This week’s post is in response to the violence that occurred in Lebanon, France, and Kenya over the past week, and the ensuing comments and debates on social media. This topic may appear to be a departure from my typical focus on leadership, but it speaks to the very essence of why so many organizations are so dysfunctional and unproductive.
I found out about the terrorist attacks in Paris as I landed at the Atlanta airport on Friday night. As I scrolled down my twitter feed on the train, the thought of so many lives having been lost and the unthinkable violence literally brought tears to my eyes. It wasn’t until the next morning, after I had expressed my empathy and solidarity with Paris on social media, that I realized that I had shown virtually no reaction to similar atrocities that were committed just days earlier in Beirut. I was painfully reminded that as much as I preach a message of oneness, I am, and always will be, subject to my own biases. It is not something I am proud of, mind you, but what is the sense in hiding my hypocrisy as it must be obvious to everyone else just as the hypocrisy in other people’s commentary on social media is obvious to me.
I realized just how desensitized I’d become to the news of bombs going off in the Middle East, while I deeply empathize when the same happens in the western world. I cannot claim ignorance as an excuse and let myself off the hook as I grew up in Iran, have lived in four countries and have traveled to 40+ more. I could blame the media for sensationalizing some events while barely covering others, such as the killing of innocent people in Kenya that very next day. There is definitely some truth to that, but isn’t it time that we stopped blaming someone else and took a hard look at ourselves as the source of the mess the world is in?
Let’s face it, we are all hypocrites and we all have a natural tendency to be extremists in one area or another, and condemn everyone else and validate ourselves. We live in a world that demands that we choose sides and stick to the party line no matter what. If you're a republican, you must pledge allegiance to everything Fox News says and if you're a democrat, you better to the same to MSNBC. You better pick whether you think “black lives matter” or “police lives matter.” In our workplaces, you should figure out which function you are loyal to if you want to have any support from your peers.
In spite of our tendency and the massive amount of peer pressure we receive to isolate ourselves in silos, we must recognize that the world is not divided into democrats and republicans, or pro-life and pro-choice people, or Muslims and Christians. The world is divided into people who love and people who hate, people who have an abundance mentality and those who have a scarcity mentality, people who don't acknowledge their own biases and think their views are the truth and those who recognize that they may not be able to see the whole truth and seek to understand other points of view.
I believe the first step in solving the problems that extremism creates in the world is to acknowledge and confront our own extremism. Some extremists use weapons to carry out acts of violence, while others use their keyboards to generate conversations that fan the flames of separatism and hatred. The extremists who resort to violence and those who offer simple-minded solutions to complex problems are profoundly more the same than different. They are isolationists in denial that we live in an interdependent world.
When tragedy strikes, all trivial everyday problems and conflicts that divide us from the victims disappear in the face of our inherent desire to be human, and we relate to one another as such. We relate to each other not through the lens of our superficial differences, but through the undeniable bond of humanity that transcends all barriers behind which we seek shelter every day, be they political, religious, racial, etc. I have seen the citizens in a racially divided city come together and work side by side as one in the aftermath of a devastating flood. I have witnessed people in a factory extend unconditional compassion toward an otherwise unpopular employee when she lost her son in a car accident. I have seen people of different faiths come together and extend compassion toward each other in the face of the threat of persecution.
Unfortunately, when the flood waters recede, the funerals are held, and the streets are cleaned, the tendency for most of us is to quickly and ever more fiercely migrate to our safe havens where we find safety and security in the company of those "who are like us." Just as unfortunately, we grow numb, as I admittedly have, to the on-going atrocities and tragedies that are experienced all around us everyday, and we are no longer triggered by them in the least bit.
As “we are Paris or Beirut or Kenya” this week and we empathize with the victims of the immediate tragedies, let us remember that we are ALL more the same than different EVERYDAY. Let’s stop criticizing each other for whether we put a French flag on our Facebook profile photo or not, or whether we believe that “black lives matter” or that “all lives matter,” or whether we say “pray for Paris” or “pray for the world.” Let’s turn our attention, first and foremost, to ourselves and our own biases and hypocrisy, and discover opportunities to reach across the aisle and join with the forces of good on what we have considered “the other side.” Let us not just #Prayfortheworld, but do something to change it, starting with ourselves.
I, of course, am only a hypocrite trying to impose my views on you while I myself will, at best only strive, and at worst fail time and again to practice what I preach. All I ask of you is to consider examining your thoughts, posts, and your conversations, and determine where you also have work to do. If you were offended by anything in this post or if you feel it doesn’t apply to you because you have no biases, that thought itself might be a good place to start. If you have heard enough about Paris and Beirut, I'd urge you to look close to home and see how your biases affect you personally and professionally and what might be possible at your workplace if everyone were willing to start with a little self-reflection and course correction.