by Ron Potter

I hesitated to use the word Racism in the title of this blog.  Many would say there is no way I could understand because I’m a gray-haired white male.  I’m sure there is some truth to that statement.  But, I was a young adult, going to college and living in southern Michigan when the Detroit riots occurred in the late sixties.  Those riots left me confused, hurting, and even angry.  I wasn’t sure what I should do.

Pastor of local Black Church

When the riots hit the city where I now live, many of those same feelings of confusion, hurting, and not knowing what to do surfaced again.  Turning into a gray-haired, old white male didn’t seem to help much.

Then I had an opportunity to listen to a teaching pastor at a local black church.  I really wanted to learn from what he had to say.  I found it interesting that he was “struggling, frustrated, angry, and hurting.”  He was not gray-haired or white but he expressed the same feelings I had been experiencing.

Five things that will help

It turns out that the scripture passage we were studying was about being peaceable.  When the local pastor was asked what it took to be Peaceable he gave a well thought out and knowledgable answer.

  1. Slow to Judge
  2. Quick to Listen
  3. Eager to learn
  4. Willing to identify
  5. Ready to speak up and act.

Slow to Judge

In today’s social media, internet-based, global world, it’s very easy to judge and too many people judge too quickly.  Maybe it’s a liberal or conservative making the statement and instead of listening what is said, people instantly write it off because it was said by the “other side”.

Maybe it’s a statement made by a European or Asian and people in the US judge it quickly as meaningless because they “don’t understand” how things work in the US.

The list would be too long to identify all of the times we’re quick to judge.  When you’re quick to judge, you leave no room for learning.

Quick to Listen

Do you listen with the intent to respond?  Or do you listen with the intent to understand?  Most of us, most of the time are listening with the intent to respond.  While the other person is talking (or shouting) we’re keeping track of each point made and creating our “checklist” of either reinforcing or countering the point being made.

How does that make the other person feel?

  • You’re not listening.
  • You’re stupid (or at least ignorant).
  • You want to win the argument which makes me want to say it louder and more forcefully.
  • The louder voice “wins.”

But, how does the other person feel if you demonstrate your desire to understand?

  • You’re truly interested in what they have to say.
  • You’re trying to expand your knowledge base to understand where they’re coming from
  • You’re not trying to win a shouting match.
  • Maybe we can reach a mutual understanding because they now may want to know what you have to say.

Eager to Learn

Socrates believed that knowledge was the ultimate virtue, best used to help people improve their lives. “The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance,”

Notice that Socrates said knowledge helped improve lives.  Ignorance is (not stupidity) is the lack of knowledge.  Why do some people remain Ignorant?  They refuse to learn.

Each person is coming from a perspective that is real and “true” to them.  For instance, I grew up in a small town.  But in my adult years, my business took me all over the world.  That changed my perspective.  I now saw the world differently than my friends and family who remained in that small town.

That doesn’t make it wrong, it just gives them a different perspective.  The best way to develop relationships and understanding is to understand someone’s perspective.  This requires the first two elements, Slow to Judge, and Quick to Listen.

Psychology tells us that cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous quote says “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

The world is full of opposing ideas and perspectives.  Don’t hold on to yours to the point of stress and discomfort.  Learn!

Willing to Identify

In my mind, this may be the most difficult.  Not because we don’t want to identify with the other person but because our perspectives become so strong in our lives.  I don’t have the same experiences as someone else.  They also don’t have the same experiences that I have.  We can identify by hearing their story, listening to their experiences, and finally relating it to some experience we’ve had.  Then we begin to identify.

Don’t take the position that “You just don’t understand!  You haven’t had the experiences I have!”  That’s true.  I haven’t had the experiences you’ve had.  But I’ve had good and bad experiences.  And I can empathize with what you’re experiencing.  It’s how we grow together.

Ready to Speak up and Act

There are a lot of forces in our lives that tell us to just be quiet.  It actually starts in elementary school.  The teacher often told us to sit down and be quiet.

We’ve also been told by people (with different perspectives) that our ideas and words are stupid.  So we sit quietly because we don’t want to look stupid.

In today’s world of social media, we can quickly be criticized for our thoughts and ideas.  In this anonymous and divided world, it can quickly be labeled as hate language.  There is a fear of being labeled for our thoughts.

I experienced it writing this blog.  What if I push a wrong button and it is all of a sudden seen as hateful rather than helpful.  I just want to speak up in an effort to help.  But I have this fear of pushing the wrong button.  One I’m not even aware of.

And what about unconscious bias?  We hear that phrase a lot today.  And people are being accused of having unconscious bias as if it’s a flaw.  But what do the words mean?  Unconscious: the part of the mind which is inaccessible to the conscious mind.  It’s inaccessible!  It’s ignorance, not stupidity.

I’ve chosen through the years to keep this blog focused on building team, leadership, and corporate cultures.  I didn’t want to venture into politics, religion, or racism because of this fear of being misunderstood.  But the pastor’s five steps ends with “Be ready to speak up and act.”

I don’t’ know if he intended to put them in order but I do suggest that we don’t speak up until we’ve progressed openly through the first four steps.


And just to get back to more familiar ground, these five steps also help grow great teams.

  1. Slow to Judge
  2. Quick to Listen
  3. Eager to learn
  4. Willing to identify
  5. Ready to speak up and act.

Learn and practice the five steps to address division.  They help us become better people and build better teams.

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