Monday, January 18 is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This day represents a period of reflection for all humans, regardless of race, creed or national origin. What have we learned since 1963 when Dr. King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech? After all, that speech was given for the benefit of all humankind. Dr. King offered resonant insights into the deep flaws and tremendous potential of the American social experiment. Can we come together to exercise even greater insights today?
A few years ago, I bought an old etching depicting a famous shopping bazaar in Florence, Italy. These days, I walk past this etching hanging on my wall without giving it much thought. At first glance, it’s easy to notice a person standing on the corner, another person pushing a cart, and a pair of individuals conversing. They stand brightly against a shadowy background. I often wonder about the story of the man pushing the cart. Is he a farmer from the countryside? A local merchant? What does he sell? One day, I decided to look deeper.
I used a magnifying glass to inspect the art more closely and was amazed at what I saw. Instead of the few individuals I had casually observed for years, it became apparent that I had missed scores of people on the street, blending into the dark background. Each was meticulously painted with their own outfit and facial expression, and I am sure the artist crafted them with a unique story in mind for every character. Unfortunately, the artist died many years ago, so I am left to my own ideas and guesses. However, I learned a valuable lesson: when we look beyond our personal beliefs or initial assumptions, we are often surprised at what we find.
So, here we are in 2021 with a great deal of anticipation as to what the year will bring. I read a post on December 31st that said, “Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.”
I am sure we can all agree 2020 was a book to remember. The drama was high, and the stress was off the charts. Thankfully, that ink has dried. The book has been published, and it was read by all. We can no longer change it in any way, but we can learn from it.
That opportunity for learning and growth is why our Diversity & Inclusion Roundtable held fifteen listening sessions last year for anyone who wanted to participate. The purpose was to give our colleagues a chance to share their feelings and listen to others’ thoughts about the many challenges stemming from racial injustices, pandemic separation, and political divisions. Attendees joined from across the country, spanning nationalities, ethnicities, backgrounds and more.
We gained many valuable insights from sharing with each other and learning from new perspectives. The word cloud to the left was created from actual responses offered during these sessions. We asked the ever-loaded question, “How are you feeling right now?” Some participants felt conflicted, distrustful, exhausted, isolated, and frustrated. However, there were also feelings of hope, optimism, gratefulness, and anticipation. Whatever the case, we all agreed that 2020 had quickly outstayed its welcome.
It was heartwarming to hear colleagues talk passionately about paying kind deeds forward, expanding their circle of friends, and increasing dialogue about things they do not currently agree with or understand. Everyone left with the intent to dig deeper into the difficult topics and seek to understand a new perspective.
I must say, I am proud of the commitment our company made in diversity and inclusion several years ago. But now is not the time to look back at our accomplishments, pat ourselves on the back, and take a break. This year, the D&I Roundtable is committed to continuing listening sessions on a quarterly basis. As I am writing this blog, violent protests are occurring in the nation’s capital and the country is still experiencing widespread political unrest. The divisions that have severed so many families and friendships continue. As a result, a significant number of our own experts continue to experience a range of challenges – at home, at work, and in their communities. We believe that we need to better understand these challenges in order to create the most supportive workplace possible, in terms of both personal health and professional excellence.
In addition to listening sessions, we have begun providing unconscious bias training to empower our own people to embrace an inclusive mindset. We have also strengthened our commitment to supplier diversity, which allows us to walk the talk by strengthening our diverse partner relationships, helping create jobs, and supporting local economic development within underserved communities.
While I do not wish time or my life away, I am happy to no longer type the numbers “2020” on a regular basis. Ironically, “20-20” is typically a set of numbers used to depict sharp vision. But that serendipitous timing largely went wasted in the year with the perfect name for reflection as our society took significant steps backwards. The current vision remains obscured and decidedly not resembling 20-20 vision. Rather than embracing inclusion, unity, and cooperation, many have unfortunately embraced exclusion, division, and disagreements.
Just like most situations in life, I believe there is a lesson to be learned in the experiences 2020 has brought us. I have learned to look deeper—beyond the obvious—past what we think we see. The key to understanding is all about taking the time to listen to others. To truly and actively listen. Seeking to listen to others’ perspective is an act of respect and love toward others, as well as self-care for one’s own wellbeing. Instead of avoiding our differences in this coming year, I hope we rush toward them with the goal of starting more dialogue. May we work together to make the best of the year to come!