Leadership and the Environment
254: Accidents of birth: communicating despite differences
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.