Today’s newsletter is a leadership lesson from two video experiences this week. Maybe you’ve been thinking about them, too. It’s weird because there are not many thought leaders in the world of leadership who are discussing it. But I think you and I have to talk about it, even if it’s hard. It was challenging for me for sure. Oh and this is a little US-centric, but I think important for all of us.
Saturday I watched the Falcon 9 space craft launch two men into space. Say what you want to about Elon Musk, he knows how to turn a rocket launch into an event. I was completely caught off guard by the lump of emotion in my throat as I watched that rocket. Beautiful technology. Captivating video. Inspiring engineering. Men safely in space. And, as with prior launches, landing the booster rocket back on a ship in the ocean…with no pilot! Go robots!
In the 30 minutes or so that I watched, it was mentioned at least 3 different times that this launch was unlike the previous Falcon launches because this time 2 humans were the payload. Elon Musk went so far as to say something like: “Keeping them safe is our only mission for this flight.”
That was mid-day Saturday. By early Saturday evening, we were hearing reports of rioting in Seattle, buildings on fire and protestors blocking I5 all because of the other video. Of course, that’s the video of George Floyd’s death on a street in Minneapolis.
When it became news, I watched the video of Mr. Floyd’s death for as long as I could (I didn’t watch it in its entirety and don’t plan to). It was disturbing and shocking but there was something else. A burr rubbing at the edge of my awareness as I watched it. I had a shiver in my brain I couldn’t identify.
Early Sunday morning I read an article by R. T. Rybak, the former mayor of Minneapolis. He wrote about the death of George Floyd and his heartbreak for his city.
Rybak pointed out what my conscious mind couldn’t identify about the video.
Rybak described it this way:
“A human being, staring calmly off into the middle distance, while his knee suffocates another human being”
There it was. The expression on Officer Chauvin’s face…or rather his lack of expression, that’s what had been buzzing my lizard brain.
The policeman’s face had all of the intensity of someone waiting on the microwave to finish warming his soup. No anger. No rage. Nothing.
Indifference to a human’s suffering.
Which feels like weaponized indifference.
That video is particularly poignant connected with the single mission of the Falcon 9. If you’re one of those astronauts on the Falcon 9, your safety is the single mission. If you’re a black man laying on your face on a street in Minneapolis…well, your worth has been demonstrated.
Let’s be candid you and I. This is dangerous to bring up. I haven’t read any of the usual leadership “thought leaders” writing about this. I think the reason is the explosive emotions and vast complexities. There are layers and layers behind this. Emotions are running high. It’s not right to riot. It’s not right for the police to use excessive force. I know. I know.
But I also know this: indifference to suffering fuels hopelessness. That combination, of hopelessness and indifference, can create explosive desperation.
When you add in the COVID crisis, fears of job losses and the already very real economic impact many are experiencing, desperate people are everywhere.
The United States is deeply divided (other countries have their versions of this same thing). You and I really can’t close that gap. But we can commit to listening to the “other.” We can demonstrate our respect for our fellow human beings, even when we disagree with them. Maybe, particularly when we disagree with them.
We can choose empathy. We can choose to try to see the other’s side.
The people around us need to hear something from us. The people we serve and lead need to hear that you will listen to their fears, concerns and doubts. They need you to validate them as people. They need you to try to understand their feelings.
Listening to a differing opinion isn’t weakness. You lose nothing when you hear someone’s heart.
I am a white male Baby Boomer. Thanks to caring friends of differing ethnicity and experiences, I’ve learned I have a limited ability to understand the sting of racism. That doesn’t stop me from listening and caring. I know people in law enforcement. I know something of that perspective. There is power in demonstrating that you respect another person enough to hear them. And that’s all the more powerful (and difficult) when they have a different perspective from you.
Wherever you find yourself in this time, geographically or ideologically, show that you value the people around you by listening to them. Not just those who line up with you or who you understand, but everyone without qualification or justification.
My buddy Jim Henderson continues to pull together people with diverse opinions to listen to each other and value each other. There’s magic happening. It’s worth your time to check out what he’s up to.
Thank you for sticking with me on this. It’s not easy. But easy answers won’t get us out of this time. I would love to know what you think, even if you disagree. Let’s listen to each other more and create moments of empathy.
You can always reach me at sthomas AT oneicity DOT com
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