Today you might be sitting quietly by yourself and have this strange idea about doing something wrong. You’ll probably dismiss the idea quickly.
Or an acquaintance might suggest that you do something wrong. You’ll probably politely decline.
Or your boss might ask you to do something wrong. That will be uncomfortable.
Or the law might ask you to do something wrong.
Today in 1955, the law asked James. F. Blake to use his police powers as a bus driver to sign a warrant for the arrest of Rosa Park after she refused to give up her seat to a white man. To be fair, Blake did not hesitate. Twelve years earlier, Blake had made Parks disembark after she entered his bus from the front door and paid her fare; he wanted her to enter from the back door. But not all bus drivers agreed with the law. What were they supposed to do? What would you have done?
Today we have laws that separate children from their parents at border crossings. We have laws that criminalize sharing our food with the homeless. Perhaps you have rules in your office that are unfair.
Will you enforce them?
According to this article, most homebuyers are not warned about the new flood or wildfire risk caused by climate change. They know a lot about their new home: quality of schools, access to public transportation, and presence of lead paint. But they don’t know about the rising risks associated with climate change, mostly because the law doesn’t require disclosure.
Which got me thinking: are companies adapting their new employee training and onboarding process to account for the new risks associated with the pandemic and social justice?
I read The Daily Stoic every morning.
I have been doing so for the last 4 years. The daily meditation I read this morning is the same one I read on August 20th the 3 previous years. It is familiar by now. But because I am not the same person I was one year ago, that meditation offers something new.
Your employees feel the same effect when they hear you speak of the company values. Do not assume that because they’ve heard you speak of their importance in the past that there is no point in repeating the exercise. Your employees are not the same people they were before the pandemic or before witnessing the murder of George Floyd. When you speak of safety and respect today, they don’t hear what they heard last year.
“I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do. That is character!”Theodore Roosevelt
Every leader is called to be an antiracist, today more than ever.
Taking a stand will expose us to attacks and criticism. We may damage a relationship with a relative, lose a friend, or be excluded at work.
Let us not care about it. Our character is at stake, and that of every nation on Earth.
Many people refer to COVID-19 and racism as “the two pandemics.”
With COVID-19, our job is to keep our distances, wash our hands, and wear a mask while we wait for a vaccine. For anyone trying to do the right thing, the task is fairly simple.
With racism, our job is much more complex. The steps to a cure are not as simple. But the first step for just about anyone appears to be education and learning. And today, at 7 PM UTC -4, we all have an opportunity to learn from National Book Award winner and New York Times bestselling author Ibram X. Kendi, as he discusses his book “How to Be an Antiracist.” For anyone trying to do the right thing, today’s task is fairly simple: register for the free event and listen with an open mind.
We can’t just wish these pandemics away. But we can wear a mask. And we can learn how to fight racism. That’s ethical leadership.
Since becoming the father of three kids, I’ve often given thought to the fact that so many professionals complete 40+ hours of continuing education each year to maintain their professional license, and yet most parents don’t spend a minute in any given year to learn about parenting.
I suspect it’s because we believe that our experience as children has taught us how to parent. And because we’ve never seen a book about parenting in our house growing up.
How wrong we are.
A similar thing is happening in the world today with White people and racism. We think that our experience as Whites informs our understanding of the Black experience. We’ve never read a book about racism, anti-racism, White fragility or anti-Blackness. We don’t think we’re racists.
How wrong we are.
As I write this post, 4 out of 5 New York Times bestsellers are about racism and anti-racism. They were not written for Black people. If you are White and aspire to be an ethical leader, you owe it to yourself to pick one up and learn. I recommend you start with Me and White Supremacy.
Becoming a parent conveniently reveals the hardships of parenthood. But White people can’t become Black for a revelation of racism. We must instead educate ourselves, and stop being wrong.
To Kill a Mockingbird was published 60 years ago today. In light of the racism still permeating our society, it seemed fitting that I add it to my book list.
I won’t pretend that the character of Atticus Finch is perfect. No man is. But he is the type of father I would like to model. I would like my kids’ school principal to be like him. I would gladly work for him. And I certainly would vote for him.
That last action is important. Our duty as citizens is not simply to vote, but to vote for ethical leaders. To elect a leader is to put her in power. And racism is born out of prejudice from those in power. If we want to eradicate institutionalized racism, we must elect better leaders.
Making ethical decisions can be difficult.
The difficulty increases when you are facing a real decision.
So practice making these decisions when you don’t really have to make them. Pretend that the cashier gave you change for $20 when you handed him a $10 bill. Pretend that you overheard your aunt make a racist joke at the family gathering. Pretend that your boss turns a blind eye to your colleague’s expense fraud because your colleague is the top salesperson.
These or similar situations will happen to you. Practice them in your head. Decide now what action you will take. Note that I am not asking you to decide what the right thing to do is. You already know what to do (return the extra change, tell your aunt that her joke is inappropriate, report the fraud). The real difficulty is in deciding how to do it. It’s difficult even when it’s not for real.
So practice for the real game.
If you work at a large corporation, two things are likely:
- You have an ethics & compliance department, and
- You never took a business ethics class in school.
If that’s your situation, you’re in luck. Your company is keeping people on the payroll to educate you about business ethics and to answer any question you might have. Take advantage of it.
If you pay attention to what’s going on around you, you should be able to come up with a business ethics question every day. Listen to the news, listen to your colleagues, think of a friend’s situation at work, and you’ll soon find a question to ask, like:
- What are we doing to fight racism within our company?
- What measures do we need to take before employees can safely return to work post-COVID?
- Can we work a second job to make up for furlough days?
In fact, even if you don’t feel the need to ask a question of your compliance guru, you should come up with one – every day. Write them down in your Notes app or on a piece of paper. Just one, but every day. Let them pile up until you have dozens or hundreds. Develop the skill to see what could be better, safer, more just. This will build in you an urge to do something.
If everyone imagined a better world, it would come faster.
To the youngster talking nonsense, Zeno said: ‘The reason why we have two ears and only one mouth is so we might listen more and talk less.’Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 7.1.23
Just like the storied fish who doesn’t know what water is, my white privilege has been invisible to me for 50 years.
This is why the Black community, in response to so many like me wanting to do something, is asking us first to educate ourselves and to truly listen. There are books on racism and white privilege. There are documentaries and films. There are podcasts. We must take ownership of our education.
In a recent open letter, my CEO explained how, after truly listening to some of our company’s senior-most Black leaders, he understood the importance of – wait for it – more listening. In his words:
So, what comes next? […] What comes next is an intense weeks-long period of listening. I, my senior leadership team and managers across our enterprise will now canvass our global footprint to hear directly from our Black colleagues and others who face discrimination in our communities. And then, we will build a plan for action. A plan that will turn ideas into results. A plan that will help drive near- and long-term societal change.
So let us all educate ourselves and listen. Listen to our relatives, our friends, our neighbors and our communities. We all know someone who faces discrimination on a daily basis. Let us listen to them, so that we may replace cruelty with humanity.