Leadership and the Environment


254: Accidents of birth: communicating despite differences

Ep. 254

Following up episode 253, I address race, sex, sexual preference and other difference people use as excuses to stop listening or understanding over.

Here are my notes I worked from:

Podcast: Race, sex, sexual preference. I mentioned the race of the people who mugged me and my friends and who punched me in the jaw. Mayhave sounded unnecessary, which I suppose would raise questions as to why I mentioned.

Because people keep bringing race, sex, and such up with me.

Talking about race is a minefield outside a few platitudes in this country, especially for whites. They keep losing their jobs. Maybe talking about it will bring me down before I reach being well-known. Well, if it brings me down, it brings me down, but as it stands, people use preconceived notions to stop hearing me, as I'll describe in a second, so what do I have to lose?

Changing culture to change billions of people's environmental beliefs and behaviors means people collaborating across all divisions so we have to figure out how to overcome these preconceived notions.

  • Most recent and clear: person refused to participate in panel
  • Most common: telling me I don't understand single mother in food desert working three jobs. To some extent, I don't because I'm not one, but none of them are either and they act like they know more.
  • Also common: saying not flying is privileged
  • Also common: I have special access to food. Somehow this stops them from changing their food behavior, which tells me they aren't thinking
  • Commonly calling me privileged, not understanding. Condescending

Some listening have preconceived notions they'll never change. I was watching a documentary on Evergreen State College in 2017, where they said anyone born white is racist no matter what. I'm not going to try to engage people with such fixed views.

Once a student in leadership class, after I mentioned my top leadership role models -- Gandhi, Mandela, and MLK, the next usually being Ali and Barkley, eventually Thoreau, and among living I usually mention Oprah first -- said "All your examples are white men." Let me go through the list again.

Story of single moms from Bronx and Brooklyn who loved my stews and the respite they bring.

So I think people are out of touch with their experiences and with mine. No one has asked me what it's like to have someone threaten you with a wrench in your face or a large rock or to have your bike stolen multiple times. Or to live in a neighborhood where they give out welfare food freely because nearly everyone there is on welfare.

Look at any of my activities. Accessibility has been critical since service and leadership gained importance. Fitness: I've spent not one penny on all my burpees and bodyweight exercises. In over a decade I've spent about $100 on kettlebells, $500 on a rowing machine, and that's it. I spend 30 minutes a day on calisthenics and about another 30 minutes a day on other exercise. The average American watches 5 hours of TV a day, so I'm saving time and money.

Back to my mentioning race. A racist might conclude skin color determines behavior, but that's not why I mention it. I presume anyone in the same circumstances would behave roughly the same since we seem to share the same emotional and motivational system but different environments.

But I do note that in today's world and all of human history, people with different physical attributes like skin color, sex, whom they're attracted to, physical size, and so on have grouped themselves differently, producing different behaviors.

As best I can tell, people look at me and figure: blue eyes, fair skin, fit, straight: he doesn't understand suffering. He's never suffered for his skin color, sex, fitness, or sexual preference. It occurred to me recently that people might think the Ivy League degrees mean privilege, which I confirmed by asking some people.

So I mention the skin color of the people who mugged and assaulted me because I was suffering and I seemed to have been picked out for my skin color. I've spent years of my life as a racial minority and one without power, certainly as far as a child could tell. My point is not to win an oppression Olympics, but not to accept preconceived notions in any direction because of skin color.

I also mentioned my assailants' sex, though I doubt people would call me sexist for pointing out my assailants were male.

Even my blue eyes and blond hair, at least it was blond when I was young, didn't change that in my seven years of Jewish day school I was taught that I would have been sent to the same ovens that my grandparents' relatives were gassed in. And as someone who doesn't believe in any stone age myths -- as far as I can tell I was born this way -- that forcing religion on me against my will, plenty of people call that oppression.

I've seen zero people with my religious beliefs in the White House and maybe one or two in congress, none in the supreme court. Not many in business leadership.

My sexual preference, while healthy, has been illegal many times in history, including a capital offense at times. People have certainly treated me with derision for being born this way, including people in groups claiming to be the most inclusive and supportive. Living in Greenwich Village, a parade goes almost outside my doorstep that celebrates nearly every preference, but not mine.

I could go on, but my point is not to get into details. I expect the more I describe places I couldn't go, people I couldn't talk to, times I was targeted, times I was in a powerless minority, the more some of you will say he's so out of touch, he might as well say, "some of my best friends are" whatever you want to accuse me of.

My point is that as long as people keep asking to understand me better and where I'm coming from, if people are also going to reject my experience and message from preconceived notions then let's get past those notions. We've all suffered. We've all gotten lucky breaks. As far as I know, no one who suggested I didn't understand others' challenges hadn't had their life threatened at knifepoint as I did.

And the people they said I didn't understand, at least a couple examples so far, loved my results. Maybe I did understand them across race and sex lines.

I'm trying to increase that understanding, I hope by giving some depth about me beyond what you see in a picture. I do my best to assume depth in you. I hope you will with me too. You yourself probably wouldn't, but plenty of people have condescended to reject what I say for accidents of my birth that don't fit their notions anyway.

I'll tell you what we do all share: air, water, and land, which we're polluting and overusing by a population beyond what nature can support. Distrusting each other and misunderstanding basic natural processes will keep us from the most important strategies to maintain humanity: lowering our consumption and lowering our birth rate.

Plenty more, but those are the big problems that mindless distrust undermine.

I hope this message helps contribute to seeing each other as humans with rich and multifaceted selves but common emotional systems. It feels terrible to be misunderstood and prevents cooperation.

More Episodes


356: I was assaulted again this morning. Can I talk about it?

Ep. 356
While I was jogging (actually plogging) along the Hudson River around 7:30am, a person not wearing a mask stepped into my path, blocking me, saying the person's shoes had been stolen. The person seemed to let me pass, but then threatened me and threw a bottle that shattered at my feet as I ran past. I kept running, the hair on the back of my neck standing up and my adrenaline high. I don't know if the person had a weapon.I describe more and some of how it affected me in the audio.I was first going to say I was threatened since he didn't touch me. I'm not a lawyer so I looked up the definition. According to FindLaw.com's page on Assault Torts and Injury Law:legal scholars define assault as an intentional attempt or threat to inflict injury upon a person, coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm, which creates a reasonable apprehension of bodily harm or offensive contact in another.Notice the words “attempt” and “threat” above. In tort law, assault does not require actual touching or violence to the victim. We use another term for the touching or contact: “battery.”Here are the notes I read from:The story from this morning runningHappens all the time, not daily but throughout my lifeI don't think he did it because black, but I suspect were I not white it may not have happened. Can't say this time.When I stayed in AtlantaFriends say, you can say to us but careful with othersShared about mugged childhood, but still happeningMaybe there is a secret white suburban life I don't know aboutRecently white friends have started sharing how they've been muggedConsistent with Dov's saying how sharing stories will lead to others feeling they can share tooThat's all background. Here is my point: every time I bring up suffering or being threatened, while I may get some listening, the other person always says, remember others have it worse---not that person, not even someone with their skin colorSo they don't know from experience but they're telling me as if I haven't heard before, and they're presuming to know my experienceI don't know anyone's experience but mine, but everyone absolutely everyone dismisses it without asking, presuming it's the caricature in the mainstream.When I hear white people talking about BLM, George Floyd, there's always this mea culpa. Maybe they are guilty, I don't know. I never hear them speak about their problems. Maybe they have no problems, maybe I'm unique, but that people open up with me when I share and they hear I'm not white supremacist or racist---though in today's world white people even mentioning race without saying how they are allies or something making up for guilt or things like that---then they tell me about their experiences, but they insist on my respecting their confidence, which of course I do.So much of what I hear from white people sounds so similar andinauthentic, I don't think they're being open, honest, or candid. Maybemany are as privileged as they say, but people have told me about being attacked, their lives threatened with weapons, and so on.I think about risks maybe not every day, but all the time. And when Idon't, some guy walks into my path, throws a bottle at me, and threatens me.For a while I feared sharing messages like this because people mightsuspect I'm turning into a white supremacist. I came to terms that ifpeople think that about the opposite, I can't let their preconceivednotions hold me from acting for equality."White Like Me," Eddie Murphy's Saturday Night Live sketch I referred to

354: Harvard Global Health Institute Director Ashish Jha, part 1: Front Line Pandemic Leadership

Ep. 354
If you've followed sensible, expert advice on the pandemic, you've probably read or seen Ashish Jha in the New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, Washington Post, and everywhere. On Tuesday he testified to the US Senate.He's Harvard's Global Health Institute's Director. Over 200,000 people have taken his online Harvard courses, which you can for free. Over 80,000 took Ebola, Preventing the Next Pandemic and over 120,000 took Improving Global Health: Focusing on Quality and Safety. As it turns out, we were college teammates on the ultimate frisbee team.I'll link to a few top articles by him. With so many interfaces between the pandemic and us---health, government, research, policy, etc---you can read a lot of his views and experiences from different sources.I wanted to bring the personal side of leading on the front lines and top levels of a pandemic---how do doctors and public health experts feel about people not following advice, facing triage decisions, how to be heard, and what affects a doctor personally. We talk about leadership, the intersection between the pandemic and the environment, which overlaps with his directorship and courses, and more.By the way, he created his Ebola course five years before this pandemic and predicted much of it, as did many. If predicting what's happened so far isn't enough reason to follow his advice, I don't know what is. Let's wear those masksAshish's faculty profileCoronavirus Testing Needs to Triple Before the U.S. Can Reopen, Experts Say, NY Times article quoting AshishIn the W.H.O.’s Coronavirus Stumbles, Some Scientists See a Pattern, NY Times article quoting Ashish Pandemic Expert Dr. Ashish K. Jha ’92: “We Will Get Through This.”How We Beat Coronavirus, The AtlanticHere's the reason we are still shut down right now, CNN video