived experience, the more we can learn, grow, and evolve.
2. Speak Up– Using our voices and our platforms to speak up is so important, especially at this time. Although our country and our world are so polarized and politicized these days, and many of the issues being addressed right now are emotionally charged, speaking up for justice, fairness, truth, love, accountability, and unity are things we can all do, even and especially if we feel angry or scared. Audre Lorde said, “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” It’s also important to let our elected leaders know what we think and to demand change.
3. Support People and Groups Doing Important Work– There are so many courageous people and groups doing incredible work right now (and have been for many years). This past week we donated to the GoFundMe page for George Floyd’s family and to the #BlackLivesMatter organization. If you are able to support people or groups financially, that can be incredibly powerful. And, helping shine the light on and lift up voices and organizations doing important work is something all of us can do. Using any privilege we have to help those who may have less privilege than us is essential and empowering.
4. Be Willing to Make Mistakes– One of the biggest things that stops us from learning, connecting, growing, helping, and inspiring change is that we’re afraid to make mistakes, upset people, cause problems, do something wrong, make ourselves vulnerable, or be judged. While all of these things make sense, they get in the way of conversations, actions, and support that can make a real difference. As Dr. King said, “An individual has not started living until he or she can rise above the narrow confines of his or her individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
Things may seem hard, scary, and painful right now – they do to me, and to just about everyone I know. And, it feels like we’re at a pivotal moment in our country and our world…a real inflection point.
This is not a time for us to sit on the sidelines and observe, this is a time for us to get in the arena – to listen, learn, speak up, support, and be willing to make mistakes – all in service of being a positive force for change.
Even though we’re all different and we each have unique backgrounds and experiences that impact how we view what is going on right now…I truly believe, we’re also all in this thing together and we have the power to make things better. We can and we must!
Feel free to leave a question or comment below.
As challenging and vulnerable as receiving feedback can be, giving it can also be quite difficult. And for us to be successful leaders, teammates, parents, friends, spouses, and human beings, it’s important to give feedback effectively to those around us.
According to a study conducted by psychologist Tessa West of NYU for the NeuroLeadership Institute, we have an automatic fight-or-flight threat response in our nervous system when we’re receiving feedback, which exists just as significantly when we’re giving it. So, it’s essential to have some compassion for ourselves when we’re in situations where we have to give feedback to others. And it’s also important that we enhance our capacity—emotionally and practically—for giving feedback.
There are four key things to remember when giving feedback to others. Keeping these things in mind can help us get past the defensiveness and self-criticism that is often triggered by feedback, so that it can be well-received and have the positive impact we’re intending.
1. Intention. It’s critical to check in with ourselves about the intention behind our feedback. In other words, why are we giving it in the first place? Do we genuinely want the other person to be more successful? Are we annoyed with this person and want to let them know why? Do we have any conscious or unconscious bias? Are we trying to prove something or defend ourselves? Do we want to control them or the situation?
There are all kinds of reasons why we give feedback to others, and sometimes there is more than one. But being real with ourselves about our motivation can help us determine whether it’s even going to be helpful. Assuming we decide that it is, making sure our intention is genuine and positive will make it more likely that the person will be receptive to it. And by giving feedback to others on our team with positive intention, we set the tone for our culture in this regard.
2. Permission. Unsolicited feedback, even if it’s spot-on and valuable, can be hard to take and even disrespectful. Asking someone if they’re open to our feedback, while sometimes stressful, is important to do and much better than just launching into it. This is true even if we’re their boss, parent, or mentor, or in any other type of relationship where permission for our feedback may seem implied.
Making sure that we have explicit permission to give feedback shows that we respect and value the person to whom we’re giving it. It also usually makes feedback feel less like judgment and more like help, allowing the person to be more receptive to what we have to say. Creating a team standard that we have permission to give each other feedback is also important. And, even if we do that, asking someone for specific permission in the moment before giving it is essential.
3. Skill. Giving feedback effectively takes skill. And even though it can be challenging, it’s definitely something we can improve upon the more we practice and dedicate ourselves to doing it. Because giving and receiving feedback can be a vulnerable experience for everyone involved, it requires attention, commitment, awareness, and courage to do it well.
The more willing we are to do it, the more we can develop our skill of giving feedback successfully. And there are, of course, different ways to give feedback effectively. Oftentimes, we may give it directly and explicitly as part of a review, development conversation, or team debrief. Other times it may be subtler and not even seem like feedback at all, but more of a question, suggestion, or conversation.
4. Relationship. The most important aspect of giving effective feedback is the relationship we have with the person or people we’re giving it to. We can have the most positive intention, explicit permission, and a lot of skill in how we deliver it—but if our relationship isn’t strong or it’s actively strained, it’ll be very difficult for us to give feedback to someone and have them receive it well.
I could get the same exact feedback from two different people but react to it quite differently depending on my relationship with each of them. Let’s say, in one case, I know the person cares about me, appreciates me, and believes in me. I’m much more likely to be open to their feedback and to take it positively. Therefore, making sure the relationships we have are strong and authentic helps us ensure that we can give feedback effectively when we need to do so. If the person giving feedback is someone I don’t know as well or may have some unresolved issues with, it’s less likely that I’ll be open and take their feedback well.
If we find ourselves in a situation where we have to give feedback to someone with whom we don’t have a strong relationship, it’s important to know that this will definitely have an impact. Anything we can do to acknowledge this in an authentic way and work to enhance or improve the relationship will bene t our ability to provide feedback to them in the present moment and in the future.
All four of these things—intention, permission, skill, and relationship—are important to remember when giving feedback. And they’re also important to think about from a growth mindset perspective when receiving feedback. We want to be sure to check in with and pay attention to what the other person’s intention might be with their feedback for us, to explicitly grant others permission to give us feedback, to communicate about how we like feedback to be given, and to proactively work to strengthen our relationships with the people around us.
Giving and receiving feedback isn’t easy, but it’s so important for our growth and development, as well as that of our team. Being able to embrace and even enjoy the sweaty-palmed nature of feedback is something that can allow us and our team to perform our absolute best.
Feel free to leave a question or comment below.
* This is an excerpt from We’re All in This Together, by Mike Robbins, published by Hay House Business, April 2020
Although there are many aspects of this pandemic that are bringing us closer together and breaking down barriers between people, our country and our world continue to be incredibly divided along political and ideological lines, which has significantly negative consequences for each of us and all of us. As I write about in my new book, We’re All in This Together, while it isn’t easy or often encouraged in a real healthy and productive way, our ability to connect with people who see things differently than we do, politically and otherwise, is so important, especially right now.
I was on a plane a few years ago flying from Fort Lauderdale to New York. I’d spoken at two events in south Florida, was flying up to New York for some meetings, then on to Boston for another event, and then back to Florida for my final event before heading home. It was a crazy but exciting week. I was in full-on work/travel mode, which means I had tunnel vision—focused just on getting to where I needed to get to, taking care of myself physically so I’d be ready to go when it was time to speak, and getting as much work done as possible while on my flights and in my hotel rooms.
I was working on my laptop even as people were still boarding the plane that afternoon. Sitting on the aisle, I had to get up when the two people who were in the window and middle seat came to sit down. I greeted them briefly. They were together—a man who looked to be in his mid-50s and a woman who looked to be close to 80, whom I assumed was his mother.
As the flight began to take off, I had to put my computer away and wait for the plane to get to 10,000 feet before I could start working again, so I started flipping channels on the live TV in front of me. I landed on CNN and was catching up on the news of the day. We reached 10,000 feet and I pulled my laptop out and began to work. I had e-mails to catch up on and I was reviewing my latest podcast episode—so I pulled my headphones out of the airplane armrest and plugged them into my computer.
About 10 minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the man sitting to my right in the window seat motioning toward the TV screen in front of me. It was still showing CNN, but I wasn’t paying attention to it and couldn’t hear it since my headphones were plugged into my laptop. Then I heard him say, “Fake news, fake news!” I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me, to his mom, or just talking out loud to himself. So, I ignored him and kept working. Then he did it again, this time more demonstratively, his voice getting louder as he pointed at the screen.
I stopped what I was doing, took out my ear buds, turned to him, and asked, “Are you talking to me?”
“Yes! CNN is fake news. It’s just a bunch of liberal propaganda.”
I was a bit taken aback by his intensity. He seemed angry, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I felt nervous, but also intrigued. He and his mom both had the TVs in front of them turned to Fox News. I said, “I notice you’re watching Fox.”
“It’s the only honest news on TV,” he said passionately.
At this moment I realized I had a choice. There were various ways I could avoid getting into an argument with him. I also had a ton of work that I needed to get done. But my heart and mind were racing—I felt scared and defensive, but also excited and curious. I wanted to see where this conversation might go and what might happen, so I said, “Well, I’d be careful if I were you. I’ve read some studies that say people who consistently watch Fox are the most misinformed news viewers in America.” As you can imagine, he didn’t appreciate this comment.
“Oh, I see, you’re one of those liberal elites who thinks he knows everything.”
And then we were off to the races from there. We argued about Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, immigration, the economy, climate change, the military, guns, the police, and a number of other issues. I tried to stay calm and not get defensive, but that didn’t work so well. He continued to call me names and it got heated.
It was an odd and interesting experience to find myself in a pretty aggressive debate with this man whom I hadn’t known an hour before. And while I wasn’t concerned for my safety in any way, I did find it uncomfortable and upsetting. I also didn’t really enjoy being called “wimpy,” “whiney,” “snowflake,” and other things.
As the conversation escalated, I finally said, “Stop! Look, we clearly disagree in some pretty fundamental ways about these issues. But my deeper concern is that here we are, two strangers sitting on an airplane, and you’re calling me names simply because we disagree about politics.”
Then I shifted gears completely and asked him a question. “Do you have children?” He looked at me with surprise and said, “What?”
“Do you have kids?” I asked again.
“Yes,” he said. “I have four.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s great. We have two young daughters.”
“We have two boys and two girls,” he said. “Our oldest is thirty and the other three are in their twenties.”
“So, you’ve been at the parenting thing much longer than I have,” I said. “I worry sometimes that I’m doing things (or not doing things) that might be messing up our girls. I try to do the best I can, but sometimes I wonder if I’m doing a good job as a father.” Then I asked him, “Do you ever worry about that, or did you when your kids were younger?”
He paused, looked at me in a different way than he’d been looking at me, and didn’t answer the question initially. Eventually he said, “Of course. I think every parent feels that way at some point.”
“I suppose you’re right,” I said. “Maybe, just like as a father I try to do the best I can and think my ideas, decisions, and actions are right, with respect to some of these big political issues, I have strong opinions, but I’m not sure I know what the solutions are. Some of these challenges are so large and complex, it’s possible that the answers are much bigger and more involved than I can even understand.”
At this moment, he was looking at me like I was a little crazy, but there seemed to be some recognition of what I was saying in his eyes. He said, “I guess?”
We both laughed a little, there was an awkward silence between us, and after almost 45 minutes of arguing, we just stopped. I went back to my laptop and he went back to chatting softly with his mom.
As my heart rate came down and I sat there reflecting on the intense conversation that had just taken place, a few thoughts came to mind. First of all, I had no idea if either of us convinced the other of anything. I didn’t walk away agreeing with his ideas or political views, and I doubt he did with mine. However, I did learn a bit more about where he was coming from and felt the anger, fear, and frustration he had about the media, the country, and the state of politics, which was actually enlightening for me on a number of levels. This man who was more than 10 years older than I am, a father of four, and a fire fighter from Long Island had a very different background and worldview than mine.
Second of all, when I was being self-righteous and defensive, it was hard for me to listen, hear, understand, and connect with him in any way. However, when we talked about our children, the conversation got more vulnerable and real, and I was able to find some common ground with him, which allowed us to, momentarily at least, connect with each other—human being to human being, father to father. And in that instant, I felt more empathy, compassion, and understanding for this man sitting across from me, even though we fundamentally disagreed about some pretty important issues.
Our country and our world are intensely divided right now. Although getting into arguments with strangers on airplanes may not be the most productive route, the only way we’re going to bridge this divide is if we’re willing to have these important and often uncomfortable discussions with each other.
If we have the courage and willingness, we can find common ground and when we do, we can have more understanding, insight, and appreciation for those who see things differently than we do. And, when we do this, we can start talking to each other about these important issues, and not just about each other to those who already agree with us. By doing this, we’ll remind ourselves and each other that we truly are in this together, and we’ll be more effective in addressing some of the biggest challenges we face collectively right now and as we move forward.
Feel free to leave a comment, question, or piece of feedback below.
This is an adapted excerpt from We’re All in This Together, by Mike Robbins, published by Hay House Business, April 2020