Leadership and the Environment


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 running
  • Happens all the time, not daily but throughout my life
  • I 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 Atlanta
  • Friends say, you can say to us but careful with others
  • Shared about mugged childhood, but still happening
  • Maybe there is a secret white suburban life I don't know about
  • Recently white friends have started sharing how they've been mugged
  • Consistent with Dov's saying how sharing stories will lead to others feeling they can share too
  • That'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 color
  • So 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 experience
  • I 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 and
  • inauthentic, I don't think they're being open, honest, or candid. Maybe
  • many 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 I
  • don'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 might
  • suspect I'm turning into a white supremacist. I came to terms that if
  • people think that about the opposite, I can't let their preconceived
  • notions hold me from acting for equality.


  • "White Like Me," Eddie Murphy's Saturday Night Live sketch I referred to

More Episodes


368: Chester Elton, part 1: Asking and listening across color lines

Ep. 368
You're about to hear a conversation post-George Floyd by two leadership writers. Normally we write for mostly business audiences. this conversation felt more personal.Normally when a friend introduces a potential podcast guest, we start by talking each other's work and figure out scheduling. With Chester---maybe given his openness and, I think, mine, as well as the protests raging---we jumped into talking about race and our interactions with people of different color. We spoke for a couple hours about a topic that polite conversation often avoids, let alone makes it the first thing two people meeting for the first time discuss.Those past conversations set the tone for the conversation you're about to hear, also the continued protests, media discussion, and our growing friendship to keep speaking more openly.I posted last week, 2020 in 9 words: “Everybody wants to be heard and nobody is listening.” I think my conversations with Chester helped prompt that insight. By contrast, he listens. I'm trying to learn from him.Do you know of people in authority showing the world that they are listening and making others feel understood? In fairness, can someone with a national voice, with all the protests from different angles, make a group or bunch of groups feel understood? . . . or even feel listened to?When I teach leading groups, I use Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail as an example of someone making others feel understood, where his sharing his vulnerability as a father probably made his audience of protesters feel more understood and listened to than the ministers whose letter to the editor he responded to. It's the best historical example I can think of and I don't see renowned leaders following or matching him.