What if we could lift ourselves above the fear, anger, and chaos of our times and see it all as a giant jigsaw puzzle? Are all the pieces we need to solve the racial divide sitting there, right before our eyes?
I sat down with the amazing thought leader, Linda Cliatt-Wayman—a TED speaker and educator who has made immense waves of change possible throughout the school systems of Philadelphia and beyond—to piece apart what needs to be done to help our world begin to move forward, together.
We have decided to have the “hard conversations.” You know, the ones most of us are finding just too awkward and painful to even start. We’re putting it all on the table, mother to mother, in an effort to end the silence that’s happening because most of us don’t want to hurt or be hurt.
We believe our mothers and grandmothers would be recommending some time-tested positive impulses like empathy, listening, curiosity, and celebrating what we have in common. And we’re asking: what if we used that kind of wisdom to form that outer border of the jigsaw puzzle as a framework? Could we start assembling a new picture of reality from there.
So, how do we get all the pieces on the table?
Right now, we need to solve a lot of complex problems. In order to do so, we need to have a lot of difficult conversations. But where do we start? How do we have them? For many of us, when these subjects are broached, instead of being honest about our confusion, we say nothing. Yet, that silence can easily be mistaken for apathy.
Over the course of her career, Linda Cliatt-Wayman transformed one of the most dangerous schools in America by having difficult conversations and listening deeply when no one else would. Her approach to creating lasting and meaningful change goes far beyond classrooms and is something every one of us can use in our own homes, at work, and in our personal lives.
In order for the problems we’re facing to find their peaceful resolve, the arc of time needs to quickly bend in the favor of honoring all that we have in common. To do this, we need some wisdom that crosses all divides. Our mothers and grandmothers would have something remarkable to say about starting on a path toward thriving together. They always have. Now, here’s how we can all tap into it.
Linda and I will be talking about issues that work towards commonality and understanding, comparing notes on what our mothers and grandmothers would have advised along the way. And in an effort to give people some context for their own conversations, these conversations will be recorded.
Now, more than ever, the graceful thought leaders with their powerful combinations of lived experiences, courage, and good intentions are leading us all through and out of this era. Linda Cliatt-Wayman is one of them.
When I published an article about Linda’s amazing work in education in the summer of 2019, no one could have imagined where we’d be one year later, with a pandemic and an uprising sparked by the public and brutal death of George Floyd. Fortunately, Linda and I became fast friends when I interviewed her for that article. So, when these current events threw many of us on a toboggan run of sadness, confusion, and fear, our friendship was there to bring some context, comfort, and most importantly understanding to both our lives.
We are the kind of friends who can talk freely to each other, without fear of judgment, and ask those questions that are going unspoken.
This is a recording of a conversation between two mothers, one black and one white, who have lived experiences in professional worlds that can inform the way forward. We were both raised by women of enormous courage and perseverance. This is how we opened our own dialogue:
Linda and I have a goal to make it easier for conversations in divided families, neighborhoods, organizations, and communities to start without the shaming, judgment, and contempt that is usually present at the beginning of dialogues about division.
Now, I know that sounds like a stretch right now, but we’ve all done hard things before. When our backs have been to the wall, we humans seem to pull together beautifully right when we think all hope is lost.
It’s time to remember something that almost all our moms and grandmothers were driving at in their advice to us in our darkest moments: We should never let our emotions override our intelligence.
Instead, the division and outrage that grips our society (seemingly more every day) needs to yield to something that has served us since humans walked the earth: discovery.
We each need to lead as individuals in our own circles. And one critical part of leading will be starting and gracefully navigating some difficult, long-overdue conversations. I believe we can solve this by understanding more context about each other’s lives as individuals. Here, we are likely to find all that we have in common.
If we can protect each others’ dignity through conversations of discovery, then progress might be easier than we think.
Here’s one example: recently I asked Linda, “What’s the first thing I should do personally, to start the ball rolling in the other direction in my life and the lives of others?” And to my surprise, she said, “When you see a young black girl or boy, start with a smile and a simple, heartfelt “hello.”
Her suggestion was transformational. I expected a tough assignment that involved public acknowledgment, apologies, and a 5-point plan (which all needs to happen.) But instead, I am witness to the wisdom of the best thought leaders – mothers and grandmothers. They seem to lead with the foresight and grace that is still holding the battered ship we are on together.
I’m sure my shoulders fell a bit with Linda’s profoundly simple answer. And I must have let out a sigh, as I realized her suggestion pointed to just how far behind the line we are all starting. If being asked to acknowledge the humanity of children is our starting point, then we are truly in our darkest moment.
I’m not sure we all realize that’s where we are starting at, with each other. But it points to one immutable fact: we will need to begin by listening to the stories we are telling ourselves about each other. From the living room to the boardroom, we are going to have to challenge our assumptions and truly see each other as fellow collaborators in creating a world we all want to live in.
And in our conscious shift from division to discovery, we will open a new era and prove it is still an amazing world.
Stay open, get curious, protect each others’ dignity, and be hopeful.
~ Dr. Lynda
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- Ever Widening Circles. “The Wisdom of Mothers: The Meaningful Conversations We Need to Start.” YouTube, 2 July 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6xtSI17j5M&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 2 July 2020. ↩