These last few weeks have been profoundly heartbreaking. My emotions have run the gamut, including anger, pain, grief, disgust, frustration, weariness, and a deep sense of loss for the families, friends, and communities of George Floyd and the many other victims who have perished in this horrific and unjust tragedy. At LifeSmart, we join the peaceful cries for justice, pray for the hurting, and stand for meaningful solutions that allow all people the opportunity to flourish.
Just so you know, incidences of injustice are personal, professional, and now, familial to me. I have many dear African American friends who I consider mentors and role models (Mike James, Willie Stewart, Bea McLeod, and Antwine Jefferson to name some). And, at LifeSmart, we are blessed to serve many racially diverse schools and regions and have special regard for the incredible dropout prevention/career readiness program at Jobs for America’s Graduates, whose teachers and students we serve are often minorities. Finally, I’m excited to mention that we have a new addition to our family—a son-in-law, Bruce Spencer, who is an Army officer, a true gentleman, and who happens to be African American. We love him dearly and are starting a wonderful new relationship with his family, too.
As I reflect on 2020, I’m struck by how many of us have experienced injustice in one way or another. Small business owners deemed “Non-Essential” and shuttered even when we could have operated safely, if given the chance. Churches who are facing tighter restrictions than other organizations. Speakers banned from campuses because of their political or religious philosophies. I bring this up not to diminish the injustices from racial mistreatment in any way, but to call us to be vigilant to the many injustices surrounding us—and to be the comforters, advocates, and change agents on their behalf. To be warriors against injustice whenever or wherever we see it.
So, where do we go from here, and how can we be part of the solution? Let me offer three themes for you to consider today: Love, Harmony, and Forward Progress. I recognize there may be some views with which you disagree, but please know my intentions are from the heart for universal good, and through the imperfect filter of my beliefs and experiences. I hope it’s as helpful to you as writing it has been for me. Now, let’s talk about LOVE.
Love is at the Center of the Solution
Love is the answer to many things, and in my opinion, it’s the foremost ingredient to resolving issues of injustice, discrimination, and reconciliation. Sure, we can find ways to “get along” or “peacefully coexist,” but shouldn’t we be challenged to a higher standard? In my Christian faith, I am called to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind, and to love my neighbor as myself. For me, these are inextricably linked, and they’re not mere suggestions. I realize my readers have diverse beliefs on the God part, but I suspect we can agree that IF we were able to truly love our neighbor as ourselves, our world would be a much better place, and injustice would diminish. The bottom line is this: love should be the overriding principle and motivator in our relations. Only good can flow from this.
How can we as individuals demonstrate love in a way that combats injustice? Here are some examples: through affirmations of worth and value, dignity, respect, acceptance, appreciation, empathy, compassion, and encouragement. I have always found word opposites to provide extra clarity, especially when dealing with the subjective. To that end, I developed a one-page summary of word opposites that relate to love and harmony you can find here.
I encourage you (and your families, students, etc.) to carefully reflect on each line, because they clarify what love is and isn’t. In doing so, you can gauge your personal “love quotient” and perhaps identify ways to strengthen your game. Trust me, if you stay in the left column of the document, you will be fostering justice and a whole lot more.
In my book/curriculum, What I Wish I Knew at 18, I share a life success pointer, “Demonstrate Your Capacity to Love.” It is such a powerful (and timely) nugget and bears repeating:
“Can you imagine what our world would be like if our lives were defined by the love we demonstrated toward others? What if—instead of by our winning percentages, job titles, or personal wealth—we were measured in terms of units of love, kindness, generosity, compassion, and encouragement offered to others? One thing’s for certain. The world would be a far better place and, amazingly, it wouldn’t cost us anything.
People with the most admirable character traits demonstrate an incredible capacity to love. It’s woven into their very existence, and you can recognize it in an instant. In addition to their inherent kindness, they have a special way of showing others that they’re worthy of being loved. This is an extraordinary gift to give others. It simply requires a mindset (and “heart set”) and a commitment to use every opportunity to show you care. After all, isn’t that how you would like others to treat you?”
Friends, let’s renew and strengthen our commitment to love. Let’s do this first.
Harmony as a Relational Goal
Our backgrounds, experiences, families, characteristics, values, philosophies, personalities, and passions are so different. They each make us wonderfully unique, which is a good thing. However, as we all know, this produces challenges and conflict, too. It’s always been this way.
Given this, I think harmony is a wonderful aspirational word for our time. When discord, division, suspicion, and harsh rhetoric seem to rule the day, harmony is a great rescuer. Consider these synonyms: unity, peace, friendship, tranquility, understanding, cooperation, and togetherness. Oh, how we could use more harmony today! Like love, I believe the more harmony we have, the less injustice we’ll experience.
One way to promote harmony is to model the left-hand column of our Love and Harmony Word Opposites resource. Another way is to actively avoid some alarming and prevalent sources of disharmony that are harming many relationships today:
- Politicizing almost everything. Honestly, I think this is just dumb. Please, let’s stop this.
- Holding biased and entrenched views. Depending on one’s key media and information sources and experiences, it’s easy to develop extremely biased views and interpret opinions as fact. When our sources are consistently one-sided, our views can easily become entrenched. This compromises our perspective, decision-making, and communications. Let’s be more open to diverse views.
- Overly focusing on our differences. I am all for appreciating our uniqueness, but it can overshadow what unifies us if we’re not careful. We need both.
- Generalizing and judging. Often, due to identity politics run amok, people assign blanket generalizations about each “bucket.” “If someone is a ___, then I don’t want to associate with them because they believe ___.” Huge and unfortunate assumptions are being made, and it is caustic and divisive at the core. Let’s first give everyone the benefit of the doubt and focus on the individual… we will likely find more common ground than we think.
- “This, not that” rhetoric. Partly a downside of social media, we are increasingly seeing critical, dogmatic expressions of opinion with an underlying arrogance. Many are viewing complex issues as black or white (not racially), when they are more likely gray. This “I’m right, you’re wrong” approach to communicating shuts down conversation and inhibits what ought to be our chief goal: mutual understanding. Excessive virtue signaling and shaming people who hold different opinions are alarming sources of disharmony today. We’re seeing too much coercion and too little conversation. For harmony’s sake, this needs to change.
In James 1:19, we are encouraged to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. This is wise advice for today.
Finally, in my book, What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead, I share several life success pointers that foster love and harmony. If you have the book, I encourage you to revisit these sections because they are so relevant today:
Direct your life toward others * Don’t define success by riches * Demonstrate your capacity to love * Live to serve * Be proactively nice * Give everything your best * Take responsibility for your mistakes and shortfalls * Choose humility over self-pride * Be an inspiring team player * Be an encourager rather than a critic and always look for the best in people * Don’t say something about someone else you’d regret if they heard * Steer clear of destructive people * How you say it can matter more than what you say * Solicit and embrace constructive feedback * Talk it out, don’t write it out * Regularly show appreciation and gratitude toward others * Strive to be an agreeable disagreer * Choose reconciliation over grudges whenever possible
Harmony makes for beautiful music and beautiful relationships. It means wanting the best for everyone and having their back. Trust me again: more harmony means less injustice.
Oh, how I wish I could just snap my fingers and make all the injustice and division go away! I’m sure you do, too. The fact is, each of us has unique settings, roles, and opportunities to make a difference. Ultimately, though, it begins with each of us looking in the mirror, honestly assessing our heart, repenting where we need to repent, asking for forgiveness when we need to be forgiven, forgiving and extending grace when we need to forgive, and vowing to live a life of love. We may not be in positions to influence policies or practices, but we can control what we can control: our commitment to loving others and being a part of the solution.
However, beyond us as individuals, some solutions to improving justice and harmony and reducing disparities involve our systems: government, business, education, family, media/entertainment, and the faith community to name a few. To that end, here are a few suggestions that immediately come to mind:
- To the extent we are in positions and organizations that have a national, regional, state, or local role, let’s review policies and practices from a perpective of fair treatment. Are there overt or subliminal biases that need to be corrected through constructive reforms? Are we seeking out and listening to people who might have special perspectives to offer?
- For our policing communities, what are the best opportunities, policies, and practices that allow you to protect citizens, provide fair and equitable treatment, and reduce risks of excessive force and mistreatment? What barriers (e.g., union representation) are necessary to modify to ensure that officers with behavior risk are removed from service? What enhancements can be made to hiring practices (e.g., emotional intelligence testing) as a prevention measure?
- For our educators, let’s strengthen our leadership, character, and life skills training so that all young people are better equipped to flourish in adulthood and to avoid poverty and other derailers. Often, racial disparities have economic and other roots, so this “upstream” training can have significant benefits.
- For all of us, let’s vow to strengthen families which are so vital to the health and well-being of children and society. There is excellent research on the impact of family on socio-emotional wellness and life success, and this should be applied in both preventive and responsive contexts. This is universally relevant and beneficial information that gives everyone the best chance to flourish.
- Let’s promote “best ideas” thinking and diversity of opinion regardless of political persuasion. Unlike the business community where it is easier to solicit best thinking toward common goals, it is sadly more challenging in the political arena. When it comes to many issues, our political parties often seem more focused on their power and receiving credit than on best solutions from diverse perspectives. Perhaps an increased use of independent commissions/task forces can offer better solutions to polarizing issues or those with divergent policy prescriptions. No one party has a monopoly on best ideas when it comes to issues like justice and economic opportunity!
- Let’s promote diversity of opinion in media and on campuses. Related to the preceding point, we’re witnessing significant ideological bias in these contexts. In the media, it is becoming increasingly difficult to gauge objective truth versus opinion. When we have diverse perspectives, we are better informed, make better decisions, and understand each other better. The same is true on our college campuses where conditions are becoming more polarized and students are not always receiving diverse perspectives. We have certainly made strides on campuses with respect to tangible diversity metrics, but worldview diversity could stand some strengthening. Again, no one political ideology has a monopoly on best ideas—on issues of justice, or any other.
- Let’s increase our investment in non-profit mentor programs to provide support, guidance, and leadership building. This can significantly help address disparities and allow more people to thrive.
- Let’s welcome faith-based organizations to be a part of the solution.
So, these are our thoughts for the day—straight from the heart and mind. At LifeSmart, we remain committed to be a part of the solution. As always, please let us know if there are ways we can support your efforts to improve lives and society.