Getting Outside Your Comfort

Friends,

With apologies to those who understandably desire to have Martin Luther King Day be strictly about the end of racism, racial bias and prejudice, I offer slightly broader thoughts and raise somewhat unorthodox questions today.

Barack and Hillary have walked a trail blazed by Shirley Chisholm, Reverends Jackson and Sharpton, Alan Keyes, and Pat Schroeder. This time a woman and an African American are on the center of that well-worn trail and one is going to be nominated for President of the United States. How cool is that? What a milestone for our country. I don’t think this moment would have come so soon (granted it’s 220 years since the Constitution’s passage) had it not been for Dr. King’s leadership in throwing open the doors to equal opportunity. Although he led for African Americans, he and those who marched along side him opened doors for everyone.

Saturday night I was with a couple great friends who happen to be African American in what was a largely white club, and I found myself thinking things like this:

  • It’s a common experience for my friends to be in predominantly white settings, and wouldn’t it be good if more white people routinely found themselves in predominantly African American clubs, churches, and neighborhoods. Might they lead differently, more sensitively, and with more fact-based understanding than they do now?
  • Women fought – generally without meeting (public) violence to gain access to the public domains of business and politics. They are prospering there, magnificently comfortable and effective in their roles. But to what degree have we men embraced the worlds that (women’s efforts for equality) opened up for us? How much better are we at nurturing, empathizing, and making things run smoothly at home? How much better might we men be if we read more, talked more, listened more about how to develop strong relationships with our women and our kids? And how much better we would be for ourselves if we spent more time getting to know what used to be “women’s worlds?”
  • How much of the time do we make our kids and our staffs come to us, get with our agenda, or aim to meet our targets? What if we spent a little more time in their cubicles, sitting with them as they play their games, asking what success looks like for them? I suspect we’d lead much better.*

When Dr. King said “I have a dream . . . that the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will sit down together at the table of brotherhood,” I wonder whether he thought that meal would so often take place at a table in the white man’s home. I think by getting out of our comfort zone and fully embracing the reality of others’ experiences you can more effectively

Lead with your best self!

Dan

* My favorite chapter in my book is the one on diversity. If today’s RFL seemed interesting, next time you’re at your local bookstore you might want to skim Everyday Leadership or buy it online here.

18 responses to “Getting Outside Your Comfort

  1. You are so so right and your insight is refreshing. Let’s hope your words will encourages all of us, not just the “leaders” to lead in this direction.

    Thanks for the inspirational start.

    Laurie

  2. I appreciated your comments today. I am a female pastor and I live and work in a man’s world. I attended a fairly conservative seminary, and I experienced being a minority for the first time in my life. It was a very difficult experience and one I will never forget. You said wouldn’t it be different if “white people routinely found themselves in predominantly African-American clubs, churches and neighborhoods.” If that were to happen, it would change their lives. Always being one of a few women in a room or the only woman in the class changes everything. The first few times you don’t think much of it. Then when it is day after day in every setting, you feel its effects. You begin to question whether you should be there. Maybe this isn’t the place for a woman? You lost self-confidence, and I might add that I became a bit cranky. :):):)
    As a result of that experience, I have a greatly heightened sensitivity to racism. I can only hope that God will help me to remember that experience and be a more loving, respectful, and kind human being in every setting. I feel I must also say that I realize that the experience of an African American in our culture is so much more hurtful and potentially devastating than anything I experienced at seminary.

  3. Dan:
    Right on with these comments. We have made some improvements-but have a long way to go. My hope and desire is that we continue that journey-but speed it up.
    Ed Powers

  4. Thanks for your message today (and always).

    As a gay man, I would only add to your reflection that if Martin Luther King were still alive, I believe he would be preaching the same message in regard to our society’s attitude’s towards my community. I would suggest that prejudice against gay and lesbian persons continues to be an acceptable position.

    Given the times, King could not address that issue while alive. Today, however, he would have addressed it. And his assassination might very have been the price paid for that position.

    Gratefully,
    TL Michael Auman, OFM Cap.

  5. Dan,

    You bring a breath of refreshing air each Monday morning to my U.P. world … and speaking as a Native born Detroiter that means alot! I am aware each and every day of our differences, and work to overcome innate prejudices in my daily life. Gender bias, racism, religious differences, fat bias, and the common denomimator of wealth (or should I say, lack thereof?) as I work with the poor through St. Vincent de Paul. I love your weekly positive messages, and today I felt motivated enought to click on your link and order your book as you challenge so many of us … to lead with our best selves!

    Thank you!

    Renee Deroche

  6. From time to time I’m the only white woman in the room and I often think if my colleagues would be here they would understand middle class values unite most of us, whether we’re black or white. Sad that suburbanites essentially have their view of the black community on the 11:00 p.m. news.

  7. Dan,

    Thanks for opening the page wider and making some connections. Our life together in North America has been quite narrow, in spite of all the opportunities we’ve had to expand our circles.

    May your call for stretching our tents touch our hearts and move us into action. That way, the future will be different!

    Tarianne

  8. Dan, you are inspired today!

    All of the previous comments show what authentic, good-heated and THINKING people are reading and responding to your newsletter. In many of my past leadership roles I have been the lone woman in the room, at the board meeting, etc. and so am able to talk in “shorthand” with other women in such roles about the many ways,(suble and not-so-subtle) things are “different” for them. (And, that more often than not, men are not even aware of.)

    I too am thrilled that wa are finally this close to having either an african-american or a woman as president. They represent great hope and powerful change for our country.
    To all readers: keep thinking, praying, hoping. Let’s keep that dream alive!

    Best,
    Lisa Pasbjerg, DCSW
    CEO/FOCUSED COACHING

  9. As a young man of rebellious inclination, a teen actually, I once found myself without a place to call home. A co-worker where I was working after school offered me shelter with his family. In my recollection, he made the offer without limitation. He just said something like, “Come stay with us if you need.” Obadiah Perkins was just “Obie” to me. That night I learned he was married, had children, was a former Marine, and had a lumpy couch. I don’t think I ever slept better.

    Obadiah was African-American though then, 1962, we had hardly begun to shift from “Colored” to “Black.” Dr. King had not yet made his Dream speech. I have wondered since then if Obie had a “dream.” I think he started one in me.

    I didn’t stay long, but it was a long time until I found my home again. When I think of “home,” I hope I will always be able to say, “Come stay with us if you need.”

    Thanks, Dan, for the reminder.

  10. Thank you for your comments. As an African American educator, I have often had the experience of being the only African American present, in classrooms, at workshops, etc. I once had a colleague (white) say to me that her child was the only white student in the class. i must admit that I had little sympathy for her. It is important that as we educate, lead and participate that we remember to be sensitive to the cultural, socio-economic, religous experiences and traditions of others. Rather than uphold the melting pot (where all conform to one ideal), we must move towards the salad bowl whrere all are appreciated for who they are, where they come from and what they bring to the table. Be blessed on a day such as today!

  11. When I become discouraged with progress in many arenas, I look at my two sons who are very nurturing with their children. I also look at the acceptance of a gay couple that live in our complex and who add so much to our lives with their interest in gardening, cooking, and home decorating. Slowly we are becoming a better society.

    Doreen

  12. Just thought I would add the name of Geraldine Ferraro to the list of political trail blazers, nominated by Walter Mondale as his Vice Presidential candidate in 1984. As I recall, it was a huge deal.

    Thanks for your insights!

  13. I would strongly urge you to watch the film “Iron Jawed Angels” if you think that women fought for their rights without generally encountering public violence. Also, the glass ceiling shows that women continue to encounter resistance when trying to rise to top level positions. Sometimes the backstabbing is worse than public confrontation since it’s harder to fight stealth enemies. Otherwise, I like the perspectives you introduce in this week’s column. As usual, you provide thought provoking insights.

  14. This is a refreshing look with an insightful perspective. Life, society and cultural are changing at an ever increasing rate. It is good to take stock and be prepared to embrace the future changes that will inevitably come

  15. How appropriate to read your inspirational message as I, and my family, sit half way around the world in South Korea. Here, we truly are in the minority and have the opportunity to experience and learn. Thanks, once again, for your timely message.

  16. Dan – thanks for the email.
    In the past 3 weeks I’ve been able to visit The King Center in Atlanta and also the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis along with listening to MLK’s autobiagraphy (8 cd’s – it’s long and very good).

    Your comments brought up two thoughts to me – going to where “others” are is very incarnational. It’s the approach we take with kids in Young Life. We go to kids first, and enter their world – often times being the only adult among the kids. This practice comes straight from Jesus – who came to us.

    Second, I love the quote from James Newman – who was the person that came up with the idea of the “comfort zone” – in his book, Release Your Brakes, “Adventure is the dilberate volitional movement out of your comfort zone.”

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

  17. Good post. You make some great points that most people do not fully understand.

    “Barack and Hillary have walked a trail blazed by Shirley Chisholm, Reverends Jackson and Sharpton, Alan Keyes, and Pat Schroeder. This time a woman and an African American are on the center of that well-worn trail and one is going to be nominated for President of the United States. How cool is that? What a milestone for our country. I don’t think this moment would have come so soon (granted it’s 220 years since the Constitution’s passage) had it not been for Dr. King’s leadership in throwing open the doors to equal opportunity. Although he led for African Americans, he and those who marched along side him opened doors for everyone.”

    I like how you explained that. Very helpful. Thanks.

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