Tag Archives: Diversity

Quick Review: Between the World and Me

Last week I finished Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  What a powerful book. I did this by audiobook, which was read by the author, and I think that made it even more powerful. The book is part autobiography and part letter to the author’s son, bringing a powerful personal touch to weighty topics.

The author documents his journey growing up African-American in Baltimore and the impact of systemic injustice and iniquity on him and others in his community. He provides the historical background to understand a more robust view of identity as it has been shaped over time. It’s a powerful read or listen even if it’s just out of a desire to understand more one’s experience in communities so shaped by power driven or overtly racist policies. But it’s much more than that.

One of the central metaphors that Coates builds his narrative around reflects a philosophical as well as poetic framing of how systemic injustice and racism impact identity. This metaphor is that of one becoming “disembodied,” where because of injustice or racism and the reality of one’s identity that he feels the shame of someone else having control of his body. That loss of autonomy, safety, and the self-worth that comes with security is an ever-present reminder of how power structures work against him.

This brings the reflection and discussion of racism from beyond abstract arguments or activism to the visceral truth that systemic injustice always has a fleshly impact. It touches the core of the marginalized identity because it is a fundamental reality that someone else can take control of their body and exercise power over them in a myriad of ways.  This way of experiencing and seeing the issues adds further heartbreak for the ways so many are shaped by injustice in deep ways to the core of their being.

Coates uses some new phrases besides the typical language. He refers to majority culture folks who find comfort in the current unjust systems as “people who think themselves white.” White is synonymous with offender or perpetrator.  He uses another word which forces one to wrestle – plunderer. He is using these words of those who find comfort in the benefits of injustice or in various ways perpetuates the system. He is not equating all white people with plunderers or racists. He uses “white” as not just an ethnic designation, but rather as an ideological tribe of sorts that through self-interest perpetuates contemporary injustice. It’s not a rejection of white people, but of an establishment that is benefitting from various forms of violence that continually keeps those outside down through the various forms and threats of disembodiment.

There’s so much here and the whole thing is a skillful and beautiful expression of deep pain and righteous anger. My summary is wholly inadequate. I would have loved more spiritual reflection or engagement. It’s hard to read things like this when there doesn’t seem to be hope or meaning anchored in a larger worldview. But that’s not where the author is coming from and in the meantime, he does convey some form of hope, albeit alongside a strong dose of reality without sugar coating what it means to journey in this world on the other side of institutional power.

I recommend it as a powerful journey into the depths of just how dark the impacts of systemic injustice are in the U.S. from a history of racism and racist policies.  This isn’t my story, but these are stories that need to be heard.  There are parts that are hard to here as one who has lived a more privileged existence in the U.S. from an ethnic standpoint, but it’s important to look, feel, and reflect on how I live and the broader communities and society that I am a part of.

 

Quick Review: Beyond Reason

Another help Negotiation book I’ve gone through in the last few weeks is Roger Fisher and Daniel Shapiro’s Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate.  This isn’t the most dynamic of books content-wise, but there’s tons of gold throughout that is extremely useful.

It’s common knowledge that emotional dynamics present some of the biggest challenges to negotiation, including conflicted negotiations. This book focuses less on the substantive dimensions of negotiation and instead tries to unpack how to use emotion in positive ways – but really it’s just a framework for being civil, encouraging, and good to others in the context of negotiation.

Shapiro is the founder or head of Harvard’s Negotiation Project and Fisher was the author of Getting to Yes and is pretty influential in the field. Shapiro provides the book content while Fisher provides a lot of examples and anecdotes from his career as a negotiator and mediator.

The book addresses 5 core areas:  appreciation, affiliation, autonomy, status, and role.

I’m looking at affiliation and autonomy as complementary concepts that might complement some of what I’m researching for my dissertation. But there’s also tons of honor and shame embedded in these categories. In the west, a lot of people still are ignorant of honor and shame dynamics but it really does impact the emotional landscape of a lot of conflict and negotiation.

What I appreciated about this book is that the spirit of it is not manipulation, but on shifting mindsets so that there can be productive conversation in which relationships are being nurtured and not destroyed.

The five categories I think are helpful beyond negotiation into the realm of leadership and supervision. I think all five of those categories are important pieces of an employee’s relationship in their organization and with their team or supervisor. So these elements are pretty significant to increasing organizational health.

People on a team need to be appreciated, need to feel like they are a part of something and that they aren’t alone, they need to be empowered with a defined scope of authority and responsibility, they need to have appropriate status and honor in their community and situation, and they need to have meaningful contributions and purpose (role).  In that sense – this book isn’t just a negotiation resource, but a team leadership resource as well.

Both reasons are sufficient to spend some time with this book. It has an immense amount of wisdom and insight in the interpersonal level that can impact us wherever we might be seeing to influence.

 

Quick Review: Crucial Conversations

Among the negotiation books I have been going through the last month or two is Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.  There’s a lot on this one out on the internet so I don’t need to get into it too much.  But there’s some simple and very helpful aspects of this book when it comes to interpersonal negotiation on the relational side – particularly when things are in danger of escalating towards conflict.

One of the things I like is that the authors start with the heart.  They explore some of the centrality of identity and motivation in high stakes conversations before getting into communication strategy and technique.  A lot of the book aims at self-reflection and self-awareness as to what is driving our engagement with others and what our emotions might reveal about the heart.

This book is grounded in a storytelling approach to high emotion conflict or negotiation.  That’s one of the strengths of the book – it’s focused on the intersection of two stories and how to navigate emotion in establishing shared meaning.

In this discussion, there are 3 “clever stories” the authors discuss as the common strategies people use to justify their position or situation rather than really learn and listen.  There are victim, villain, and helpless stories.  I find that these 3 stories cover a lot of ground when people are stuck and limited in conflict.

There’s helpful chapters on listening, emotional self-awareness, asking questions, and discerning safety through personal clues or from another person.  This dimension of equipping people how to assess safety with a view of how to build it or restore it is a pretty practical and helpful resource for what is a  pretty crucial skill set for most leaders.

I would check it – at the very least you can google some summaries and find some good stuff out there.  But it’s a great resource to have on the shelf and to use as a teaching and training tool.

 

Quick Review: The Myth of Equality

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been able to go through Ken Wytsma’s The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege and want to pass on highest recommendation if you are in the Northern American context.

Last year I read Wytsma’s book Pursuing Justice and it was a good complement to this book. But The Myth of Equality is a needed book that seeks to lay out theological, historical, sociological context for both historical racism as well as contemporary racism in its various forms. I won’t give a comprehensive summary but will hit the highlights.

First, he did good Biblical and theological work, building on some of his work in Pursuing Justice. It informs the reader, especially if there’s not much Biblical or theological background, on the spiritual backdrop of the discussion.  He’s working to give the average lay church member, especially white lay church member, a context for the discussion outside of attacks and emotions. Most important to this is the question of who God is and what does God care about.

Second, he does a great job unpacking a “history of racism” that is very insightful and informative in terms of political and social develops several hundred years ago.  However, the unpacking and analysis of racism in the U.S. including slavery and then through the various post-Civil War legislation and government efforts through the 20th century is downright piercing. Even for someone who has read or studied much of what was covered in other places, to go through this history is deeply disturbing and generates a flood of emotions. But the reader is brought into the sacred space of just how much suffering has been driven by the systematic oppression and marginalization of ethnic minority groups in the U.S.

My heart started pumping midway through in an excited way because Wytsma goes into Walter Brueggeman’s work in The Prophetic Imagination to discuss the dynamics of power, leadership, change, and theology.  This book was one of the fundamental influences on me in terms of how I view leadership overall and the church’s role in the world.  To get a chapter about the “royal consciousness” was a delight. However, to do a deep analysis today on themes of racism and privilege through that lens continues to be sobering.

One of my big takeaways related to the discussion on privilege was a section where he discussed “creation stories” as a metaphor for each person’s story. Many are “birthed” into stories where they only know possibilities and freedom. Others are birthed into stories that have origins in shame, invisibility, closed doors, and a host of other atrocities. While it’s true that God can redeem every story, this was a helpful new window into understanding how people come at these discussions from very different lenses and perspectives. It’s simply very hard to connect and form relationships of equality and dignity without an awareness into how these starting points in a society impact identity.

I personally liked Wytsma’s approach to the language.  I think there is more to write on terms like privilege and white supremacy and other core terms of the modern discussion. I think Wytsma handled them well without resorting to a single story approach.  My struggles with these words over the years have primarily involved a pragmatic struggle with how hard it is to explain them to people prior to being able to have a meaningful conversation when there are so many landmines of meaning and interpretation around them that escalate emotion in often unhelpful ways. But Wytsma I think does a really good job explaining how these terms fit in the contemporary discussion and why they are appropriate even though there are all sorts of semantic and meaning issues connected to them in the journey of common understanding.

This is an important book for the church because more and more in the church want to be a part of a different story, but so many do not know the history and the reality that is often hidden from them if they’ve not leaned into cross-cultural relationships and issues of social injustice.

This is a 2017 book so it might be new to you, but I’d encourage you to go through it with some people you do life with.

 

Quick Review: The Skin You Live In

 

A book that I wanted to offer a brief review of that I’ve read recently is Dr. David D. Ireland’s The Skin You Live In: Building Friendship Across Cultural Lines.

The author hides his own ethnicity until the end of the book to avoid any potential reader bias, which I found interesting. I did not know the author’s background until the end and at many points I found myself wondering.  But that choice does allow one to engage the content of the book without any potential bias against the content and where it’s coming from.

Diversity efforts are occurring everywhere. This is a helpful and somewhat brief treatment on how to take steps from cultural isolation towards cross-race relationships.  There’s a lot of helpful insights throughout the book – particularly related to ethnicity and identity. There are prophetic challenges to both majority culture folks as well as ethnic minority folks who can find their identity in their ethnicity or their political-social situation. From a Christian perspective – both sides of this divide are challenged related to fundamental identity and to live out a God-given identity to reconcile and bridge difference through meaningful relationships.

A part of the purpose of this book is trying to help provide a roadmap to what he calls being “racially attractive.” By that term, he means someone who can form meaningful relationships across racial or ethnic difference.  From the author’s own doctoral research he asked people who were consistently living life with these types of relationships about what makes them “racially attractive.” Here are the responses:

  1. Offer hospitality.
  2. Be free to laugh and joke.
  3. Go on social outings.
  4. Engage in vulnerable conversations.
  5. Have cross-race friends.
  6. Seek mutually rewarding outcomes.
  7. Demonstrate comfort in the friendship.
  8. Practice honesty in the relationship.     (pg. 71)

This list was interesting to me and links to several other models, but noticeably Andy Crouch’s matrix in Strong and Weak.  I’m currently reading and researching a lot related to multi-ethnic negotiation and there are some connection points here as well.

This book is written primarily with the U.S. ethnic context in mind, but it was interesting to read this through the international lens as well as much of the suggestions about building relationships are just as relevant here in Asia as elsewhere, maybe they are even more crucial here because of the weight of relationship and community in collectivist cultures.

Many people today, despite increased political polarization, do want to experience diversity and cross-cultural relationships even if there is systemic racism and hidden personal racism that prevents those desires to be realized. It always starts with identity and relationships and this is a helpful resource for people on the journey. There’s other helpful sections related to cross-cultural forgiveness, advocacy and other aspects of diverse community so it’s definitely worth reading if this is an area of development for you.

Quick Review – Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race

Over the last few days I had a chance to read Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race. Getting Free From the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us.  This book was written by longtime NFL player Benjamin Watson and was released about a year ago, so while not current to the events of the past year and the impact of Trump and the election, it was written right in the middle of a fairly racially charged season in America’s history.

Part of why I wanted to read this book is because it was a recent reflection on the racial divide in the context of the events of Ferguson, Charleston, Trayvon Martin, and several other high-profile moments that have surfaced much hurt, injustice, and gaps in perspective across racial boundaries in general. Most of these events took place after I moved my family out of the country, so I wanted to read some reflection and insight from an African-American as I lacked real opportunities to engage in much conversation on these matters. Tragically I was left at the mercy of some of the chaos on Twitter to process some of these events and what they might signify to the African American community.

I found this book to be really good.  It’s not an academic book in its presentation, but I appreciated how informative it was on recent events and in chronicling key events and experiences in the struggle for civil rights and in African-American history as a whole. The book was strengthened by many helpful personal experiences and anecdotes from the author’s own life and from his father and grandfather.  These issues need this kind of place – both helpful analysis in historical context as well as personal stories.

I loved that each chapter begins with an emotion such as angry, sad, embarrassed, hopeless, encouraged, or hopeful. These are emotionally charged topics because they touch so deeply on our identity. I found it to be really effective and helpful in the structure of the book to walk the read through the range of emotions on this topic. Such a journey avoids pollyanna theology as well as nihilistic darkness.  Tensions abound and Watson helps navigate a reader through these tensions well in a way that should help people connect with their own feelings and personal journey in these matters.

The book is thoroughly evangelical and it offers a clear roadmap to a spiritual solution in Jesus Christ. The whole book echoes the Scriptures, but he unpacks the gospel and its significance for racism and society in the final chapters. Essentially – he affirms over and over that racial conflict and racial segregation are matters of the heart and only Christ can change hearts.

The books origins are blog-like, so there are times where it reads like a blogger’s reflection. That’s not all bad – because they are good reflections.  The focus on this book also is fairly targeted to the divide in black and white racial tensions.  In the context of recent events, that is helpful for a focused coversation. However, there is not much here that specifically tries to incorporate other journeys.  Neither of the above points are bad, they just speak to the genre of the book and chosen focus amidst a pretty huge conversation topic in general.

It was a really enjoyable and helpful read.  It may be something I use to introduce my kids to some of these issues as they get a little older to be able to think more critically about race and relationships. I recommend it especially if you haven’t done much reflection in the aftermath of the explosive and racially charged events of the past few years.

 

Quick Review: Playing God

This month I worked my way through Andy Crouch’s Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power.  Really this year I’ve worked through what is a trilogy essentially from Andy Crouch with three books that all revolve around the central theme of what it means to be human as God intended, as God’s image bearer. The first book in this thematic series is Culture Making, which I reviewed a few months back and I’ll review the third book Strong and Weak, which was released this year, sometime next week.

All three of these books are highly worth reading and I recommend reading them sequentially and together because of the continuity of ideas, language, and frameworks offered.

While Culture Making focused on the themes of creating and cultivating as image bearers, Playing God focuses more specifically on the theme of power and authority – related to its original design and intentions and to its abuse.

In a refreshing statement, Crouch begins the book with a clear thesis that power is a gift. It has purposes for people and communities that glorify God and that are meant to serve and honor other people.  But we all know the world is full of people who use power for their own gains, so the gift of power gets corrupted into something much worse. Actually we all use power for our own gain – that’s the power of sin in our lives. We all need to learn how God wants to redeem power for his purposes.

Crouch makes mention in several books of the importance of developing a theology of image bearing around the whole of Scripture – with special attention to Gen 1-2 and Rev 21-22. He argues that these 4 chapters guard against the dualistic theology prevalent for so many generations – where the only concern is trying to save souls from sin (Gen 3 – Rev).  I think it’s a helpful reminder to really think deeply about the whole Biblical narrative and its implications for all of life.  That’s the power of developing a theology of image bearing, whether it involves creativity or power. A solid theology of image bearing should inform all of life – relationships, power and authority, calling, and community.  This is what I appreciate about what Crouch attempts to do in his books.

Some of the sections that I think Crouch really did a great job with are his treatment of the themes of idolatry related to power. The chapters on idolatry and icons are really helpful and I’ve already gone back to a couple of those chapters.  There are some very helpful sections that help someone evaluate their hearts as the source of their behavior and what they worship in practice.

Another strength of the book is a framing and his effort to articulate the dynamics and even provide some measure of a theology of privilege. Privilege is often used pejoratively as a label. I’ve seen it misused more often than not, which is why Crouch’s efforts are really valuable.  While there are problems and limitations with the word “privilege,” no one can deny that this points to a reality which is very much true. It’s not an American thing either. Privilege exists as a social reality across the world that impacts identity and communities. Crouch offers one of the more balanced efforts to explain the blessings (opportunities) and

Crouch offers one of the more balanced efforts to explain the blessings (opportunities) and the dark side of privilege in its impact on relationships and society. These are realities we must help people understand through a more complete theological lens – not just through the lenses of social activism and social justice. These issues point us back to a more comprehensive vision of shalom, of what human life and community is meant to be.   For much of the last century and beyond, t

For much of the last century and beyond, there has been a theological gap in bias and practice between social justice and evangelistic mission.  There continues to be a divide today, albeit with different influences and forces driving some of those divides and reactions. Crouch attempts to bridge some of this gap through a theology of image bearing and power.  It is not the focus of the book to provide a comprehensive theology of the church as it relates to social action, but nonetheless there are very helpful sections to help inform how we think about the church’s role in society as part of a Great Commission vision.

Much of his work in Playing God gets elaborated on in Strong and Weak, in which he provides a helpful conceptual framework to illustrate how image bearing and power in community goes wrong….and right sometimes.

This book has very wide relevance and application so if you have not read it, I recommend getting all three of these books onto your reading list soon.

 

 

 

Butt Friction

Matako ghawi ghaleka cha ku kwenthana

(Two buttocks cannot avoid friction)

—Malawian Proverb

Niyi Gbade and John Becker start off their article “Buttocks, Bridges, and Kola Nuts”with this Malawian proverb in the most recent Missio Nexus Anthology (Vol 4 No 2 October 2016) on Conflict.

It is now my favorite African proverb.

My first take on this was that the proverb is prophetically or tongue in cheek using the metaphor of butt cheeks to connote how people in conflict can be, pardon my language, asses. But that is not the emphasis of this saying. Gbade and Becker reinforce that this speaks to the dynamics that proximity leads to inevitable conflict. Closeness leads to tension, to friction.

I’ve never thought about this reality through the metaphor of friction producing buttocks, but it’s hard for me to imagine a more memorable metaphor that normalizes conflict in relationships.

The article also includes the following Nigerian proverb as well:

In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges
and the foolish build dams.

In my PhD cohort I have the privilege to study with a couple others from Nigeria and there’s an abundance of storytelling and these types of sayings that provide such a grounded way of thinking about social wisdom.

If you have access to Missio Nexus I recommend checking out the latest Anthology on Conflict as there are great cross-cultural and north-south intercultural insights for conflict resolution and partnership.

But what’s most important now is that as you go about your day taking stride after stride, you now can reflect deeply about conflict through the gentle reminder of your own butt friction.

Quick Review: Blink

In the last week, my quality time in the car battling jeepneys and tricycles on the streets of Manila allowed me to listen to the entirety of Malcom Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Because of the popularity of Gladwell’s books, detailed summaries can be googled and found easily, but here’s a few of my thoughts on the book.

First, again I immensely enjoyed the book because Gladwell’s books are as easily consumed as audiobooks as anything because it is so story driven and there are so many things that are utterly fascinating.  Second, the book popularizes some of the things in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow which I’ll post on at some point because I read it a few months ago.

Gladwell is  unpacking the positives and negatives of rapid cognition, the way the brain “thin slices” decisions in situations.  Thin slicing is when our minds make decisions or draw conclusions based on a small sample of knowledge available. He cites the example of how experts, who get so familiar with their areas of expertise that they can make accurate decisions instinctively even when tons of data or analysis goes the other direction.  It may not always hold true – but it surfaces the limits of objective analysis sometimes.

There’s a great section that he calls the “Warren Harding error” in which he details how one of the worst Presidents ever came to power because other people thin sliced who would make a good President – tall, good looking, and other appealing qualities. There’s a lot that translates to leadership in general – people get thin sliced all the time with negative consequences because they don’t look good enough, aren’t tall enough, or lack certain outward personality characteristics. In fact – Gladwell illustrates how short people get discriminated against for executive positions in the business world just as much as ethnic minorities and women. That’s the Warren Harding error and illustrates how we have some hardwired assumptions that impact our unconscious processing of situations and our feelings about different people or decisions. Thin slicing can help us in some

Thin slicing can help us in some situations but can hurt us in others when we have socialized or subconscious prejudices that affect decisions – even that conflict with our conscious values and beliefs! That’s a big realization – that while we can have clear values and beliefs, we are still impacted by socialization and society at a subconscious level.

Of most interest to me was the content that impacted subconscious racism or prejudice – either in the business world or in other contexts. Looking at the way the brain works is helpful and should inform how we approach training and development in these areas.  Too often when people respond a certain way or make a decision that betrays that there is a bias towards the majority culture, it’s low hanging fruit for many to cry out (or lash out more appropriately) that those people are racists or misogynists. Sometimes they are – but it’s not a generous response when all people are influenced by society in these ways, some of which in key moments that require fast processing and quick decisions that surface conflicts between your clearly held values and beliefs and subtle and subconscious biases. Gladwell is hoping to surface these dimensions to provide hope for training and development so that we do not have to be

Too often when people respond a certain way or make a decision that betrays that there is a bias towards the majority culture, it’s low hanging fruit for many to cry out (or lash out more appropriately) that those people are racists or misogynists. Sometimes they are – but it’s not a generous response when all people are influenced by society in these ways, some of which in key moments that require fast processing and quick decisions that surface conflicts between your clearly held values and beliefs and subtle and subconscious biases. Gladwell is hoping to surface these dimensions to provide hope for training and development so that we do not have to be ruled or dominated by our subconscious biases informed by history and society (even though that will always be the case to some degree).

A case in point applies to one of Gladwell’s case studies, a police shooting of an unarmed black male in New York by 4 white police officers.  Gladwell takes us through the situation. In the wake of Trayvon Martin and recent history, these are volatile and charged situations that are tragic all the way around. There is no doubt that the shooting covered in the book was wrong and unjustified – but today we as a society immediately go the racist label. Gladwell illustrates that it’s not so simple – and again, we need to be more generous before labeling people with such labels. Were the cops racist?

Despite the evidence, maybe they are not. On another level, Gladwell shows that they were influenced by subconscious influences that in the heat of the moment and stress of the situation betrayed them in a critical moment. This is how much of life goes. There are plenty of racists out there intentionally doing harm. But there’s also a lot of people who are not racist, but the stress of a fight or flight situation may surface influences that impact decision making that have racist or discriminatory impact.

Gladwell argues that these thinking patterns can be intentionally developed and trained. In a world where we so quickly want to label people as either bad or good, these are some things that may provide hope for new ways of thinking and new ways of training and development that nurture ethical and just assessments of one another – even under stress. It’s a reminder that when we jump as a society to want to scapegoat, punish, or shame someone that has done wrong doing – we may be missing key parts of the equation and forgetting that different sets of circumstances could expose different areas of subconscious bias in us as well. It’s a reminder we need to cultivate safe spaces for learning and awareness instead of environments of graceless

In a world where we so quickly want to label people as either bad or good, these are some things that may provide hope for new ways of thinking and new ways of training and development that nurture ethical and just assessments of one another – even under stress. It’s a reminder that when we jump as a society to want to scapegoat, punish, or shame someone that has done wrong doing – we may be missing key parts of the equation and forgetting that different sets of circumstances could expose different areas of subconscious bias in us as well. It’s a reminder we need to cultivate safe spaces for learning and awareness instead of environments of graceless judgement and accusation.

So there’s a lot of helpful thinks to think about here. There are sections on marketing involving the soda wars I remember early on and why people freaked out when Coke introduced “new coke” and then had to bring back classic coke. it was fascinating how packaging impacts the perception of experience and preference – all things equal. There’s a lot of different ways in which the dynamics of rapid cognition impacts behavior and decision making, but the applications with the greatest social significance to me is that which applies to the dynamics of racism and discrimination as well as who makes for a good leader.