As a white male, I’m reluctant to offer a lot of personal commentary in this post but would argue that a lack of empathy for the lives and life experience of others has been a significant contributor to where we are as a nation this week. Likewise, I believe that we’re not going to emerge from this ongoing tragedy without intentional deep work on empathy and the application of it. That’s not just up to our political leaders; that’s up to all of us.
Empathy starts, I think, with listening without judgment and with the intent to learn deeply about the lives of others. The next step is to allow what we’ve learned to connect with our own hearts and minds. Leaders in all walks of life can practice this personally and create space for the people in their organizations and communities to do the same.
With that in mind, I want to share two resources and one story that have challenged my heart and mind to raise my own level of empathy as I process the events of the past week and to be a better human being who makes a positive difference going forward.
The first is this 18-minute video reflection on George Floyd and the Dominoes of Racial Injustice from The Daily Show host Trevor Noah. You may not think you have the time to watch an 18-minute video, but, trust me, you do for this. Try to listen without judgment to what Noah is saying and let it sink in.
The next resource I encourage you to read is Kareem Abdul-Jabbaar’s Op-Ed for The Los Angeles Times, Don’t Understand the Protests? What You’re Seeing is People Pushed to the Edge.
And finally, for now, the story. I have a friend and coaching colleague named Lisa Walker who is the justifiably proud black mother of a wonderful 29-year old son named Matt. With Lisa and Matt’s permission, I want to share with you an email she shared with me and other colleagues earlier this week:
“My heart is breaking right now. As the mom of a 29-year son I can’t even find the right words to express the deep sadness and fear I feel for him, and for young men of color in America. My disposition is generally positive and hopeful. Right now, I’m trying very hard to hold on and be hopeful.
My son Matt is an amazing young man. He is a cancer survivor, an Ivy League graduate, a brilliant mind, hard worker, a kind, loving and amazing young man. Yet, he has to live with the reality that most people who don’t know him, view him as a threat. My son, a threat! I cannot wrap my mind around it. The thought infuriates me.
Recently, Matt shared that he only feels comfortable going for a run or a walk in his neighborhood with his dog, Kenny. He lives in a beautiful suburb of Dallas, yet when walking or running alone he often gets ‘the look’. The uncomfortable look that makes him feel like he doesn’t belong. When he’s with Kenny he doesn’t seem to get those looks. It’s as if his status improves with the presence of his dog. Alone he’s a threat. With a dog, not so much.
He’s been pulled over by the police for no reason; followed around in stores as if he’s there to steal; and turned down for apartments, all because of the color of his skin. It breaks my heart that he has to experience this kind of injustice.”
If you’re a parent, as I am, how can you not be moved by Lisa’s story about Matt? Seriously, if you’re a human being, how can you not be moved by that? I’ve got to think that you are. What you’re feeling right now is empathy. Hold on to that, nurture that, because that’s what we need more of if we want to bring justice to the United States and heal this country and ourselves. That’s certainly not the only thing that we need more of but that’s where I personally intend to start – with empathy.
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