A Response to the Events in Ferguson, Missouri

Standard

As I have been following the reactions to the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, regarding the case of Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, my heart has been troubled. In my Facebook news feed, I hear the voices of liberals and conservatives, of Black and White (and Hispanic and Asian); I hear voices calling for peace, respect, and safety, and I hear voices crying out in anger, frustration, and sadness.IMG_0269

It is not my intention to respond to the Grand Jury decision; I know the members of that jury were privy to information that is not available to me, and I have to trust that they made the best decision given the information at their disposal. Neither is it my intention to criticize those who are protesting and calling for change and reform; I see that there are things within our society that are broken, that are not working as we think they should.

It is my intention to use my unique position, situated between people of different races and socio-economic status, to try to bring greater understanding to all sides of the issue and to find a way forward that encourages justice for all. There is more to the story of the social injustices in America, and we as a society need to hear it.

I recently read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, a book purportedly about success, which opened my eyes to how our current situation has been made possible when so many middle class Americans aren’t even aware. In the first chapter, Gladwell talks about the American belief in the “self-made man” and the triumph of personal determination and grit, and about how this perception of success is flawed.

In Outliers, I want to convince you that these kinds of personal explanations of success don’t work. People don’t rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t. (Outliers p. 18)

The rest of the book documents these assertions, and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

IMG_6718I grew up in a middle class White household, which gave me certain privileges that I did not recognize for a long time. As I was growing up, my peers and I were taught not to think in racist terms; we have come to believe that the Civil Rights movement ended all racism and that now we are living in a racial utopia. However, recent events are revealing just how wrong we really are, and we are trying to wrap our minds around a reality we never were aware of. Sadly, many are in denial, but the number of recent incidents, and the protests and riots in Ferguson, should show us that it’s a real issue, not something made up. Privilege is not a bad thing, but it does give us a greater responsibility for righting the wrongs in our society.

Now is not a time for vengeance for all wrongs, real or perceived. Now is not a time to pretend these wrongs are all imagined. Now is not a time for rhetoric and political posturing. Now is not a time to wait for things to “blow over” so we can get back to business as usual.

The time has come for action and change, for the deliberate opening of opportunities to those who have been denied, for whatever reason. It is a time for increasing our awareness and understanding, to practice “connective listening” with those who have long felt unheard. By listening and understanding, we can begin to identify practical steps to heal racial divisions, first in the Church, then in our communities, and finally in our country and beyond.

A Key to a Culturally Relevant Church

Standard

As someone who has spent most of her career teaching in short-term, intensive language programs, I have worked with many different classes, and I have found that each class has its own personality. Most groups are simply a collection of individuals largely focused on their own individual goals; however, occasionally the class comes together and forms a dynamic and supportive learning community. As the instructor, I do what I can to encourage the development of a community, but it also depends heavily on the personalities in the class.IMG_6645

I have seen the same patterns in Christian organizations and church groups. In some churches, people simply interact at Sunday service but have little or no contact during the week, while in other churches, the members create strong bonds of friendship, frequently meeting for dinner during the week and sometimes becoming roommates.

It is not always clear to me what makes one group of individuals come together and what prevents another group. However, David Logan’s TED Talk has given me some tools to start exploring this issue. He discusses group behavior from a “tribal” perspective, defining “tribes” as smaller groups of 20 to 150 people.

Based on organizational research that focused on observable language and behavior, his book Tribal Leadership, co-authored with John King and Halee Fischer-Wright, identifies five stages of “tribal” culture based on the language used and the actions taken by members of the “tribe” (the following labels are my own):

Stage 1: Survival Mode.  People in a stage 1 culture have a sense of hopelessness and despair and will do anything it takes to survive, even if it means resorting to violence. David Logan says that this is the culture of gangs and of prisons; about 2% of organizations are in this stage.

Stage 2: Victim Mentality.  While people in stage 2 cultures have moved beyond mere survival, they still have little or no hope for their circumstances to improve, leading to very negative attitudes. I believe most people in such cultures have simply given up and are going through the motions. About one quarter of organizations are at this stage.

While I have seen individual students in these stages, it is rare for an entire class or church group to be here. However, the next stage is very common.

Stage 3: WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). At this point, people have moved beyond hopelessness and helplessness and see the value of putting in an effort. However, at this stage, it is all about personal advancement, even at the expense of peers and colleagues. Nearly half of all organizations are at this stage.

At this stage, I can see the importance of the role of attitude, that intangible quality of people that influences their thoughts and behaviors. John Maxwell, in his book Attitude 101, lists the signs of a bad attitude, which I believe make a very good description of someone in a stage 3 culture:IMG_6651

  • inability to admit wrongdoing
  • failing to forgive
  • petty jealousy
  • the “disease of me”
  • a critical spirit
  • a desire to hog all the credit

Stage 4: Group Cohesion. At this stage, people begin bonding over shared values. It could be as lofty as a shared mission (end human trafficking like the organization A21) or as quirky as a personality trait (be a little weird like the company Zappos). Because of the shared values and vision, people form bonds and are willing to collaborate and cooperate to meet their goals; 22% of organizations reach this stage.

Stage 5: The “Mountaintop.” At this stage of culture, the group no longer forms around a limited goal while comparing themselves to other groups; they are now ready to take on global transformation and compare themselves to what is possible. Only 2% of organizations reach this stage.

In these last two stages, we see healthy relationships being formed, whether within the group or beyond the group. In his book Relationships 101, John Maxwell lists five characteristics of solid relationships. While his focus was primarily on one-on-one relationships, I believe these characteristics can be applied to group cultures as well.

  • Respect
  • Shared experiences
  • Trust
  • Reciprocity
  • Mutual enjoyment

I would argue that Christians are called to develop Stage 5 cultures, and I believe the early church had a stage 5 culture based on solid relationships. The Book of Acts recounts how the first disciples of Christ formed a community that changed not only the individuals within that community but eventually the entire world.

  • They frequently “broke bread” and prayed together (Acts 2:42, 46-47).
  • They shared everything in common and trusted each other (Acts 4:32-36).
  • They bonded through the persecution of the Jewish leadership (Acts 5:41).
  • They worked together to solve community problems (Acts 6:1-7).

As I learned about the concepts in Tribal Leadership, I was not surprised that the majority of organizations have “me-centric” stage 3 cultures. This is the pervasive characteristic of modern American culture, one I believe needs to change. Christians are meant to be known by their unity, but Christianity in the United States today is too often characterized by bitter divisions and self-righteous criticism. If the American church is going to have an impact on the surrounding culture, we must develop a Stage 5 “tribe,” first within individual churches and then among the churches of America and beyond.

 

Links and Resources:

David Logan’s TED Talk Tribal Leadership 

Book review of Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization

Minute with Maxwell: Relationships

31 Bible Verses about Relationships

Minute with Maxwell: Attitude

35 Bible Verses about Attitude

 

Is It Possible to Influence a Culture?

Standard

After several years of teaching in S. Korea, I found I had learned how to connect with my Korean students, so when I was given the position of lead instructor and had to connect with all forty students in the program, I was able to do so effectively.

at Green Springs Gardens

at Green Springs Gardens

However, I was not very effective when it came to leading the teaching team; I had a harder time connecting with the other English teachers. When conflict developed between two of the instructors who were teaching the same course, I attempted to resolve the situation by sitting down with them together and talking through it. Both instructors behaved professionally and seemed receptive to my suggestions. Imagine my surprise when, ultimately, nothing changed. The two instructors continued not sharing information even though they sat next to each other in the office. It was at this point that I began to question my ability to lead the teaching team.

Because I had not connected well with my teaching team, I had no influence with them. John Maxwell says, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Maxwell lists seven factors that impact our ability to influence others.

  1. Relationships – who you know. Most people are not easily influenced by strangers; the better you know a person, the greater your potential influence on that person.
  2. Knowledge – what you know. Experts in their field often wield strong influence, whether it is as an expert witness or providing an endorsement for public policy.
  3. Character – who you are. When you are a person of integrity who keeps your word, people begin to trust you and allow themselves to be influenced by you.
  4. Ability – what you can do. When you can demonstrate skills and abilities that are relevant to the problem at hand, people will tend to follow your suggestions.
  5. Intuition – what you feel. When your education, experience, and gifting converge, you may find that your ability to influence increases.
  6. Past success – what you’ve done. Even more than experience, a successful track record will give greater weight to your words.
  7. Experience – where you’ve been. Knowing that you have faced similar situations in the past, many people will allow themselves to be influenced by your present recommendations.

The fact that Christianity is one of the most widely spread religions speaks of the influence exerted by Jesus.

  • Relationships: He established very strong relationships with his twelve disciples (John 6:67-68).
  • Knowledge: His teaching drew vast crowds (Luke 14:25).
  • Character: The people recognized His character and authority (Matthew 7:29).
  • Ability: He proved time and time again that He had the ability to meet people where they were and to bring them into a more abundant life (John 10:10).
  • Intuition: Jesus knew just the right thing to say to each person to impact them for the Kingdom of God. (Nicodemus – John 3, the Samaritan woman at the well – John 4).
  • Past success: He was successful in accomplishing everything He set out to do, from healing the sick and delivering the oppressed to feeding the five thousand and redeeming mankind (John 17:4).
  • Experience: He is God become Man, and so has experienced temptations just like we do (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15).

Many people I talk to have a desire to see change, but they feel they have little or no influence in these areas. However, there is hope; in their book Real Influence, John Ullmen and Mark Goulston list four steps people can take to increase their influence.

  1. Go for great outcomes. This is accomplished through focusing on results, reputation, and relationship.
  2. Listen past your blind spot. When you are focused on your own goals, “your here,” you are not able to connect with people from their perspective, “their there.” This requires “connective listening” (or as Julian Treasure calls it, “conscious listening”) – focusing on understanding the other’s perspective, not on preparing a response or defending your position.
  3. Engage them in their there. When you “get it” (the other person’s situation), “get them” (their strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears, and dreams), and “get their path to progress” (options and alternatives that empower), you are able to truly connect and exert positive influence.
  4. When you’ve done enough, do more. This means going above and beyond people’s expectations in ways that make you memorable.

According to research by Serge Moscovici in the field of social psychology, a consistent minority can have significant influence even when it is not particularly powerful or prestigious. This is good news for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the thought of influencing culture change. By increasing both our personal and community influence, we can create a more unified voice, and the Church can return to a position of influence in our culture.

 

Resources and Links

Interview with John C. Maxwell on the 700 Club talking about the Laws of Leadership

Communication Fundamentals course on Lynda.com, taught by John Ullmen

Website for Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Series of blog posts by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen based on the concepts in Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In

Coursera course in Social Psychology, taught by Scott Plous of Wesleyan University; information about minority influence from lecture 3.4: Group Pressure and Conformity Part 2.

“Moscovici and Minority Influence” on SimplyPsychology.org

100 Bible Verses about Influence

44 Bible Verses about Positive Influence