"Let’s get to work."
That’s how former President Barack Obama closed his essay in Medium that summarized his thinking on the recent unrest provoked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. One thought, in particular, the former president expressed caught my attention.
“So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn't between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.”
Protests of injustice and voting for reform candidates do work. The civil rights movements of the 1950s and '60s effected real change. It may not seem so today when you turn on cable news, but take a step back and look at the faces you see. Not just protestors but mayors, police chiefs, prosecutors and, yes, reporters. They are women and men of color. Their positions of power and influence are a direct result of the protests and politics fostered by their grandparents and parents.
There is more work to do. For that to occur, more change is necessary. Mobilization on the streets and at the ballot box helps effect that change. But that is not enough. In the workplace, it is not enough to hire more minorities; it is a matter of practicing inclusion. The goal is to give everyone an equitable opportunity to demonstrate his or her talents and skills in order to gain opportunities for advancement. Such changes can only occur when we dare to look inside ourselves and examine our own lives.
Acknowledge the need to change
Change only begins with an acknowledgment of our shortcomings. As human beings, we are the sum of our beliefs, practices and yes, biases. Only when we recognize such preferences will we begin to see people different from us as people, not stereotypes.
When it comes to bias, I know I have been guilty of seeing others different from me with a closed mind. I, too, have made presumptions about others. I want to think I have outgrown such biases, but I know that if I am honest with myself, while I have discarded those biases, I have assumed others. I acknowledge this shortcoming as a means of affirming my frailties. I, like many of us, am a work in progress.
The challenge for each of us is to find ways to connect more authentically with others. Doing so melts biases because we see others for who they indeed are rather than whom we presume they are. We see them as reflections of ourselves, truly human and possessed of the same strengths and, in some cases, the same biases we hold.
So how do we do this? How can we change ourselves? Big question upon which books -- in fact, bookshelves and bookcases full of books -- have been written. Distilling this knowledge into practical steps requires that we begin with a few building-block questions related to our current situation.
- Why do I want to change? We want to switch to become more fully human, to see others as we see ourselves. As people more like us than different from us.
- What is holding me back from change? We resist because our biases -- often ingrained through years of practice -- keep us back from seeing other people for what they are: human beings, not stereotypes.
- How can I make the change? We change because we want to change. To do that, we can call upon the goodness that exists within each of us. I call it grace.
Catalyst for change
Grace, as I define it, is that catalyst for the greater good that we activate when we want to make positive change. Grace facilitates change, but it does not make it permanent. Only we can make it permanent by behaving in ways that demonstrate good intentions that result in positive outcomes.
Change is never easy. Ultimately, as many have said, we change because it hurts too much not to change. Such hurt permeates our current situation. We are tired of seeing black women and men viewed as suspects first, people second. We are bothered by a culture that divides people according to ethnicity and culture. And finally, we are weary of living in a society where bigotry corrodes our national discourse.
We are better than this. But we can only become better if we commit to making change specific. So, consider the following.
- Assume the best in others. Yes, we all have something useful to offer one another.
- Turn negative thoughts into positive ones. Prejudice thrives in negativity.
- Volunteer to help people different from yourself. Only when you hold a mirror to yourself will you see what you can offer others.
And, finally, recognize that what you do now matters. Failing to do anything ensures that nothing will change. Committing to act differently provides different outcomes -- not perfect outcomes, but better ones.
And yes, as Obama says, “Let’s get to work.”
John Baldoni is an internationally recognized keynote speaker and executive coach who provides his services via video conference. In 2018, Trust Across America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Trust. Also in 2018, Inc.com named Baldoni a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. In 2020, Global Gurus once again named Baldoni a top 30 global leadership expert, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, Inc.com named Baldoni to its list of top 50 leadership experts. Baldoni is the author of 14 books, including “MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership” and his newest, "GRACE: A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us." You can find his tips on leading in a crisis here.