Perspective

I chatted with an audience member after my speaking gig yesterday who had some issues with diverse personalities within her sales team. This morning when I went out for my walk I let my  mind wander, and started thinking about how often conflict arises because of the way we think. So I thought I’d share some of these ideas with you.

 

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Hierarchy

There is one way of seeing the world where everyone is either one-up or one-down from everyone else. (Or maybe several-up or several-down.) This tends to be more common with men than women, but it’s not tied to the ability to grow a beard. I find it exhausting when I get into this frame of mind – always trying to figure out where I stand in relation to others, usually feeling like I don’t measure up. Some people find a sense of worth from being one-up from others, but this runs the risk of treating others as less-than.

 

 

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Equality – One Path

Another way, which is more common in women than men but isn’t tied to femininity, is to see everyone as equal in rank because we are all people trying to do the best we can. Some people may be farther along the path, but we are all walking the path together. I prefer this view (and I’m a woman, go figure), since I can relax and not compete. It lets me see the best in others and wish the best for others, since we are all striving for happiness and fulfillment, rather than beating someone else.

Now, if you are a competitive sort, and like pitting yourself against others, the equality view might feel boring. It might feel unbalancing, like you don’t know where you stand if you’re not one-up or one-down. But if you’re treating others as one-down it could make them feel angry or less-than or sad. And if you treat others as one-up it may keep you from offering your gifts to the world because you think you’re not worth it.

 

All of these pitfalls are based in perspective, in how we see the world. There may not be any change necessary in the people on a team, other than a shift in perspective. It takes a deeper conversation to find out what perspective team members actually hold, and a lot of today’s post is based on my own brain meanderings. Often we don’t know there is another perspective available until we talk to someone who holds a different view.

One last point today – if you need to shift your perspective, you could do worse than go for a walk. Walking helps your mind process stuff while it exercises your body, and often helps shift stuck emotions and ideas.

Coming Together

IMG_5470Crazy Hair Day at school

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the divisions we all face in this world. There are ways that everyone is different from everyone else. Skin color, religion, sexual orientation, interest in catching Pokemon, ability to sit still, how straight our teeth are, there are infinite ways we can find differences between ourselves and others. And it is also true that we are more alike than not. According to Bill Nye the Science Guy:

“We are one species. Each of us much, much more alike than different. We all come from Africa. We all are of the same stardust. We are all going to live and die on the same planet, a pale blue dot in the vastness of space. We have to work together.”

So I want to talk about how play can bring people together. I put up a picture of Crazy Hair Day at school. When everyone does the same silly thing together, it creates a feeling of belonging, of being in on the joke together, of us all being on the same team. When people identify with sports teams, people across socioeconomic and cultural divides find themselves rooting for the same team to win. It brings us together. (It has the potential to divide us too, when we root for opposing teams. This can only be taken so far, after which we have to admit it’s just a game and not worth rioting over.)

There can be deep divisions at work. Management vs union. Developers vs marketing. Local team vs remote team. Us vs them. We don’t have to let those divisions shape us. We can find ways to reach across the aisle and find our common interests, our common humanity. Chances are, all of you want your organization to thrive. You may have different ideas of how to make that happen, but you all want it to happen.

Please, approach differences with curiosity, not animosity. ‘Why do you think that? What is your experience that makes that make sense? Can I tell you how my experience is different? How can we find a solution that works for both of us?’

Life is not a zero sum game. If one person wins, the other person doesn’t automatically have to lose. If one group is celebrated, it doesn’t mean the other groups don’t matter. Some forms of play, like in sports, mean that there is a winner and a loser. But other types of play are there for the sake of playing. There’s no winner in the crazy hair day – everyone plays equally, and enjoys each other joining in the play. And even in sports, everyone can agree that a hard fought contest is fun to watch, that the play was important just for the sake of the play, even if our favorites lost.

Work is not the opposite of play. Depression is the opposite of play. Don’t make the work place so serious that everyone sinks into depression. Let there be lightness, let there be reasons to connect across dividing lines, let there be play.

Out Of Gas

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A while back, I was driving home with my young son in the back of the car, when I saw a car pulled over under the freeway overpass and a young black man standing by it, talking on the phone. Many thoughts ran quickly through my head – I’m white and he’s black, what does that mean in terms of safety if I stop? I’m middle-aged, he’s young, would that affect what happens if I stop? Should I ignore him as not my problem? Is that the kind of example I want to be to my son?

I decided to pull over and ask if he was ok. He said he ran out of gas on his way to his second job. He said he had a gas can and asked if I’d mind getting him some gas. He even gave me money to cover it. I took the can and drove to the closest gas station I knew of, then drove back and handed him the gas and the change. He wanted to pay me something, or at least do me a favor in return, but didn’t know what to do. I told him to pay it forward, to help someone else in need some time in the future. I’ve certainly been helped when I needed it. (Remind me to tell you about arriving in Italy with no Lira on a Sunday when the banks were closed and needing to pee desperately, and not having a way to use the paid toilets…)

The rest of the day I felt a glow inside. I did something good for someone! I helped out someone in trouble, got him moving again. And there was a piece of me that was ashamed of the moment of fear I felt about stopping to help someone darker than me. (Frankly, with how pale my skin is, most white people are darker than me, but that’s another story.) I don’t want to live in a world where I even think about someone’s skin color before I stop to help them. I’m glad that this interaction went so well, there was gratitude and kindness and no one pretending to be in trouble to lure in unsuspecting victims. (Man, an active imagination can be a bitch sometimes.) Most of all, I’m glad I showed my son that kindness doesn’t cost anything and can make the world better.

Gender Bias

I read this post today. With a husband in the game industry, it’s something we’ve talked about, and I’ve seen when I go to his company parties. I think it’s a complex problem, and this post has some great ideas about how to help get women into games. Into all computer related industries, really. In fact, we need a much more diverse workplace in computers, as seen from the article in today’s SF Chronicle: http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/How-tech-s-lack-of-diversity-leads-to-racist-6398224.php

I don’t think there is an answer I can give in one blog post. How do we make computer science a desirable, accessible, affordable, and compelling destination for women, blacks, Latinos, gays, transgenders, etc.?

I’d like to say something infinitely wise right now, and get reposted and become famous for my great wisdom. But really, life is complex, and there are lots of reasons why things are basically unfair. There is institutional racism, sexism, homophobia, etc, and something as simple as playing with LEGO® bricks can’t possibly end all that. However, one thing that attracted me to LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is that it does level the playing field. To an extent. As much as possible. And I feel that when life is inherently unfair, anything we can do to help make it more equitable is important.

Ninjago

As much as I love LEGO®, I have some problems with my son’s Ninjago sets. And the videos and books that go with it. Here are some of my issues, in no particular order:

1. None of the Ninja are Japanese. The boys are all white. And, ok, my son is studying Aikido, it’s ok for white folk to learn something from a different culture. But surely the teacher is Japanese? Nope. The teacher (at least they got the word for teacher, “sensei,” right) is named Wu, which is a Chinese name. And he has a very stereotyped Fu Man Chu appearance. So, for all that this would be a great time to teach respect for different cultures, Ninjago is actually teaching stereotypes and that it’s ok for white people to co-opt other cultures and use them for their own ends.

2. The bad guy, Lord Garmadon, is black. He doesn’t look African at least, he looks sort of Asian and sort of demonic. But what kind of message does that give? The bad guy is black, the bad guy is demonic, blacks are demonic? Not the message I’d like to deliver with my son’s toys.

3. The bad guy’s son, Lloyd Garmadon, is blond and white. What? Not only does that make no sense racially (after all, Lloyd’s dad is black and his uncle is Chinese) it delivers the message that white people are inherently good. Which is so very not true. And that only white people can be good. Also so very not true.

4. There are no women. Once you’re subverting traditional ninja culture, which was male, why not put in a few kick-ass girls? Or show Lloyd’s mom? There is one girl, the sister of one of the Ninjago boys, who eventually becomes a Samurai (again with the subverting of the culture of the other, with the whitening of something foreign and exotic). I’d like there to be more gender equality in these toys. Girls can kick butt. And boys can be nurturing and caring.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think LEGO® as a whole is a great tool for boys and girls alike. I just don’t like the directions they go to market and sell their products. Or not all of them, anyway. Why not show both girls and boys building and playing and fighting and getting along? The more these messages are perpetrated, the more kids internalize them. People say, well, I’m just going along with the dominant culture. But by going along we are also continuing it. If we don’t challenge it then we say it’s ok the way it is. And that’s not really ok with me.