Transformational Dialogue: What The World Needs Now
I watched, "A Class Divided: Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Experiment," for my Diversity and Inclusion program at eCornell this weekend. My takeaway was how the students reacted to the privilege of being superior or the degradation of being inferior based on eye color.
I felt like crying when Jane Elliot said that the superior brown eyed kids who were acknowledged and encouraged the second time around, had started reading and working faster than blue eyed children who were now spoken down to. One brown eyed kid said it was because he couldn’t think with the collar on his neck. The collars were worn by the lesser citizens. The reaction of being told you are less than or worse than resulted in the same looks I have seen on children in Detroit Public Schools, where I grew up and mentored.
My biggest takeaway was once they were told they were equal, they all agreed that no one deserved to be judged or discriminated against or treated less than. They all giggled and hugged, except one student who was in the corner trying to destroy the collar that represented being inferior. He did not process his feelings like the others, he ended up isolated and was having a kind of post traumatic experience.
I imagine if this would have continued, it could have cause him to become the statistic. He would become kid who has conduct disorder or opposition defiant, with a criminal record. By the time he gets to work, is on a self-fulfilling prophecy of "underperforming" or "overperforming" workaholism and he would be looked down upon because he blames "the man."
The saddest part of this documentary and experiment was the extreme, emotive looks on the faces of the kids. Now that I have seen the looks, I recognize those same looks on people at work today. I think all of us wear one of those extreme faces the kids had, right now in our lives. Perhaps after watching or re-watching the documentary, we will all remember and recognize: the look of aggravation because, "you don't really even know me enough to judge me;"
or, the look of defeat as in, "I won’t win this battle anyway;"
and, the guilty prideful look because, "I didn't even earn this and I am just like you."
SUPERHUMAN ENERGY TRIFECTA
Finding ways to invest more energy— is the single most powerful resource we have to solve problems and experience high performance. There are three key factors in having more energy and engagement in work and life: psychological meaning, psychological safety and psychological availability. I recently learned that having meaning and purpose is not enough. Feeling unsafe and burned out does not only rob you of joy and energy, it kills, steals and destroys results.
We are constantly fighting fires that are too hot to handle. It makes me think of a story my mom shared with me when I was a little girl. There was a house on fire next door to where she used to live when she was a young woman. By the time she saw what was going on, flames and smoke were blazing. Sadly, she heard kids screaming from inside of the house. Without thinking, my mother ran to the garage. She grabbed a ladder that was, under normal conditions, too heavy and big for her to pick up. She found a superhuman strength to carry the ladder, by herself, to her neighbor's home and was able to get the kids to climb out of a window to safety.
As I reflect on this, I realize if the fire fighters would have arrived and the children didn't make it out, no one would have blamed my mother. No one even expected someone her size to achieve such a heroic act. She was a woman on a mission, saving the lives of the children had significant meaning. Had she let fear creep in or if someone would have told her she could not do it, the children would have never made it out alive. Had she been thinking about how tired and worn out she really was, from caring for her own four small children day in and day out, she would have been too exhausted and unavailable to attempt such an impossible feat. This story just goes to show, when the right kind of stress is not overshadowed by the wrong kind of stress...anything is possible.
We all have fires to fight everyday. At work, you can be excited about a challenging project that will help make the world a better place and then bump up against the unsafe space of a micromanager or a leader who does not value your input or work. When this happens repeatedly, for example, self efficacy can chip away and you are only able to focus on the weight of big the ladder, rather than the screams of kids in the burning buildings.
In life, you may desire to finally get in shape and look great for your class reunion. Yet, every time you speak with your mother she is judging you on how you look and dress. Maybe you dwell on the rejection you experienced from your spouse the other night. Or, maybe you have support, but you feel so worn out from taking care of everyone but yourself, you ignore the symptoms and warning signs of a serious health issue.
Finding superhuman energy is not only the prerequisite to fighting the fires we face in work and life, but also in our communities. There are raging fires happening today: the shooting of teachers and kids in schools; the lead in the water in Flint, Michigan; the abuse of power and prejudice in our law enforcement. We will never be able to fight the good fight if we are consumed with fear or exhaustion. Sadly, I can hear the kids screaming and trying to find their way out. We must muster up the superhuman energy needed to solve our country's problems and experience collective high performance.
The truth is, sometimes we can't immediately change external factors - like our leaders or life's competing demands. In spite of this reality, don't give up! There is always one thing we can change, and that is ourselves. We can establish boundaries and find ways to the manage stress from toxic people, places and things. Putting the proverbial oxygen mask on ourselves first, can give us the same kind of superhuman energy my mom had that will empower us to leap tall building, fight fires and save lives - ours and others.
I 'M THE GREAT-GREAT GRANDDAUGHTER OF JOHN W. FIELDS, THE INDEPENDENT SLAVE
A few years ago when I learned I had, as a legacy, one of the slave narratives from the survivors born into slavery, I admit I had mixed emotions of excitement and fear. I prepared myself for heart break, and expected the worse. What I read in my great-great grandfather's interview about his life as a slave, has impacted me more profoundly than I ever imagined.
“My name is John W. Fields and I’m eighty-nine (89) years old. I was born March 27, 1848 in Owensburg, Ky. That’s 115 miles below Louisville, Ky. There was 11 other children besides myself in my family. When I was six years old, all of us children were taken from my parents, because my master died and his estate had to be settled.
I imagined my daughter at six, being torn from my hands. Scared and trying not to cry in fear of something worse happening if she did.
"I can’t describe the heartbreak and horror of that separation. I was only six years old and it was the last time I ever saw my mother for longer than one night. Twelve children taken from my mother in one day. Five sisters and two brothers went to Charleston, Virginia, one brother and one sister went to Lexington Ky., one sister went to Hartford, Ky., and one brother and myself stayed in Owensburg, Ky.
The resolve it took for him to survive being torn from his mother and siblings is mind altering.
“When my masters estate had been settled, I was to go with the widowed relative to her place, she swung me up on her horse behind her and promised me all manner of sweet things if I would come peacefully. I didn’t fully realize what was happening, and before I knew it, I was on my way to my new home. Upon arrival her manner changed very much, and she took me down to where there was a bunch of men burning brush. She said, “see those men” I said: yes. Well, go help them, she replied. So at the age of six I started my life as an independent slave."
I am the great-great granddaughter of John. W. Fields, the independent slave. I believe it was his resilience and mindset of independence, in spite of his external circumstances, that resulted in his amazing life story and legacy that I will share with you as I uncover more and more. When we look back to move forward, we can all find a new level of resolve and requirement to beat the odds and set ourselves free from people and things that enslave us.
WE ARE FAMILY
I decided to make a visit to the Family Center in Manhattan to do research on my great-great grandfather, John W. Fields, the independent slave. I had learned that the Mormon Church obtained copies of post–Civil War records created by the Freedmen’s Bureau. When the slaves were set free, the Bureau opened schools, managed hospitals, gave food and clothing and legalized marriages during the reconstruction era. By gathering the handwritten records on roughly 4 million African Americans., they digitized the footprints of those born into slavery. FamilySearch, along with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, galvanized organizations and people worldwide to help get the files indexed and digitized.
As my tour of the church and family center was coming to an end, I asked Elder Adams why on earth the Mormon Church cared so much about African Americans reconnecting to their roots. As Elder Adams and I walked down the corridor of the family center together, he looked over at me and answered very sweetly, “We believe we are all brothers and sisters in the afterlife.”
It was at that moment that my hunch was confirmed. The slave files were released in 2016, when our country’s political landscape changed. There has been an increase of racial tension and civil unrest. I feel deeply that this is no coincidence. The slave files are an invitation to heal and tap into our inner strength of resilience - like a sleeping giant - deep within.