Tom Matson wrote in his book, “UNFROZEN: A Father’s Reflections on a Brain Tumor Journey:”
Grace: a word and associated actions I’ve never been able to comprehend. I don’t think our minds can fully grasp grace. I know many people could define grace differently, but for me, I see it as receiving love when we don’t necessarily deserve it. It’s love when we least expect it, and it’s love when we have done nothing to receive it.
I want to slightly modify and repost something I wrote a few years ago. I think it’s important to share a quote that resonates when doing tough work. Tough work in these times is sometimes just living. Such death in the world, and uncertainty, and fear. Politically things are uncertain (which is always the case with a change in new leadership), but in particular on the tail of such a vitriolic election campaign. It is also the start of a new year, and in my world students prepare to start a tough new semester on their road to commencement. This comes with its own fear and anxiety. Facing uncertainty, being afraid and unsure of yourself can be debilitating, even for the most accomplished of us. So these words are for you:
“I can be changed by what happens to me. I refuse to be reduced by it. In the face of such uncertainty believe in these two things – you are stronger than you think, and you are not alone.”
What the master poet Maya Angelou reminds us, is that we can do so much more than we think. And that if we just take a moment to look around, there is help everywhere. So despite your anxiety and fear right now – take some ownership in your great strength, and take a moment to count (literally count) your blessings and friends. If you are short in the “true friends” category, then it’s time to make some new ones. In the meantime lean on me and others like me to be a sounding board and word of encouragement as you transition yet again from one chapter to the next. Take care people, of yourself and each other, and never forget your own strength.
I had an amazing opportunity to speak with a group of student leaders at DePaul University over this past weekend. I spoke with them about finding their “why” and what they should be doing/thinking at this phase in their life to do that. It is a message I have valued and personally held close for a while now, and I find myself continuing to refine how I talk about it.
In short, finding our why is about creating habits that position us to learn about ourselves, create and sustain powerful relationships, and pay attention to both small and large choices we make. Finding our why is also about not focusing on the “what” we do (or degree we earn, or the job we have). Those things are how we do our why, but definitely not the why itself. Finding our way is a discipline – one that requires commitment throughout life – not just through college, or the military, or parenthood. This is how people can live full, rich lives across a number of jobs and experiences. They know their why, and so how they live their why takes so many shapes. I believe I know my why, and it feels amazing. I want that for everyone.
Yesterday a member of our team at my college shared this powerful post. It is good – and says what I know to be true so clearly. Thank you for sharing my friend, and I hope it helps clarify how others can find their why.
Read post Everyday Calls HERE.
I recently visited a friend’s church in Chicago, and during service they talked about tithing. Now if you go to church you are already side-eyeing this whole conversation – you know what I mean, but stick with me. If you don’t go to church/mosque/synagogue you may be inclined to stop reading as well – that’s OK, but I think what I’m about say is beyond religious babbling, rather its a principle that shows itself true over and over: giving is good, and worth it.
I decided to “step out on faith”on that day and give – and in doing so I was literally saved from a situation I wasn’t able to handle. I’ve also recently joined a non-profit board, not really having as much time as I want for other things now, and not knowing how it would turn out. Without going into too many specifics for either situation, my faith this time showed itself true. I say “this time” because stepping out on faith is not like rubbing a genie and getting what you want. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. But faith simultaneously allows me to know that whatever the outcome, I’ll be OK. I think about this in the service I do, both within my region and across the world. I also think about it academically as one who studies leadership and its purposes. In fact an entire philosophy of leadership is driven by the believe that leaders should first be servants, and through serving improve the world, community, and individuals. More about Robert Greenleaf and his seminal work on the topic can be found here: https://www.greenleaf.org/what-is-servant-leadership/.
This is not a new principle, but I think its one we have to remember, and reframe. At least I did. I think it is easiest to hear and do this in times of abundance and good times, but we miss something when we do that. You see, biblically speaking, the first “tithe” was given by the father of all Abrahamic religions (Abraham) after he had seen a victory over his enemies. There was no need to give first in order to get something in return. If we think about our own lives, treasures, time and talents, we must think about all that we have already. Whether by your own hard work, by family, or by some other means, we all have something to give. Take what you have been given, and give it back. Not in anticipation of anything in particular, but because you have it to give. Whether the giving is financial, spiritual, with your time, or with your talents; give…because you got it.
This latest action taken at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville is so outrageous it warranted a blog post. Please read Fear of Pronouns before reading on…I need to make a few large points about what I consider the most important aspect of being “diverse and inclusive.”
Diversity and Inclusion
When I ask my institution, friends, family, and perfect strangers to be “diverse and inclusive,” it is not a static request. Being diverse and inclusive is not a destination, or a place in which one simply finds him/her/their self at a moment in time. Rather, it is a dynamic state of being, one in which you posture yourself such that you allow difference in language, being, understanding, and meaning each and every day. It takes work,and consideration from each of us, every day. I would go as far to say it is a discipline, not just a course. Like leadership, it takes practice and intentionality to get it right. I’ve come to learn that you can never be “done” with this work. By definition there will be some other way of being or knowing that emerges from either scholarship or the lived experience, that challenges us to think differently (diversely) about people, places, and things. Thus my call for a posture that we must take. As the outfielder postures him/her/their self to be ready for whatever may come, so must we posture ourselves. If that posture is needed in a game, how much more is needed in life? Statements such as the one below smack of exclusion, status quo, and the need for things to stay the same.
“That has the appearance of neutrality, but it is not neutral. It is not neutral because it does not say that men should be called by masculine pronouns and women should be called by feminine pronouns, which has always been the unwritten standard in our country,” ~ Family Action Council of Tennessee
This confuses me.Was it not the stated point of this guide – to assert that the “unwritten standard” is no longer appropriate? Have we not made other changes to language, pronouns, customs, and names because of changes in society? I’m pretty sure we have – as we don’t called Black people colored anymore, and it’s no longer acceptable to call women (or anyone) dames and broads in the workplace (or anywhere for that matter). Even assuming “Mrs.” as a title is no longer appropriate. The quote above is anathema to diversity and inclusion.
At the core of so much of the backlash around topics such as this is the strong belief from dominant* cultures that “you can’t tell me what to do!;” in particular when it comes to language, change, and making space for others to be who they are. I honestly believe that’s why non-Black individuals hate when they “can’t” say n***er, or other in-group words used by some cultures. The outrage is not because there is no real utility in the word, or that they even want to say it. It’s that they can’t; and some of those individuals aren’t used to being told no. It is un-American. I can say what I want. But many of us in this country can’t say what we want. Can’t do what we want. Some of us can’t even be who we are without serious consequences.
What is most perverse about this double-standard is that it uses the language of the oppressed to find its strength. Think about that. Oppression – the very thing that creates a need for a guide like the one at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, is the very same thing dominant cultures also use to say that they are somehow threatened or being mistreated. The very language of the White Power movement and similar hate movements is one of “we want our country back,” or “we are being wiped out,” or “stop censoring me.” Well there are others who feel they want their country back too (i.e., Native and indigenous populations) and who feel they are being wiped out (i.e., Black and brown and trans people) but their attempts to stand up and fight against that is met with hostility, lies, and #alllivesmatter. People lack an ability to really hear and see the “other” in our country. People lack the ability to make space for people to redefine what is our America. Not only do they lack the ability – they use everything in their power to undermine the good efforts of those trying to widen the circle. They actively sabotage the efforts.
You want to know how supremacy and privilege works – just look to the Volunteer State.
put on the office of diversity website;
to help people know how to better include people who have been systematically excluded or ignored or killed;
to make them feel more comfortable;
at an institution of higher education;
was ordered taken down by highest chief executive of the system;
because of pressure from the State Legislature…
That’s power. That’s frightening. That’s a problem. If you don’t agree – look HERE at the site before it was taken down. The language is welcoming, instructive, and in no way mandating anything. Was this really worth the threats and attention from the legislature? This is Tennessee’s biggest problem? This is the University’s biggest concern?
What Can You Do
- Educate yourself on the “others.” Whoever they may be to you. You can’t care about something/someone you don’t know or understand.
- Get to know an “other.” I mean really get to know that person. You can’t care about something/someone you don’t know or understand. No I didn’t make a mistake by repeating that.
- Share your outrage about this – or engage folks in dialogue about why you should be outraged – not over social media. You need a face-to-face for this one. If you don’t know anyone – see #2 above.
- Challenge others to do #1 and #2. I am convinced this is the start of any healing or progress.
*in the U.S., dominant culture = white, male, Christian, heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied, English speaking, middle-upper income, to name a few.
I’m going to write something everyday. I’m going to try hard to do this, so I can a) reflect on what I’m learning and feeling, b) remember it, c) share it. This will likely be the longest post.
It doesn’t take long when I travel to realize why I do it. The anxiety and stress of being away from home, the packing and preparation, the uncertainty. It all melts away when I board the plane. I boarded at around 6pm Friday night at Chicago O’Hare. The flight was uneventful, though I was reminded of one of my childhood dreams of being a pilot as I was able to listen in to the flight deck from my seat. A very cool feature offered by United. The food was ok, as was the wine!
I landed 7.5 hours later at the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. I remembered suddenly how it was the first international location I’d ever visited (other than a Caribbean cruise when I was 14), and I was filled with gratitude. Partly because I arrived safely, and partly because I remember how blessed I am to even have the opportunity. I landed here 13 years ago for different reasons, but I was confident my trip would be just as special as my first time.
After waiting way too long for my luggage, I stepped out and connected with my exchange partner Jerome Wouters. It was like seeing an old family member. He was starring and smiling at a group of playing children, completely missing me come through – which is typical of him. He was waiting for like an hour anyway, so it was ok. Plus we picked right back up where we left off when I last saw him in the states in October 2014. It was nice to be back in Holland, this time as someone who would do more than visit – but really experience what it meant to live and work in there. I knew immediately my two weeks would be amazing.
Despite the rain and malaise of the weather, it was a great drive into Leusden-Zuid (South), which apparently is the “nice side” of Leusden as Jerome joked. His neighborhood and his home are idyllic. A dutch home in all its efficiency. It is three stories, my room is on the top floor. It overlooks the patio and garden area in the back, as well as a great view of more of his neighborhood. It is a scene from a picture book. I realize its normal here, and nothing special per se, but for me it is. It represents someone else’s life, which is different than my own, and is being shared with me. I also realize that there are places like this in the states, and in Rwanda, and in the Philippines, and in Brazil. Which reminds me of how much we share as humans – and how many humans don’t have this, in any form, because of the injustice of this world. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about that later. Needless to say, the home and my room is perfect.
His wife Sandra, and their two children are just perfect. Sandra is highly educated, and clearly a loving mother and partner to Jerome. Immediately we click. We talked and joked over lunch, all of us that is, and did so again the next morning at breakfast. It’s nice to note the consistency of the meals – bread (brood), juice (sap), cheese, ham, salami, butter, some greenery, and this curry paste that is really good. Everything is fresh, and really good. Bread and cheese are a major staple, fortunately it is in Black southern US households too! Though admittedly not as healthy as this. Hearing the family talk in Dutch to each other reminds me of how privileged I am to speak English. To be understood is a powerful human need, and I have never traveled anywhere where people didn’t speak my language. I thought about my students at Oakton, some of whom don’t speak English as their first language, and their families who may not speak it at all. How can I make them feel understood? How can I support them better? I downloaded an app called Duolingo – which I learned about from their 10 year old daughter. It’s amazing – and I’m learning Dutch from it – like legit learning it – which I should have done a year ago when I knew I was coming!
Jerome is a big softball player here, and it’s a big deal here in Holland. He invited me to a game and BBQ, which I wasn’t about to pass up. I’m glad I didn’t. Not only did I get to see him in action, but I got to meet people – that’s my thing. I got to meet an airmen who came to Holland 30 years ago and stayed. He’s from Oregon. I met his teammates. And I met other fans who were hanging out. At the BBQ a younger guy, teenager, overheard me talking and asked where I was from. I told him Chicago, and he said his dad is from North Carolina. Ah, the way I lit up. I said, “me too!” And he went on to say you should meet my dad, he is from Lenoir, NC, which is very close to Charlotte. So I met his dad, and his mother. The farther I go from home, the closer I get. He invited me to his son’s American football game, which would have happened this morning. My jet lag forced me to sleep longer than I expected, so we committed to hanging out later this week, hopefully more than once. His son is quite the athlete apparently, and wants to go to school in the states. Another opportunity to empower a young person to create change in their world – and all from the Netherlands. Another highlight of going to the game – we rode bikes there. Me, on a bike, after some 15 years it feels like. But I didn’t miss a lick! It’s true – once you learn, you got it. It was exhilarating riding again – as crazy as it sounds. I look forward to getting back on bikes all this week and next, and then when I get back to Chicago. I had to come 4,000 miles away to remember how much I enjoyed it.
So last night at about 8pm local time I was wiped out. I went to bed, woke up and said a word of thanks to the Lord, and saw this beautiful view.
Now I’m excited for what today brings.