making positive changes Archives

Obama small frownThe headlines last week read, “Obama Explains Black America to White America,” heralding a teachable moment in the country’s history.

The news article summarized President Obama’s speech to the nation a few days after George Zimmerman was declared “not guilty” by six women jurors  (five White and one Puerto Rican) for killing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenage walking home to his father’s house.  Zimmerman, a White man with Hispanic roots, had thought Martin looked suspicious and followed him. During the trial, Zimmerman successfully argued that during the subsequent fight, he feared for his life and used a concealed gun to shoot Martin to his death.

The news article noted that the President’s intent was to explain that a collective history is the backdrop against which contemporary African Americans experienced that verdict:

I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away…. I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.  And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.

Those praising the President’s speech were exuberant that he had provided a historical context for the anguish experienced by millions of Black African Americans as well as sympathetic members of all races upon hearing the verdict.

Detractors of the speech pointed out that public policy addressing current issues of the day cannot be built by focusing on the past.  Most pertinent now, these commentators claim, are the high rate of Black-on-Black crime and disintegration of the Black family. Naturally, these claims led to counter-charges that a focus on what was happening in the Black community in the absence of historical context led to overly simplistic — and false — conclusions.

Reading the accusations back and forth, I was struck by the parallels between the dissension and what my coauthor and I had explained in Reframing Change about bridging differences. As we noted, dominant group members tend to see cross-cultural conflicts in the here and now.  Nondominant group members frame them in a historical context. Under these circumstances, differences are more easily bridged if dominant group members can display empathy for the past, even while promoting policies designed for the future.

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The situation also reminded me of a similar public upheaval in 2008 after Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative was passed declaring that only marriage between a man and a woman would be recognized as valid in California.

A few days after it passed, I sat with a mixed group of straights and gays discussing the implications of the ruling.  The gays were especially distraught – speaking openly about the pain of being denied this very basic citizenship right to citizenship– the right to marry whom one pleased.

At the time, I was taken by the enormous parallels between what was happening with gay rights at the time and my memories of the civil rights movement in the 1950s.  The elimination of legalized segregation in the country had had a similar series of legal wins and losses along the way. Listening to my colleagues decry the implications of the California vote, I thought it was inevitable that equal rights for the GLBT community would eventually prevail and said so.  “This reminds me of the civil rights movement in the 1950s,” I declared.  “This will be overturned. The train has already left the station.”

The reaction toward me was swift and harsh.  One woman, carefully phrasing her words, told me that I had no right to try to tell gays and lesbians how to think or feel about the California decision.  “You as a heterosexual don’t know what it feels like to be denied to the right to marry someone you love,” she declared.gay rights march

I was stunned.  Never mind that I had ridden the back of the bus for most of my childhood.  Never mind that as a young child, I had read about the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till for whistling at White girl.  Never mind that I had once loved someone of a different race and couldn’t see my way to bridge the racial divide to make it work.

It was their collective pain and their time to voice it.  As a heterosexual, I was a dominant group member and they as GBLTs were nondominant.  It was their turn to educate and explain and my turn to listen and learn.

I shut up and listened.

 

Note: Cross-posted at EthosConsultancyNZ:   http://www.ethosconsultancynz.com/profiles/blogs/obama-the-racial-divide-and-a-teachable-moment?xg_source=activity

Bio:  Dr. Jean Kantambu Latting is a leadership consultant and researcher, focusing on change at the personal, organizational, and community levels. President of Leading Consciously and Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Change in the Graduate College of Social Work, University of Houston, Jean specializes in helping people examine and change their systems, relationships, and perceptions so that they might better accomplish their goals.  She coauthored Reframing change: How to deal with workplace dynamics, influence others, and bring people together to initiate positive change with Jean Ramsey, published by Praeger.

 

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Daughter of a wealthy industrialist, she married, raised a family, and then chose to enter the field of social work and dedicate her life to serving her community.

Revered by many throughout Houston, Maconda B. O’Connor was born on May 4, 1930 and passed from this life on May 19, 2012.

The Houston Chronicle and others have listed her long list of achievements.  She received over two dozen awards and honorary degrees, served on Houston’s and the nation’s most prestigious boards, and founded or helped start innovative programs dedicated to helping people improve their lives. As Angela Blanchard, president and CEO of Neighborhood Centers Inc., was quoted as saying, “There isn’t a place to go to in this city where you can get help that she didn’t help nurture.”

A colleague introduced us while Maconda was completing her doctoral studies at Smith College. She was looking for a research project for a required internship, and the colleague suggested my grant from the National Science Foundation might meet the requirements. Maconda was immediately interested in my project and, over time, in my work. She provided or helped arrange financial support for my research every year since.

Saying she supported my work, though, doesn’t quite get what she meant to me. We became friends. I loved her – still love her — dearly. We shared a similar fire for helping others improve their lives, and for setting up systems and organizations that would foster people’s growth and development. I see the world differently because of her, approach my own work differently because of her, have a deeper commitment to what I do because of her.

For me and many others, she has been an inspiration and a model of personal achievement and success. Following are some of what we can all learn from her:
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Suppose you were at a meeting where one of your coworkers insults another? This is the stuff that breeds festering conflict in organizations.  What’s needed is a good conflict resolution technique.  Well-meaning people who are unfamiliar with conflict management may try one of these approaches:

  • Stay silent (after all, you are not involved)
  • Stay silent in the moment and talk to the offender privately later (this is consistent with the adage, “praise in public, criticize privately”)
  • Tell the offender in front of everyone that he’s completely out of line and explain why he is wrong
  • Change the topic so that the meeting can move on to more safe topics

If none of these options sounds satisfactory, then you’re right, there are other alternatives. We call it Speaking Up Responsibly.

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What do you do when things don’t go as you planned? 

At the end of last semester, I became swamped. Grading student papers took a full week. My students’ papers were so excellent, my initial plans to just dash through them fell by the wayside as I read their heartfelt summaries of what they had gained during the semester.  The good news is that they inspired me tremendously. During the week or so that I read through their papers, I saw clearly why this work is important, why I do what I do, and how it can foster personal achievement and success.

After grading was finished, I planned a hiatus during the Christmas holidays. I even had the audacity of imagining myself staying in bed all day reading whatever I wanted and getting clear on my goals for 2012.

But…as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.”  Life for me came in the form of computer and cell phone breakdowns, family and personal illnesses and upsets, and my own thwarted determination to dejunk piles of papers that had more nostalgic benefit than current utility.

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Preface: Martin Prouix, President of Pyxis and an organizational coach, posted this article on his blog, Analytical-Mind.com, this past fall. For years, I have asked students, people I coach, and sometimes even myself whether they would rather be right or effective.  Martin poses essentially the same question by asking, “is it better to be right or to be helpful.” His example on what can go wrong when trying to build effective relationships is worth sharing.

Jean

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Most people I know feel time-pressured and I’m no exception. Because of this, I continuously seek out tips for organizing my work to increase my sense of personal achievement and success. Here it is near the end of the semester – only two more weeks of classes — and I find that yet again, I am spending my time mainly on what’s urgent rather than on what’s most important to me.  It has happened for me this way every November-December for the last umpteen years as the crush of end of the semester school work takes up more and more of my time. Case in point: this is my first blog post in two weeks even though it’s important to me and I enjoy it.

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Preface: In an earlier post, I continued the series on Napoleon Hill’s application of the Law of Attraction as explained in his 1928 book, Law of Success. This post is Part 2 on “the habit of doing more than paid for,” one of Hill’s principles for personal achievement and success. For Part 1, click here:

Hill describes two important periods that people who wish to be successful must go through. The first is learning and organizing knowledge about our field of work. This in itself requires tremendous effort.

The second is the period in which we must convince others that we can do the work. During this second period especially, Hill advises that every time we give our services, we gain another opportunity to prove to others what we can do. This is where the habit of doing more than is paid for becomes especially useful. As Hill explains:

“Instead of saying to the world, ‘Show me the color of your money and I will show you what I can do, reverse the rule and say, ‘Let me show you the color of my service so that I may take a look at the color of your money if you like my service’” (p.695).

Once we do more than is paid for, what Hill calls the Law of Increasing Returns kicks in to deliver our benefit.

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Farewell to an Authentic Leader: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was one of my heroes. Clad in his trademark black shirt and blue jeans while presenting the latest Apple product, he gave the impression of being an authentic leader, quintessentially himself without subterfuge.

His death saddened me tremendously, even though I suspected it was eminent. As one of the millions in mourning because of his transition, I was drawn to a recent article entitled, “Why Is Everyone So Upset by Steve Jobs’ Death?

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Preface: Does it make sense to do more than we are paid for? Napoleon Hill says yes, that the habit of doing more than we are paid for is key to our personal achievement and success.

This post continues the series on Napoleon Hill’s application of the Law of Attraction as explained in his 1928 book, Law of Success. The book provides fundamentals for achieving success for those who enact them. Hill developed his compendium of traits (with the help of Andrew Carnegie) based on interviews with over 500 successful men and women of the time.  In these posts, I discuss how Hill’s theory – and the Law of Attraction – is supported by behavioral science theories. For prior posts in this series, click here and here.

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Preface: A participant in one of my workshops on Reframing Change sent the essay below to the other participants and me. It comes from the web site of John H. Lienhard who hosts the highly acclaimed PBS radio show, Engines of our Ingenuity. As the participant explained in her e-mail to us, “[The essay] puts together many of the things we’ve learned as a group in ‘Reframing Change’.”

Her cover e-mail emphasized several phrases which I have bolded below because I agree with her emphasis.

I am reproducing the essay with permission of the author, Megan Cole, and John Lienhard as radio host. After the essay, I add a few comments.

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Preface: Workplace Undercover is a recurring segment of this blog, featuring a workplace scenario and a response by a guest consultant. In the previous post, “How to Deal with Stress at Work When People Let You Down,”Vicki screams at Saul for not getting a draft document to her at the time he had promised.

She collapses nearly in tears, wondering whether she was the only one in the company who cares. Saul apologized and then secretly fumed, “Why didn’t someone do something about Vicky?” The case is discussed by Dr. Jo Bowens Lewis, a certified teaching and supervising transactional analyst, and a Leading Consciously practitioner.

We continue with Jo’s case analysis.

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Preface: The previous post described how I came to view “the law of attraction”as a voluntary behavioral modification technique. Recently popularized in the book, The Secret, the law of attraction holds that our thoughts determine what we attract into our lives. I decided to blog about this after reading the beginning of Napoleon Hill’s (1928) The Law of Success.

To continue from the previous post…..

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For most of my adult life, I have believed in “the law of attraction” as a voluntary behavioral modification technique. The law of attraction holds that what we think about determines what we attract into our lives. It may be encapsulated in the phrase, “thinking makes it so.” Or, a common catch phrase is “as you believe, so you will receive.”

A few years ago, the “law of attraction” caught fire when the movie, The Secret, came out and was featured on the Oprah Winfrey and Larry King’s shows.  Both talk show hosts asked those who had appeared in the movie variations of these questions: “Can you really think your way to financial riches and success? What about people who have serious health issues? Can they really think them away? Are they to blame for their illnesses just because they aren’t positive enough?”

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Are you among the zillions of people who seek out tips on getting organized to reduce your stress at work? I certainly am. One stressor in particular is self-inflicted: procrastination. We/I procrastinate and procrastinate and then kick ourselves/myself for unwarranted delays.

So if I know that, why am I still doing it? In my defense, I will say that I have infinitely improved in this area over where I used to be. I keep collecting new tools and tidbits and slowly over time I have become more productive. But old habits sometimes still sneak in — unbidden and unwelcome.

So what next? I just found another useful rule of thumb to help out. First some background.

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Preface: This continues the previous post, How to Reduce Stress at Work through Conscious Use of Self: Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Hudson, and the Blizzard, Part 1, in which I described how Oprah Winfrey  coped with an nerve-wracking incident at work. Superstar Jennifer Hudson was unexpectedly late for a scheduled taping of the Oprah Winfrey show, throwing off the entire day’s schedule.  The unfolding events were shown in “Episode 116” of Season 25, the highly acclaimed reality show.

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