This is personal. It is has nothing to do with law, and nothing to do with customer experience. It has to do with my heart.  But mostly, it has to do with my soul. I write to assemble thoughts, to test the coherence of my thinking–an internal check–and to invite others to comment, dispute, debate, laugh at me, or teach me something I need to learn.  With that as backdrop, let me get to the point.

The death of George Floyd is tragedy. I hope no one disagrees.  His death, and how it was so callously caused, reveals what I believe is a systemic problem in police practices, not just in Minneapolis, but across the country. Chicago, where I work (and live in a suburb), is no stranger to police practices that target African-American residents. The stories and videos of policy cruelty across the country, of police practices that are abhorrent in every way. The casual tolerance of those abhorrent practices by fellow officers is a travesty, laying waste to the carefully cultivated “Officer Friendly” image  police officers so long propagandized. That acceptance of wrong-doing by fellow officers is a choice to side with the bad apples.  But that isn’t why I write today.

This past week, we have seen members of the US Military, state national guard units and federal law enforcement officials act against Americans exercising their First Amendment right to protest. To be sure, some of the activity of these men may have been focused on looters, but all too often it was directed against peaceful protesters (and anyone with eyesight can tell the difference) and members of the Media. Protesters and members of the Media enjoy First Amendment protections, and the actions of these military and law enforcement groups (including those who operate without insignia or any other manner of verifying their legitimacy or lawful authority) are an affront to the values on which the United States is based. But that isn’t why I write today.

I write today because I looked in the mirror this morning. When I did, I saw a man who has never feared for his life when a police officer pulled me over. I saw a man who doesn’t have to put my wallet on my dashboard before I leave my house in the morning so I would always be able to respond to a police stop, however unjustified, without having to move my hands out of sight. I saw a man who never had to have a talk with his children about why some people hate them only because of the pigmentation of their skin. I saw a parent who has never wondered if his kids where going to be shot dead because they mouthed off to a cop, the way many young people do, regardless of their color.  I saw a man who never once wondered whether people thought my achievements in life were due to some special treatment rather than my own effort. I saw a man who was never denied service at a restaurant, or never suffered the indignity of people refusing to sit next to me. I saw a man who when moving into a new home never feared the police were going to be called because some neighbor perceived me as a criminal. I could go one with one indignity after another routinely suffered by African Americans, including many who I am fortunate to count as friends and colleagues, that I have never once thought about, but if you don’t appreciate the point now, more examples will not open your mind.  I saw the face of someone who personifies white privilege. When I came to that conclusion, I was confronted with this harsh question: am I going to stand by and do nothing? Or am I going to be part of the solution? Would my conduct match the values I claim as my own?  What would conduct to match those values look like?  I readily acknowledge I don’t have an answer to this last question.  I do know I had to publicly acknowledge my complicity in the state of affairs to date and ask for guidance on what I can do to make a difference.  And I know

In the past week, I have watched the debate about Black Lives Matter, many responding with All Lives Matter.  Sure they do, but not all lives are treated equally and fairly, so the right thing is to say Black Lives Matter, which translates to “black lives matter just as much as white lives do.”  Surely no person proclaiming All Lives Matter would wish that his or her life, or the lives of their family members, would be treated with the brutality, unfairness and cavalier disregard for life and human dignity that so many African Americans, blacks and other people of color experience routinely.  Not one of you would change places with an African American. White Americans should count themselves fortunate they never have had to march in protest to convince people that White Lives Matter.  White people just take this for granted.  I read a simple illustration that I thought drove home this point.  If the fire department arrived to spray water on the burning house of my neighbor, no one would feel the need to say that water should be sprayed on all houses, even though everyone believes that all houses are worth saving.  You address the problem that exists by drawing attention to it, and trying to confiscate the message by watering it down to the point it means nothing accomplishes only the intended objective of shifting focus from the true problem.

I believe we are at an inflection point in America, a point where we can step back from the political rancor and social divide and try to save our country and its soul, or a point where we miss that opportunity and continue to spiral downward into a place from which we will not recover.  I fear that too many people, on both sides, are refusing to recognize that there is no winner in a culture war. You cannot dominate the other side into behaving the way you think they should.  We have to fairly and critically identify problems and then work together to solve them.  Not everyone will be happy with the solution, but trying to solve problems together is how we heal and how we get better as a country.  And doing that starts with looking in the mirror.  It starts with listening, which is so much more than just hearing words spoken.  It means understanding the pain or fear with which they are spoken. It means trying to understand why people are crying.  It means looking in the mirror. There is too much wisdom in the old line “united we stand, divided we fall” to ignore it.

In my writings about Customer Experience, I am often challenging people to “walk the mile,” which is a reference to lyrics from a song written by Joe South. Those lyrics strike a poignant chord now:

If I could be you, if you could be me
For just one hour
If we could find a way to get inside
Each other’s mind
If you could see you through my eyes
Instead of your ego
I believe you’d be, I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind
Walk a mile in my shoes
Walk a mile in my shoes
Yeah, before you abuse, criticize, and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes
Now there are people on reservations
And out in the ghetto
And, brother, there, but for the grace of God
Go you and I
If I only had the wings
Of a little angel
Don’t you know I’d fly to the top of a mountain
And then I’d cry, cry, cry?
Walk a mile in my shoes
Walk a mile in my shoes
Yeah, before you abuse, criticize, and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes

Many people I have said that the first step to solving a problem is recognizing you have one.  I am recognizing today that I am part of the problem.  From today forward, I hope to be part of the solution, a solution that brings us together, without fear, without anger, without suspicion.

So please join me in doing two things, and, with me, try to make them a daily habit.  Take a look in the mirror, hard enough to see into your soul, and then go walk the mile.  And then, most importantly, when you’ve walked the mile, do something about what you’ve learned. Feel the pain.  Feel the fear. And do something to ease the pain and quell the fear. And I also ask you to join me in asking others for helping in learning what we can do that will make a difference.

When year need a reminder, listen to this.