Hands, Teamwork, Team-Spirit, Cheer Up, Team, People

Navigating For Success 
Moss Jackson, PhD

Hi Fellow Navigators,
Welcome to another post on Navigating Your Life and creating a successful life. Success and satisfaction do not just happen spontaneously but can be accomplished with some practical thinking, goal setting, powerful action-taking and resilience when things get tough. Right now, collectively, we are going through a tough time.

I think many of us, perhaps even our country as a whole, are caught up in a struggle about what we want to achieve in terms of our national character and how to best move into our desired future. Successful outcomes seem to occur more frequently when people know where they are going and what they want. I think we are struggling and have conflicting visions about who we want to be as a culture. We are engaged in a powerful process of change and need some more time to figure out where we are going. I predict we are destined to become a more diversified culture that includes a wide range of religious beliefs, sexual gender preferences and racial tolerance. But, at the same time there are people in our country who fear losing some sense of control and letting go of attachment to the Caucasian/White and Christian Identity that have defined who they are for centuries. 

I had hoped that the election of Obama to the Presidency represented a reasonable end to racial prejudice and fear of anyone who does not fit into our stereotyped definition of who an American is. I was naive! Given the last election process in 2016 and the ascendency of a very conservative and exclusionary sentiment, energized by a white supremacy ethic led by people like Steve Bannon, I see that we are still in the stage of cultural change characterized by an “Us vs Them” point of view.

Many of us have experienced bigotry and prejudice on a personal level. I first experienced an “Us vs Them” when I was a young child in fifth grade when our family moved from Brooklyn, NY to Ridgefield, NJ.

Although only a few miles from my home base, it felt like I had moved into a foreign country. In Brooklyn, we had Italians and Jews, along with a tasty mixture of garlic and chicken soup. It was a good mix and we all got along pretty well. Yes, there were arguments and fights but nothing triggered by bigotry. After each fight, we would catch our breath and get back to the stick ball game we were playing on 2nd and Nostrand Ave.

In Ridgefield one day I was sledding down a hill after a snowstorm with my classmates. I do not remember what triggered it, but I acutely remember that a kid named Richard call me a “Dirty Jew!” I was stunned: this was the first time in my life I heard that expression. It seared into my heart like a hot sword. I quickly sled down the hill and slowly walked home filled with tears and rage. I did not tell my parents. I was too stunned and I sought shelter in my bedroom with my electric train set. I realized that I was a “Them” and there was not a real “Us.” I felt a profound sense of disconnect, fear and aloneness.

Perhaps most, if not all of us, have experienced prejudice and hatred that springs out of our different backgrounds. If you have ever been treated as a “Them” I am sure you can relate to my personal experience. 

Now, in 2017, we are bombarded with a powerful cultural divide that separates us from each other and keeps us stuck in our individual identities. Anyone not like you is potentially untrustworthy and dangerous to our safety. Build a giant wall to keep Mexicans out, ban Muslims from entering our country, shame and ridicule transgender people. Bring an anti-Semitic senior advisor into the President’s highest level of confidants, disparage women and take their right to choose away from them. Ridicule and demonize anyone who has the courage to speak out against the bigotry that is growing in our country.

We have a lot of work to do to come together, get to know each other and treat each other with generous hearts and communal understanding. An incident from long ago relates to our situation.  Many years ago there were two rival gangs who could not get along; nothing seemed to work and the authority figures were starting to think that their last option was to send all the adolescents to a detention center. As things were deteriorating between the gangs, someone suggested a novel idea. The two gangs were sent to a camp site to learn how to get along. At this camp site, everyone, black and Hispanic alike, had to work together in order to gain privileges. No cooperation meant no food, recreation or TV. Both gangs were also required to take on some difficult and dangerous physical activities including climbing cliffs and rappelling down a rocky ledge.  When one gang leader had the opportunity to hold the rope of the rival gang leader down a dangerous cliff, he guided him to safety. Instead of setting him up for injury, the leader shifted to a more cooperative and caring response. Everyone watched in relative degrees of shock. That event cracked the back of mutual distrust and hatred. Everyone followed and subsequently took care of each other with generosity, humor and friendship for the rest of the experiment. After the cliff experience, everyone ran over to the cafeteria where they made themselves a feast of sandwiches, ice cream floats and snacks. They sat together and shared stories and adventures with each other with heavy doses of laughter and good-natured sarcasm.

Perhaps we can learn something from that experience. By working together for the common good and demonstrating caring leadership behaviors, we too, varied tribes, clans and cultures might join forces and build a culture we can be proud of. I think the rewards that follow joint efforts can be powerful catalysts for change. Working together and meeting challenges as a unified body are probably what creates the trust and group resourcefulness that allow people to shift from a “Us vs Them” dichotomy to an inclusive “Us” identity. Separation and segregation lead to distrust, suspicion and anger. Studies from the military and other integrated communities taking on shared challenges indicate that change toward a unified culture based on mutual trust and respect is possible.

It would be great if the people who we have elected to be our “gang leaders” could learn this lesson and guide our country toward inclusion and working together. Unfortunately, that does not appear likely at this time. Perhaps we should take them to the cliff!

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