As I write this, we are still reeling from seeing the US Capitol overrun by individuals with clear intentions of violence. These intentions, in part, were based on disinformation, continuously stoked by a sitting President. Now this President has been impeached for a second time.
The early days of 2021 are proving to be no less tumultuous than 2020.
Today a new President will be sworn in. For the first time in history we will have a female Vice-President of color. The Democrats will soon take control (at least by majority vote) of both houses of Congress.
COVID-19 keeps ravaging the nation as we try to figure out how to get vaccines into arms. 100,000 people are expected to die from the disease in the US in the next 30 days. This is equivalent to a small city being wiped out.
To say we are in a period of intense change, hope, grief and uncertainty is a understatement.
So much turbulence can’t but help affect all of us. The events at the US Capitol were particularly disturbing for me and put us, I fear, at deep risk of losing our democracy and civility.
Continued reflection has caused me to conclude that an ugly mix of racism, bias and ignorance were at the root cause of the US Capitol being overrun with violence.
The Report That Made It Real
Through a disturbing report we learned that FBI agents had actionable intelligence about the attack on the Capitol days before it happened. This could have been handled more proactively, and perhaps the whole attack stopped, but it was not. Why?
The clear lack of coordination and leadership, a security expert explains, was likely due to ‘unconscious bias’.
Law enforcement officers and government officials literally could not imagine people ‘like them’, white and “pro-law-enforcement” individuals, would cause the US Capitol to be overrun with violence. Their biases and assumptions kept them from seeing what was in plain sight across the Internet.
I am struggling with this blindness, and the risk it poses to our nation.
Firing or censuring those specific individuals who ignored the threat will likely not solve this problem.
It is bigger than any individual. We are all vulnerable to this blinding bias built on a foundation of ignorance (not knowing self) and racism (not knowing others). If left unaddressed, it could destroy us.
What can we do?
Perhaps now is the time for each of us to reckon with our own biases and assumptions about everything.
The Human Mind
This last year I took time, through a series of classes and practices, to learn more about the human mind, about my mind. I learned it is very powerful, yet fragile, and highly susceptible to influence, especially to the powerful influence and needs of ego.
The ego, culture and heredity as humans tends to create an analytical mind that is generally a prideful ‘judging machine’. It wants to ‘keep us safe’ at all costs.
This mind is most comfortable ‘knowing the answer’ to almost everything, based almost entirely on past (not present) experience and fears.
We pass judgement quickly, filtered through our own literally warped perception that cannot keep up with the present moment.
Unfortunately, that mindset makes us arrogant (and ignorant). Arrogance is reflected in both our words and our actions or in-actions.
Western culture is very good at some things –like technical problem solving, wealth-creation and the processes to achieve those things.
We are, however, very poorly skilled in understanding and shifting the repetitive mental patterns at play that create the false sense of reality we live in. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this, as we cling even more tightly to our patterns in the face of intense uncertainty and fear.
The Cozy Box
As these patterns repeat over and over, we develop a construct of our world, that is, a box. The box, designed to keep us safe, is a prison, as we have no real freedom of thought.
Further, since it is not built on reality, but on our stories about reality based in the past, the construct is dangerous to ourselves and others.
The FBI story is an example of a closed box in action. Agents missed the reality in plain sight because of their biased stories about themselves and the world. Clearly the folks who invaded the Capitol also had a story of the world based on falsehoods they were living out.
Unfortunately, we all do this.
In the end, our cozy box, our biases, destroy or severely limit our individual happiness. The box corrodes relationships with others and challenges our leadership abilities and mental health (those seeking support for anxiety and depression increased 93% in 2020). It tests our ability to achieve our true potential, and now our very democracy.
Our Role in This
My cohorts and I tend to think of ourselves as ‘White allies’ in the fight against racial injustice, or at minimum, we deeply want to be. Are we? I don’t know.
I encourage us as individuals to dig deeper and act, if we are to eliminate this scourge of bias, save our own mental health and what we value in our democracy.
This might be a critical question to consider:
What keeps us from relating to and engaging deeply with those who are different from us?
Below are some examples I have heard from and observed in people close to me and sometimes in myself.
- Many White people would never consider working for a predominantly black institution, even if its aims completely align with our skills and interests.
- We don’t hire professionals (lawyers, doctors, real estate agents, financial planners) who don’t look like us. Ken Lewis does a masterful job of helping us rethink this and provides resources to actually do it.
- Most of us marry people who look just like us.
- We don’t like people who voted for Trump. They are the enemy.
- While we might sit next to people of a different race or political view in a meeting or at an event. However, we frequently ignore the opportunity to engage and miss the chance to relate on any level.
We stay biased. Why? Our mind is left to largely make up stories about others – it has no actual experience to go on!
To go deeper, it is very helpful to look at how we bring a judging and over-assuming mind to almost every situation we encounter. We block discovering deeper wisdom at every opportunity.
This blind mindset in large part created the Capitol insurrection.
Today, I see my part, our part, in creating the environment that supported it.
No, I would never (can I imagine) storm the Capitol. However, by not acknowledging and actively working on my own mind and its destructive patterns, I passively encourage a culture built on falsehoods and assumptions.
What can we do to change this? First, we have to recognize that this is a problem, and a problem we are part of. Otherwise, we can never seek to effect change.
I am struggling to find my role. I am actively trying to become friends with my judging over-sensitive, uncontrolled yet highly controlling mind (being honest here). It is not easy work, but I can see it helps.
In my work as an Executive Coach and consultant, I want to help ALL leaders find their voices, but especially African-American leaders. I know their authentic voices have a role in helping us learn, grow, and heal as a nation. They have lived the dissonance of white bias for so long. They know the problem, first-hand, on a deep level.
It strikes me that those who support President Trump so passionately and believe he won the election are in deep pain, once you cut through the anger. I can’t say more definitively, but I sense nonprofits have a role in that healing.
How can you help? How are you thinking about this?
It would be inspiring to hear from you below, or just hit reply.
Together, perhaps we can find a better way.