“The $350,000 would be better spent on education. Why is the City of St. Louis spending so much to pull down a confederate statue in Forest Park?” Linda’s protest echoed that of others around the city and country. That morning my daughter Abby had sent me a link to the “Special Address” given by New Orleans’ Mayor Mitch Landrieu just hours before city workers removed the statue of General Robert E. Lee. “…for a long time, Landrieu explained, even though I grew up in one of New Orleans’ most diverse neighborhoods, even with my family’s long proud history of fighting for civil rights … I must have passed by those monuments a million times without giving them a second thought.”
Landrieu hadn’t thought about the impact of such statues. It wasn’t until a friend asked him to consider the monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop New Orleans. “Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?”
We all get caught up in traditions without being aware of their impact on others. For example, in your business, what historical “monuments,” sacred cows, systems and values are discouraging productivity and innovation? What systems leave employees feeling diminished or disenfranchised? Do you know what they are? How can you find out?
What did Mayor Landrieu do?
Landrieu accepted the fact that these monuments were not an inspiration to all who stood in their shadows. In fact, he acknowledged in his speech, “These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.”
By acknowledging that some of his constituents were left feeling diminished and discouraged, he was able to act and knew it was, “…going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing, and this is what that looks like.”
What can we do?
- Acknowledge that our colleagues and customers may have another perspective or experience, even if it’s different from our own;
- Accept the difference without judgment (the differences just are, without being right or wrong or good or bad);
- Act according to what’s best for everyone involved, not only the majority. Some of our “monuments” silence people or make them feel trapped. Watch for opportunities to listen to others’ stories and find out how many others feel that way. That may reveal systems or long-held traditions that are not serving the greater good of our business or organization.
If we do not accept the fact that people have different perspectives, feelings and experiences, we shut down the opportunity to learn. That leaves us unaware of the impact of our actions and words on others, destroying possibilities for authentic working relationships. However, if we accept and acknowledge peoples’ different responses to our “monuments,” we can problem solve together, and reap the benefits of more productivity, collaboration and innovation.
What did the City of St. Louis do?
The City of St. Louis did not ultimately pay to take down the statue in Forest Park. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the Missouri Civil War Museum paid for the removal and relocation of the monument. Like Landrieu, we do not deny our history, but place the monument within its historical context. By so doing, we are reminded to reconsider the “monuments” we cherish in both our public spaces and private sectors and ask if they serve as an inspiration to all impacted. -AN
To attract and retain productive people, leaders need to create a culture of safety and belonging. With a PhD in Adult Education, Amy works with CEO’s, management teams and those who want to take the lead in organizations to effectively implement the tools for reconciliation, collaboration, and innovation. To increase client diversity and workplace productivity, profit and personal job satisfaction, contact Amy