We The People

Our country is so divided…

Wherever you land on the political spectrum and even if you are one of many people who back away from politics altogether, you have likely heard a statement similar to this over the last couple years. Social media feeds suggest, and polls confirm, that the country is in a moment of deep political division.

Recently, though, I have asked myself a related question: Who is divided?

We are divided.

“The country” is made up of over 300,000,000 citizens. When we say, “The country is divided,” we suggest that there is this entity called “country,” which is divided. Beyond that, we, reasonable citizens, centrists all, are victims of that division.

Nice try, but… no.

When we, the people, over 3 million of us, describe our divided country, we are describing ourselves.

One of The Kaleidoscope Group ground rules that participants are asked to follow in sessions is: Take care of your own side of the street. In other words, focus and take action on what you can do, on your space, on your responsibilities.

So, with Independence Day approaching, as I picture us under our flag “one nation, divisible,” I ask myself:

  • Am I doing to enough to promote unity?
  • Am I listening to truly understand the other person’s point of view or am I just gearing up for my turn to talk?
  • Am I intentionally and consistently interacting with people who are not “like me?”
  • Am I speaking up and speaking out when I witness exclusionary, divisive behaviors?

As it turns out, of over 300 million Americans there is only one who I control: me.

I will seek out (more) ways to promote unity.

I will listen to understand, not to win.

I will interact with (more) people who are not “like me.”

I will speak out when I witness exclusionary, divisive behaviors.

“I Heard You”

Recently, I approached a coffee stand in the lobby of a building where I was going to work with a client. I wandered up to the counter. By the time the barista noticed me and pointed to where the line was supposed to start, a couple other people had taken their places in line. Though I’d been there first, I walked to the back of the line.

A young woman who was second in line — I believe she was Asian, though I didn’t ask. — called me up to stand in front of her. “You were here first.”

“Thank you,” I smiled as I stepped forward, “I didn’t know the system.”

She answered, “I’m just glad you didn’t just step in front of me. That happens a lot around here.”

I turned to her, but had no ready response. “Thanks again.” I stepped forward to place my order.

It is amazing how often we have individuals assess themselves and their organizations and individuals rate themselves as better than the organization when it comes to D&I. I’ve found that result to be, pretty much, universal. So, if you think you’re doing well, but others need to do better, welcome to a little club called: Pretty Much Everybody.

But we can’t all be right.

“This organization has an exclusive culture.”

But guess what? That’s right! We, the people, the individual contributors, the managers, the executives, we are our organizations. To be sure, there is specific work to be done to shift organizational culture. It is also true, though, that each individual is responsible for their side of the street.


If none of us is “the problem,” how is it that there are problems? No, the truth is that we each have work to do, that we each can “be the change we want to see in the world,” that every day we can ask some questions:

  • Am I doing enough to make sure my colleagues feel valued and included?
  • Am I listening to truly understand my colleague’s point of view or am I just gearing up for my turn to talk?
  • Am I intentionally and consistently interacting with colleagues and clients who are not “like me?”
  • Am I speaking up and speaking out when I witness exclusionary, divisive behaviors?

As luck would have it, that woman in the coffee line was a part of the group I worked within our session. Through all the conversation, her statement stuck with me all day: “I’m just glad you didn’t just step in front of me. That happens a lot around here.”

As we said goodbyes, I asked if I could talk to her for a moment. We stepped aside and I said, “You know how you said people just step in front of you around here?” She nodded. “Well, I just want you to know that I heard you.” We just looked into each other’s eyes.

“I hear you.” The flash of tears in her eyes suggested she, now, heard me. “Anyway, I just wanted you to know.”

She thanked me and went on her way.

“Is the country divided?”

“Is our organizational culture exclusive?”

These are reasonable, important questions.

However, the most important question may be: What am I doing about it?

I, for one, plan to include myself in the solution. And, though, I am always searching for more answers, that one morning I listened to a woman who was not “like me” and I took a moment to let her know that I valued her words and her presence. In one moment, I helped build a bridge that closed the distance between us. And it felt good.

So, I’m going to try that some more. Because if I plan to make organizations better, to make our country better, I better start with my side of the street. I hope you’ll join me and start with yours.

 

Orlando Bishop
Thought Leader
The Kaleidoscope Group
E: orlando.bishop@kgdiversity.com
www.kgdiversity.com

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