In this time of ferment, turmoil, hope and possibility, too — a COVID pandemic and a social justice pandemic combined —how do we move forward? The authors in the article U.S. Businesses Must Take Meaningful Action Against Racism provide insights into the missteps to avoid and the steps to choose for positive action.
However, I am reminded that there are other steps to meaningful action, and they are often as close as our own backyard.
Like the other morning, sitting outdoors, enjoying my coffee with my laptop on my knees. The sun was lifting up through the trees and sprinkling light across my feet, a slice of holiness in this time of uncertainty.
Then I saw IT, the toad about six inches from my left foot. I was surprised. There’s no water near us, we are in a drought and toads are nocturnal. What’s up and why wasn’t it done with its day, so to speak?
At first, I was delighted. I’ve never seen a toad in our yard before. Some company while I write, I thought cheerfully.
But that feeling didn’t last long. I soon began to feel a little irritated, surreptitiously shooting sideways glances at the little creature. It didn’t move — for like 15 minutes, and that made me nervous. I don’t know why, it just did.
I couldn’t even see it breathing, and now the sun was above the tree tops. Was it scared of me? Was it dead? Why wasn’t it moving?
It took a tiny step forward and then remained as still as a leaf on windless day.
Okay, come on buddy, I thought. Stop being so weird. Go to bed, for heaven’s sake. It’s morning and you shouldn’t be there. What’s wrong with you?
I remembered that toads rear up on their hind legs and release a foul smell to keep their predators at bay. OMG. Was it about to do this to me?
I went inside to refill my coffee cup and returned to find the toad one inch closer to me. And, it had turned its body so that its beady eyes were fixed head on with my eyes, boring into my brain.
What? What do you want from me? Stop staring at me!
Then suddenly, I heard clacking on the stone and watched as it bludgeoned a tiny worm to death.
I was anthropomorphizing, of course — projecting a whole load of human characteristics that mirrored my internal agitation.
If I could do this all to a toad on a quiet, tranquil morning, imagine the damage I can do, and we all can do, to our fellow humans. Projecting our insecurities with even greater consequences as we unconsciously back up and unload the dump truck.
Projection creates the categories of us and them. It’s our fast track to polarization, to exclusion, to the need to dominate what we fear we cannot control. It’s also a vicious circle because when we’re alienated from what is within us, we will aggressively attempt to control and subjugate what is without.
And while it’s so much easier to imagine that all things unpleasant belong to someone else, we suffer significant consequences from this behavior — as teams, organizations and as a society.
The antidote to exclusion is the practice of inclusion, which is core to psychological safety and requires more effort and intention than one might imagine.
Dr. Timothy Clark, in the 4 Stages of Psychological Safety, describes the practice of inclusion safety:
“It’s the act of extending fellowship, mentorship, association and connection — agnostic of rank, status, gender, race, appearance, intelligence, education, beliefs, values, politics, habits, traditions, language, customs, or history of any other defining characteristics. Inclusion marks passage into civilization.” p.21
In contrast, he continues:
“Withholding inclusion safety is a sign that we’re engaged in a fight with our own willful blindness. We are self-medicating with enchanting tales about our own distinctiveness and superiority.”
If you doubt that you create enchanting tales about your own superiority, think again. There are toads aplenty in all our lives.
In fact, the stronger our negative reactions to others, the greater the likelihood that its exactly what we resist inside ourselves.
For example, I can become uncomfortable with anger, mine and others. I genuinely like to be happy and I work to build bridges to increase communication and restore harmony.
So what’s the downside of this seemingly benign behavior? I can get triggered and angry with people who are more (and appropriately) in touch with their anger.
What we resist, persists.
Here’s the thing. It’s all holy. The slice of morning sun on my feet and my self-awareness of the menacing fear I projected onto that toad.
So who’s your team toad?
Who makes you uncomfortable, irritable, angry, sad or confused right now? Who do you mutter about under your breathe in order to defend your self-righteousness?
Take a deep breathe. Ask yourself where those feelings live inside you. You’ll find that the need to dominate, to be one above, to have power over, will begin to melt. Your heart will open as you absorb the power of being one with others.
Because the more we connect with ourselves, the more we connect with others. Which is another step in meaningful action of inclusion.
To you, to us, to the big, obvious steps and the seemingly small steps that connect us together in our holy humanness.