This Is the Work

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Every chance I get now, I ask people, “What stands out the most for you, from the last three months and the last three weeks?”  Every answer is unique, just like every person is.  And I cannot really predict what anyone will say.  It’s fascinating.

In this time some of us have been blessed with a chance to really look inward and reflect, consider, reassess, recalibrate.  But what will we have to show for it?  What is our Work?

This week I had eleven conversations centered around COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter.  Only two were incidental; the others were all intentional, most initiated by me.  Only three were with people of color, all women.  I have learned so much, and it motivates me to continue my query widely.

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I started following Seerut K. Chawla on Instagram, who developed these graphics that really capture what we are all witnessing around race.  Amy Cooper and Derek Chauvin manifest the insidious and overt versions of weaponizing white fragility.  They and others instigated the tidal wave of activism we see today.  I feel weirdly, gravely grateful.  They kicked open, with utter impunity, the door to the profound opportunity for both individual and collective growth and advancement that we confront, right here, right now.

We are all called to face our discomfort head on, to stand up and take responsibility.  We can no longer escape the harsh reality of choice that we all must continually face:  Do what’s Right or do what’s easy.  Let’s assume for a moment that it really is that simple—all qualifications moot.  It may be unrealistic to expect ourselves to choose Right every time…because qualifications.  But aaaaarrrgh we do not do it nearly, nearly enough.  Nothing will change without a critical mass of us choosing Right, much more of the time, for a very long time to come.

performative allyship

My chief concern is that the current moment passes, and nothing meaningful will result.  I learned two new phrases this past week:  “virtue signaling” and “performative allyship”.  Basically they mean that we respond superficially to a trendy peer pressure, to appear supportive of Black Lives.  I imagine part of such words and even actions are sincere to some degree.  But they serve mostly to make us feel better about ourselves.  And the risk is high that this sudden hyper-motivation will go the way of New Year’s resolutions, once we have soothed ourselves, in order to revert to our prior, comfortable obliviousness.

My friends, we cannot let that happen.

But how?  What do we need in order to really seize this chance of a lifetime, to sustain action into meaningful policy reform?  We need one another.

Our work is to listen, self-educate, engage, and persist.

We must tolerate, even embrace the discomfort, knowing that it is nothing compared to what Black people have suffered for 400 years.

Our approach must be founded in Curiosity, Humility, and Respect.

Our goals, first and foremost, are to learn, to understand, and to connect.

authentic allyship

We can and should each start small, with our own inner work.  Actually this is not really small, is it?  Looking at these panes, I bet most of us don’t live all the time in Authentic Allyship.  This is the Work.  The activation energy for collective change requires all of us together to overcome, before we could ever hope to sustain that change.

And there is good news!  Going together synergizes our energy, lowering each of our individual thresholds for openness and learning, allowing us to advance the collective that much faster!  We can speak and act in our own small circles of influence—our tribes.  Then we reach out and merge our tribes, bonding in solidarity, common purpose, and love.  Is it not inspiring??

Stop with the ‘yes, but…’  Do the right thing, more and more and more and more and more.  Support each other doing it, show up for one another—hold each other up!  Allow for mistakes and imperfection, for continuous learning.  Seek the very next opportunity.  We can do this, Yes We Can.

The pieces below inspire me.  Take the time to read and listen.  Share in the comments what keeps the flame of change alive for you.  I see things changing already.  Let’s keep going.  We’ got this if we go together.

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The Heartbeat of Racism is Denial” by Ibram X. Kendi

Denial is fueled by the stigma associated with being a racist. Feeding the stigma is how “racist” is considered almost like an identity, a brand.

But a racist is not who a person is. A racist is what a person is, what a person is saying, what a person is doing.

Racist is not a fixed category like “not racist,” which is steeped denial. Only racists say they are not racist. Only the racist lives by the heartbeat of denial.

The antiracist lives by the opposite heartbeat, one that rarely and irregularly sounds in America — the heartbeat of confession.

How to Build an Antiracist World, TED Conversation with Ibram X. Kendi

Antiracist Resources from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley

Unarmed Professionals Will Now Respond to Non-Criminal Police Calls in San Francisco

The Power and Potential of Blind Spots

Sunset 10-25-2019

Whoa Nellie, what a week.  How are you?  What’s vexing you most right now?  What’s holding you up?

A 651 KB PDF sits portentously in my work inbox.

It’s the report of the 14 people who completed surveys for my 360 leadership evaluation.  What a fantastic learning opportunity (assuming the feedback is concrete and actionable)!  I had planned to do it last winter, and then I procrastinated.  And then the pandemic hit.  At home and not seeing patients, I debated whether to bother people with such a frivolous ask.  I decided to proceed because as a leader, what better chance and reason to get real time feedback than during a crisis?  And will there be a better time in the coming months?  I am grateful to/for the 14 respondents.

My biggest fear is that I will be blindsided, and then frozen, by unexpected and severely negative feedback.  I’d say I have a moderate case of imposter syndrome.  So this report carries, in my lizard brain, a high risk of confirming every insecurity I harbor about my leadership, personality, and value to my (any!) organization.  *deep breath*

Johari Window

https://www.communicationtheory.org/the-johari-window-model/

 

Thankfully I am more than my threat-vigilant self; I can receive feedback calmly and rationally.  And, I have support.  One of my LOH classmates introduced me to the Johari Window model the other day.  How have I not come across (remembered) this model before now?  Into the first of the four panes, my ‘Arena’, I put aspects of my leadership style that are known to both myself and others—strengths and weaknesses.  A second pane, my ‘Façade,’ comprises things known to me but that I conceal from others.  These can include deep seated fears, insecurities, traumas, and other emotional baggage.  I bet many of us underestimate the influence and consequences of façade traits on our leadership style and results.  My 360 will show what lives in the upper right pane, my ‘Blind Spot(s)’—what is known to others and not known to me—hence the risk for being ‘blindsided.’  Finally, the parts of my leadership that are as yet unknown to both myself and to others are simply labelled ‘Unknown.’  I have renamed this quadrant ‘Potential for Supported Learning and Growth.’

The best possible result from this 360 exercise is a new, clear, and useful awareness of my leadership Blind Spots.  In her book Insight, Tasha Eurich asserts that true, effective self-awareness embraces and processes both the self-known and other-known domains, and their intersection.  I plan to map out my Johari Window for both strengths and weaknesses before opening my report.  Then I can organize them into broad categories as a framework for approaching the results, and see how well they reconcile (or not).

But beyond professional leadership in my little clinical practice, how else can I apply this self-awareness framework?  How can this exercise inform larger, more global  relationships and culture?

Racism

In July, 2016, I wrote this post about racism and listening for peace.  I’m glad to have documented my thoughts and experiences over the years.  Rereading it now, I can see how I have both sustained and evolved my attitudes on addressing racism.  I still respect all points of view, at least partially.  But I am now more willing to take risks and engage in the hard conversations, to show that I have the capacity to address complexity, to hold tension between divergent and opposing perspectives.  I used to fear being misconstrued as a member of an antagonist monolith.  I am less afraid today to confront such assumptions that others may make of me (and I of them), to invite dialog, to withstand the discomfort of digging in and exchanging in earnest.  This includes with those whose ideology I oppose, as well as those with whom I align.

A principal value of inviting divergent dialog, like the 360 evaluation, is to reveal my Blind Spots.  For instance, even as I think of myself as ‘not racist,’ what behaviors have I that actually are racist, or at least ignorant and complicit?  How can I be more anti-racist?  What can the mirror show me that I can act on and improve, to make a positive difference?

For more on the vital importance and dire need for more of this kind of engagement and self-reflection, read David French’s piece from this morning, “American Racism: We’ve Got So Very Far to Go.”

For an excellent example of how Blind Spots manifest publicly, and how this can instruct us, read John Pavlovitz’s excellent essay on how Drew Brees slammed straight into the mirror as blind as any of us.

We can all map out Johari Window panes for our racism and anti-racism, just like leadership strengths and weaknesses.  Then we can shut up and listen to our Black friends and colleagues, learn in earnest about how racism really is built into and manifests in every aspect of our national heritage and culture.  We can speak up and act when we witness racist thought, attitude, behavior, words, decisions, and policies.  Each of us, in small and still significant ways, can lighten the burden our Black peers carry—we can and should share the work of dismantling our oppressive and marginalizing, racist systems.

It all starts with awareness—the closer to 360 the better.

Trust and Safety in an Uncertain World

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Suddenly I felt my heart pounding.  My palms got sweaty.  My jaw felt tense.  I’m anxious, I realized.  It felt like sometimes when I speak up in big meetings.  Wow, I don’t even have to be in front of people for this to happen, how fascinating.

It was the second or third comment I had written on another Facebook page, belonging to a high school classmate.  I think we became ‘friends’ through his wife, a friendly acquaintance of mine in high school, with whom I’ve been connected on Facebook for several years.  I don’t really know her husband at all, and yet here I was, writing long replies on his page about universal masking, why recommendations changed between March and now, and why I trust Dr. Fauci despite his apparent flip-flop on this issue.

I had entered someone else’s house, offering my unsolicited opinions.  Though we have a handful of mutual friends, I had no idea who else would attend this party, and whether I would be welcome.  I wasn’t sure it was safe.

And yet I felt compelled to enter, why?  Perhaps I felt defensive of my professional standard bearer, Dr. Fauci, the father of modern infectious disease and icon of science, medicine, and public health.  He has basically led the research to define and defeat HIV/AIDS since the 1980s.  Through six administrations, he has directed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to successfully manage H1N1, Ebola, and Zika, at home and abroad.  He is one of my heroes.  Likely, I also wanted to absolve myself a little, as I had also recommended against masking in public early on.  I wanted to help some strangers see us, the ‘experts’, as human and fallible, and also earnest and caring, worthy of heeding.

So I obsessed over my comments.  I read and reread before posting.  I edited after posting.  I included the links embedded above, inviting anyone on the thread to hear Dr. Fauci in his own words, in full.  I offered my own mea culpa twice, explaining how academics sometimes fall victim to ivory tower thinking, as we did in this case.  Perhaps this was my attempt at earning back whatever trust people may have lost because we experts contradicted ourselves in such an important and pivotal moment.  I regret this, and I wanted people to know, and then maybe not hold it against me (us).  Would I be crucified?  Or would I crack a door open to hearing what I had to say?  I feel anxious now, just thinking about it again.

My own friends discussed this on my page a few weeks ago, after my post on antibody testing (our recommendations have not changed yet).  Paul, MD PhD and rheumatologist, pointed out, “US experts really blew it initially when it came to masks… All they had to do was consider the possibility that Asian countries might be right and then consider that the risk associated with (masking) was virtually zero.  The first thing experts need to do, when confronted with circumstances that are truly new to them, is admit uncertainty and base recommendations accordingly.”  I’m so lucky to have such honest and direct friends.  I replied that I felt badly for following the ‘expert’ advice like a sheep (which is exactly how others on my acquaintance’s page described followers of universal masking, yikes).  “Lesson learned,” I wrote—but have I really learned it?  David, Paul’s and my classmate who now leads quality and hospitalist programs at his institution, replied, “It’s weird to be here with you (two) bashing experts, since the three of us are by any definition, experts.  But the value of experts is not that they’re always right, but that they have a) a better track record and b) the ability to self-correct.”  Yes, humility is key.

It all makes me wonder, how do we trust someone?  I have conversations every day with patients and non-medical friends and family, educating and advising, and they are appreciative; they trust me.  But we have already established mutually respectful, personal relationships.  What made me think I could go on this unfamiliar man’s social media page, interact with perfect strangers, and have them trust or accept anything I said, when they had already expressed reservations about, if not hostility toward, my ‘tribe’?  Was it my place?

The original post commented on universal masking and referenced Dr. Fauci not in a snarky, pejorative, or aggressive way.  If it had I would have scrolled right by.  Because it was a neutral presentation, I felt it could be safe to enter this house and offer my perspective.  Out of respect for the page owner and his friends, I did my best to present both humbly and objectively, to be informative but not condescending.  I really wanted to put my best online foot forward, to represent my tribe and my profession as well and as trustworthily (it’s a word!), as possible—to connect.  So far I have not been attacked, and a few readers have liked my comments.

In the end, as I have written before, I think it’s about how we show up to one another.  I wrote recently about tribal culture, and how through this crisis, individuals can help our own tribes thrive by modeling a more collaborative rather than competitive mindset, by amplifying our togetherness.  “Who do we want to be on the other side of this crisis?” I asked.  David Logan and colleagues go on in their work to discuss how tribes can effectively interact with other tribes, forming alliances and advancing even greater good together.  They posit that tribes draw closer when their respective members, especially designated leaders (representatives), connect.

We find ourselves now in an existential battle for our lives, literally.  Now is exactly the time to find common ground, step onto it, set up camp, and make decisions from there—to merge tribes.  A friend asked me today, “Who do you want to be now?”

I want to be a connector, I answered.  I will do my best not to contribute to division, polarization, alienation, disconnection, and suffering, through my words or actions.  I will not be perfect.  I will make mistakes.  I will continue to learn and apply.  I will strive to earn and maintain people’s trust.  And I will help make it safe for people to question and challenge, discuss and explore any point of view.  In the face of uncertainty, this is what I can offer.