“We cannot change everyone else. But we can start, by changing ourselves.” -Simon Sinek, best-selling author of “Start with Why”
I have a question for you. What year is described below?
“As the rocket lifted off launchpad 39a at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, there was tremendous pride in the teamwork it took to achieve this goal. Inspired by one man’s dream, the future of manned spaceflight was indeed bright. Sadly, this great achievement occurred at the very same time as massive protests against racism and civil unrest took place in the streets of many U.S. cities.”
If you said 2020, you would be correct. You would also be correct if you said 1968. That’s a span of 52 years. “How can this be?” you might ask.
Well, in 2020, it was Elon Musk’s dream to launch the first commercial manned space flight ever as the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sent American astronauts into space to dock with the International Space Station. The current protests are the result of the senseless deaths of unarmed African-Americans, most recently George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In a famous 1962 speech, one man, President John F. Kennedy, inspired the dream of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. It was 1968 when NASA’s Apollo 7 crew took off from that very same launchpad 39a in Cape Canaveral. It was also the year of violent protests in U.S. cities that were the aftermath of the anger and frustration over the assassinations of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights advocate and presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy.
So much was accomplished with a shared vision and passion for reaching space. On the other hand, so much work was still left to be done for equal rights. So much hope and promise. So much despair and disappointment. “How can this be?” you might ask.
No one has all the answers as to why we still have ongoing race issues. I certainly don’t. What I do know is that we need to change. We all need to be a part of the solution. As leadership expert Simon Sinek said in a recent YouTube interview with friend and colleague John Maxwell, “Perhaps it will take one person, one relationship at a time.”
Yes, you can change. I can change. We CAN all change. It starts with sharing the core values of common courtesy and mutual respect. It’s having a shared purpose to end discrimination and racism. It’s individually making a commitment to do your part so together we can be a better society. Even if it’s one person, and one relationship at a time. It also takes a whole bunch of common sense.
Ask yourself, your family and your friends these questions:
What have you done to educate yourself on racism?
What are you personally doing differently today that can help people in your circle of influence to change views or perspectives on race in this country?
We can all do our part. I humbly propose we apply common sense to the events that have rocked our nation.
Common sense dictates:
That supporting “Black Lives Matter” is not intended to mean all other lives don’t! It is simply focusing attention on an issue that has stained our country for far too long.
That Derek Chauvin, the officer who is accused of killing George Floyd, and his colleagues, be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But what about his superiors? Who had the chance to take Chauvin off the force given his record of issues? Who protected him? They should be scrutinized just as much if you truly want to change the system.
That how we train, select and evaluate law enforcement personnel must change. There must be a greater emphasis on training officers in empathy, emotional intelligence and conflict resolution skills so that force is the last resort.
That “defunding the police” is a knee jerk reaction that has significant potentially harmful unintended consequences to providing protection to communities. Rather, we must repurpose funding to ensure we provide better police training that includes different approaches to people and situations.
That the message of the peaceful protestors deserves to not only be heard, but also that their concerns be acted upon effectively and expediently. They are the agents of change.
That rioting, violence and looting is not the way to manifest anger. These actions overshadow the important messages that need to be heard. No rationale should justify this behavior.
That the vast majority of law enforcement agents are committed to serve and protect and it would be discriminatory to paint all officers with the same brush. It should be the officers' goal to de-escalate situations so they should be able to get home safely to their families after every shift, and ensure that others’ lives are not needlessly taken.
That we should stand for love, not for hate, and do our best to be just to all. Start by having empathy and educate yourself about what it means to be in another person’s skin.
That if you want to make a difference, do something actionable. Get involved in your community and get to know people that look different than you.
That we stop wasting time on social media allowing agitators and instigators to influence us and divide us.
I could go on and on about the positive impact of applying common sense to the problems that divide us.
The following is an excerpt from chapter 4 of my book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion,” that I offer as an action item for your growth in how to make common sense decisions. Servant leaders put service to others above self.
The Servant Leader Pre-Decision Checklist:
As a servant leader, ask yourself these questions BEFORE you make decisions:
• Is it morally correct?
• Is it ethically correct?
• Is it legal?
• Is it safe?
• Is it the right thing to do?
• Does it pass the “Front Page or Social Media Trending” Test?
These may seem like common sense questions, but I have found that common sense is not as common as you would believe. We all need reminders that our actions have consequences.
Having said that, there are certain times as a leader when it is necessary to challenge the status quo, to avoid the “sea of sameness,” to forget playing it safe, and to go above and beyond compliance. Especially when it’s the right thing to do. Most policies and procedures are guidelines. As long as your alternative solution passes the “Servant Leader Pre-Decision Checklist,” there may come a time when you have to do what must be done.
Don’t just think outside the box, have the courage to get rid of the box — to allow yourself and your team to use intuition, ingenuity and critical thinking skills to make a tough judgment call. That is a key difference between a leader and a manager, and it is my strong belief that we need more real leaders now than ever before.
Real solutions happen when there is civility, communication, collaboration, cooperation and compromise.
We cannot change the past, but we can certainly be part of the change in the future. I am not the same man I was 40 years ago or even 20 years ago. I have made my share of mistakes but believe I have changed for the better (and admittedly still have much to learn.)
“But people will call me a hypocrite if I say I changed.” So what? That is no excuse. Don’t beat yourself up over how you behaved in the past; you are forgiven as long as you commit to changing in the present. It is not being hypocritical to change. That’s the whole objective!
I am sure there will be those who disagree with me because my beliefs don’t align perfectly with theirs. I am OK with that, as long as you apply your common courtesy and mutual respect filter. Our difference of opinions may help us understand the value of diversity, which leads to personal growth.
I felt compelled to reach out to a former baseball teammate and high school classmate of mine, Darryl Lincoln, who is black, to see how he was doing and offer support. His message back to me was spot on:
“Thank you for the note Joe. I certainly feel the sincerity. Racism and discrimination are heart issues and they are hard to solve. May be trite, but change happens one relationship at a time: Parents teaching children, people talking about and getting to know people that don't look like them and discussions about racism in all aspects of society (sports, corporate America, church, law enforcements, etc.) We really have to take a Pragmatic (smile) approach to racism like we take with other problems we tackle in society. Prayer will certainly lead to action and change. There is a bible verse in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that says ‘if my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked way, then I will hear them from heaven, forgive their sins and heal their land.’ So glad to be able to call you friend, sir. You and your family be safe.“
For the sake of our children and grandchildren, let’s finally get to the point where common courtesy and mutual respect becomes the norm.
Twenty years ago, our hockey team had a theme that said, “Expect more from each other. Demand more from yourself.” I think this theme is important in the greater context of how we can encourage change in each other today.
Change takes courage. We can change our mindset. We can change our lenses. We can change our behaviors. Yes, WE can change!