Whether literal or allegorical, the fact is that from the moment that Adam and Eve took the bait believing that there was something they could do to be more like God and sunk their teeth into the fruit of the tree of duality (good and evil) the eyes of their self-consciousness opened to the illusion of separation that abstracts everything and everyone into polarities: good and evil; black and white; male and female; winners and losers; elite and proletariat and included and excluded.
Throughout history succeeding generations have come to the ancient crossroads and have been invited to make the choice to choose the good way (the way of non-dualism) or choose their own way, (the way of separation, difference and deficit). On the 25th May when George Floyd was killed, we came to our generation’s crossroads. We are now at the ancient path. Here we now stand. It is a seminal moment in our generation’s history we must choose:
Thus, says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” We dare not say like those who have gone before us, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jeremiah 6:16
In recent weeks as pressure has intensified on organisations to address the debilitating problem of racial inequality, we have seen what amounts to panic buying unconscious bias programmes and recruiters being pressed to find candidates for their clients’ hitherto non-existent in-house D&I function. The there-we’ve-done-something! approach may assuage the “I’m not a racist angst,” but it is bound to fail in addressing the underlying causes of the disease that is systemic inequality. There is an answer, of course there is, but it is a big ask to get a person whose pay, position and power depend on them not knowing the right answer.
In the absence of any true unifying States men and women we are left to make do with self-interested divisive politicians who serve the interests of the elite; in the absence of servant leaders we are left to make do with broken models of leadership that cause organisations to be overmanaged and under-led; we cannot even turn to our places of worship for the most part, they have become religious workhouses, profiting from making us afraid of God and suspicious of outsiders. They dream of a better world but only for the elect, i.e., the spiritually elite. We, the people, may have to take the lead on this one.
As we all know, there are diseases that are known as silent killers, these are diseases that people have without even knowing it. People can live with certain types of cancer, autoimmune disorders for years without even knowing they’re sick. Racism is a disease. It can be voluble but most often it is a silent killer; one that robs the carrier and deadens all those it comes into contact with.
Racism is an infection. If unchecked it can (and has) spread all through society. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds the world held its collective breath as it watched aghast the footage of George Floyd’s life being stolen from him by police officers in Minneapolis PD. What had previously been an invisible ever-present headwind for Black people suddenly became a hurricane, the storm surge of upending complacency and flooding the consciousness of white people across the globe.
As I and many others have written about there is a correlation, I say quantum entanglement, between the Covid-19 pandemic and the pandemic that is racism. But whilst the world searches for a vaccine to protect us against the coronavirus we have the antibodies that can immunize us against racism.
Racism is a heart disease. We have no need to look for a cure outside of ourselves, the cure lies within. The cure is rediscovering human-heartedness.
Human-heartedness recognises racism, exclusion and all inequality as an attack on our fundamental moral sensibility which consists in appreciation and reverence for the fundamental human value; one’s human-heartedness always manifests itself as interpersonal love, inclusion and care when treating others.
So, we have a choice: we must decide whether the murder of George Floyd will be reduced to another footnoted example of the infection or whether or not we will take this as a moment of inflection.
We are now living in liminal space. We know that we will never go back to the pre-Covid world and neither can we allow ourselves to go back to the pre-Floyd world. We are at the threshold with all the ambiguity and disorientation and what-can-we-doism? that occurs before we begin the transition to the new normal.
The plaintiff appeal of this note is that we must choose the ancient path, the way back to oneness, where we will find rest for our collective souls. We must do two things, first we must tread lightly in the earth and second, we must B.O.L.D.L.Y. go where no generation has been before.
Some will say, the agenda is too ambitious, you’re aiming at an impossible future. Maybe, but let me end by telling you a short story that might encourage you to reach for our vision.
A man was wandering along the seashore early one morning, reflecting on his life and trying to establish a sense of meaning. It was very early, just before sun-up, and he imagined that he’d have the beach to himself. To his surprise, he saw, from a distance, a young boy whom, he presumed, was playing on the beach. “Strange,” he said to himself, “what with it being so early and all.”
Something about the boy’s game caught his attention. The boy would bend down, pick something up and, with all his might, toss it into the sea.
There was a real urgency about the boy’s game. In rapid succession he would repeat the action – bending, picking up and throwing; bending, picking up and throwing. When the man got close enough to the boy, he could see that the boy was throwing back into the sea starfish which had been washed up onto the beach by the incoming tide. The beach was literally carpeted with them.
The man called out to the boy, “Hey, son! What are you doing?”
Without looking up but continuing his bending, picking up and throwing motion, the boy replied, “I’m saving the starfish.”
“Oh,” exclaimed the man, a little bewildered. “Well, look here. There are thousands of them. How can you make a difference?”
Completing one of his mechanical cycles, the boy looked up as the water splashed when the thrown starfish re-entered it. He said, “I guess you’re right, but I sure made a difference to that one, though.”
The man laughed. “Hey, can I join you?”
“Sure,” answered the boy, “there’s plenty left.”
Well, my friend, grab yourself a star fish. There’s plenty left.
© Paul Anderson-Walsh for The Centre for Inclusive Leadership 08/06/20