The United States is reeling from racial inequality. This inequality has simmered during our entire lifetime and is compounded by the inequality of healthcare before and during a pandemic, financial inequality in general, and a string of unending, atrocious race-based murders, the most recent being the killing of George Floyd. At no time in our lives have the flaws within our country been so evident. It is clear it is a time for change.
As a middle-aged professional white male, I have not felt racism directly in my career or personal life. Regardless of each of our situations, it is incumbent upon us to engage in soul searching, reflect on how we can strive for racial equality, and take action to create a better society for everyone. The following are five actions that I can do now (and you can too) to help address the issues we face in this moment. The good news is, by all of us turning up the volume on our intentional actions, we can and will make a difference.
- Practice Empathy
Looking through someone else’s eyes can change the world. Empathy has brought most of us together through the heinous act of George Floyd’s senseless killing—to be touched by a dying person crying out in his last breaths for his mother, who leaves behind a family and a young daughter who will grow up without her dad. Each of us must pay attention to this strong, gut-wrenching moment, and reflect on who we are.
It is harder for us to show empathy for people we can’t relate to—most of the time this is a person who does not look or act like us. An even more difficult scenario: how do we reconcile a person doing something wrong, such as a rioter who turns to looting? We must first look to empathy as a guide, understand root causes of why people do bad things (or even just do different things), and all the while continue to uphold the law in a civil society.
- Be Guided by Collective Wellbeing
One of the most transformational books I’ve read is “Wellbeing,” written by Tom Rath and Jim Harter. The authors describe five essential elements that contribute to wellbeing over a lifetime: career wellbeing, social wellbeing, financial wellbeing, physical wellbeing, and community wellbeing. To address racial inequality, we must put under a microscope the policies that affect each of these five wellbeing elements. This is a massive undertaking.
For now, reflect on your own balance of these five wellbeing elements. In the United States we oftentimes strive for financial and career wellbeing at the expense of other areas. We lose focus on things like community wellbeing, social wellbeing, and physical wellbeing. By investing in all wellbeing elements, including our collective wellbeing of giving back to our broader community and addressing racial inequality, we can build a more just environment to live in. As a side benefit, we will also be more fulfilled.
- Understand Our Own Bias
It is natural for each of us to have our own lens through which we view the world, especially in today’s social media saturated culture. Our successes, failures, economic status, education, gender and sexual orientation, skin color, and where we live all contribute to how we see ourselves and others. Similar to empathy, we must look through our own eyes and assess where we have bias. In less extreme times, our own subtle bias contributes negatively to the equality causes that we believe in. Self-awareness cannot be underestimated. Make sure you check in on yourself when the time is right.
- Commit to Intentional Action
None of us wants to be that person who gets ignored or written off by being in a constant state of aggression. We should also not stay quiet. Adjusting how and when we take action results in more effective societal change. In my own way, I can reach and sway people differently than an aggressive protestor or a passive resistor. We each have our own style and sphere of influence. Know how you can make change, take intentional action, and do not lose your soul by being quiet. By each one of us taking this action in different environments and by different means, we will create tipping points for lasting change.
- Grasp the Complexity of Racial Inequality
To establish lasting solutions, we must also grasp the complexity of addressing racial inequality that has been with us since even before the founding of our country. Racial inequality is more front and center today than at any time since the late 1960s. Establishing new law enforcement standards is one important area of focus, and investing in underprivileged communities during a period of extreme state and national debt is another. But there are more: education, bias awareness and mitigation, social mobility, healthcare, and putting new leaders in place, to name just a few. This all adds up to a challenge that will take years to accomplish. We must have both a passion for expedience and the patience to see it through.
The good news is now we can, and must, shine a spotlight on each of these issues, as it is in the best interest of everyone. None of us can single-handedly change racial inequality, although some of us will emerge at the national level to take charge of this undertaking. We always look for a President’s leadership. But others can create change as well, and we should seek out and promote these leaders, enabling them to follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., César Chávez, and others.
Coming out of the protests, riots, and looting this month, we should hold our eyes wide open. Understand that we each are interconnected and can make a difference. We all must contribute to a new, more just world starting now, together.
A global management consultant, author, and speaker, Stefan provides insights from
his world of business and from holistic life experiences working and living in the United
States and abroad. Stefan is a partner at the international consulting firm Global PMI
Partners. He holds an MBA from Pepperdine University, a degree in industrial
engineering from the University of Iowa and is an alumnus of the Harvard Business
School LPSF Program. In his personal life, Stefan is an active Leadership Circle
member at the Commonwealth Club of California, enjoys sailing the San Francisco Bay,
and splits time between San Francisco and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he and his
family have established a second home.