“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world.
It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”
— L.R. Knost, Author,
Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages
Given that the workplace is a microcosm of society, consider these recent headlines:
- Religious persecution and hostilities on the rise (Forbes, 2015)
- 15 charts that prove we’re far from post-racial (Huffington Post, 2016)
- LGBT-related work complaints went up by 28% last year (Fortune, 2016)
- Is your workplace full of corporate bullies (Forbes, 2016)
- Age discrimination in the workplace starts as early as age 35 (PBS.org, 2016)
- Shame on weight discrimination at work (mybariatriclife.org, 2016)
- Skinny-shaming at any age (Huffington Post, 2015)
- 4 workplace disability discrimination claims at a record high (disabilityscoop.com, 2016)
- Sex discrimination in the office on the rise (telegraph.co.uk, 2016)
- What’s going on with LGBT discrimination in the workplace (onlabor.org, 2016)
- How your height and weight affect your paycheck (broadly.vice.com, 2016)
- New study finds female discrimination in the tech industry (Vogue, 2016)
- The simple truth about the gender pay gap (aauw.org, 2016)
- White-collar women don’t speak up about pregnancy discrimination. Here’s why. (Huffington Post, 2016)
And the headlines go on and on and on. Discrimination and intolerance on steroids.
A story of discrimination
Junior High School, 8th grade. I had just returned to class after a multi-day bout with the flu. You know that feeling where you’re functioning, but barely? Being a trooper, I was pushing through it. And then the unthinkable happened. After a year of on again/off again mean-spirited teasing, three 7th grade girls, including their ring leader whose family attended the same church as my family, had conspired to push me down 2 flights of concrete stairs. Why? Simply because I was different. I was overweight. I was “imperfect” by societal standards. Quite frankly I loved my Mom’s homemade cooking and freshly-made baked goods and it certainly showed! In addition to being “pleasantly plump”, I was also introverted, studious and a bit fashion-backward — aka a perceived outlier (even more “imperfect”, or so says society). With an armful of books and just as I was poised to take my first stair step, the girls unexpectedly surrounded me, then gave me a shove. My books flew wildly into the air as I grabbed the railing and held on for dear life. They kept pushing me and though I lost my footing, my tight railing grip kept me from tumbling down 30-some stairs. Having thwarted their attempts, they quickly scattered. Physically exhausted and emotionally wounded, I gathered up my belongings and made my way to the Nurse’s office. I was sick. I wanted to go home. I just wanted to feel better.
Shortly thereafter the three girls were disciplined and subsequently apologized. They never bothered me again. But me — I would never forgot how it felt being ganged up on simply because I was overweight and not part of the “in” crowd. From that day forward, I became resolute in never standing on the sidelines, watching discrimination happen to someone else — someone deemed “different” or “societally imperfect”. That day became my defining moment. I would soon find out that I wasn’t alone.
Rising above it
Fast forward to college…after having embraced nutrition and exercise as priorities, I slimmed down to my physically fit version. As my outside wrapper drastically changed, my character similarly morphed. I was developing an intense affinity towards standing up for the different, the defenseless, the underdogs — standing strong against “you’re different” shaming. Quite subconsciously, perhaps Law of Attraction-driven, I was also aligning myself with friends and work colleagues possessing homogenous experiences and character — the once-picked-upon, ostracized and society-labeled “imperfect kids” who were growing into inclusionary, diversity-embracing, label-shunning and non-discriminatory young adults. I was both mesmerized by plus spiritually drawn toward the Perfect Imperfect because they had beaten the odds and won. Their worst moments had motivated them to become their best versions. They had not allowed themselves to become victims and prisoners of their “I didn’t fit in”, “I was bullied”, “I was ignored”, “I was excluded”, “I was treated unfairly”, “I was fill-in-the-blank” non picture-perfect past. They chose to rise above it and, more importantly, they refused to perpetuate discrimination and intolerance of any type. They outgrew being victims of imperfect parents, imperfect teachers, imperfect coaches, imperfect siblings, imperfect classmates and imperfect neighborhoods in an imperfect society.
A cruel and heartless world
Back to the headlines. Workplace discrimination and intolerance are rampant with the poisonous mindset infecting all levels in all industries — executives, senior leaders, middle managers, employees. Instead of us making the world a little less cruel and heartless, as author L.R. Knost would suggest and hope, some of us continue to perpetuate discrimination and intolerance. Why? Three reasons that I’ve observed. First, a percent of the population are afraid of people “unlike” them — anything from I don’t like their hair color, the clothes they wear, the way they walk, their weight, their body shape, their age, their disabilities and impairments, their height to their accent, their skin color, their sexual orientation, their gender, their religion, their birthplace, their heritage. Instead of building bridges they fuel fires. Second, in an attempt to distance themselves from being discriminated against given they were once on the receiving end but never learned how to rise above it, a percent of the population have since joined the ranks of the discriminators and intolerants (aka if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em). Third, those discriminated against early on yet who never rose above it, and who are now angry at the world, leverage their past as:
- A woe-is-me crutch
- An excuse to hide behind
- A justification for acting out
- A weapon to hurt others
Regardless as to how the discriminators and intolerants came to be, we can all eradicate discrimination and intolerance — IF WE CHOOSE TO.
If you see it, stop it (and here’s how)
Meanwhile the Perfect Imperfect, who were once discriminated against, have mindfully, willfully and expertly embraced their societal-dubbed imperfections to affect humanistic change in a variety of heartfelt, courageous and impactful ways. Ironically, the cruelty they had once suffered as kids, has shaped them into amazing, selfless and inspiring adults. And what do they all have in common? They…
#1. Choose to be Compassionate
What differentiates the Perfect Imperfect? They have the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others as they NOTICE then STEP UP to help the struggling, the invisible and the targets of intolerance, though they mindfully don’t villainize the perceived oppressors. While humankind is instinctually motivated to alleviate the suffering of others, few do. Despite compassion being part of our natural, default-wired, emotional and authentic self, many of us become inwardly focused and oblivious to others. As emotional intelligence expert Dr. Daniel Goleman has distressingly discovered, though opportunities abound to help those around us, we simply and sadly don’t notice others in need for we are locked in an urban trance.
#2. Choose to be Empathetic
What differentiates the Perfect Imperfect? They feel that they and others are worthy of love, belonging and connection, which gives us purpose and meaning to our lives. As they reach out to others, they see the world as others see it, understand others’ predicaments and feel with them — all without passing judgment. But they don’t stop there. The Perfect Imperfect communicate in others’ language so the struggling, the invisible and the targets of intolerance recognize that they’re being heard, felt and understood.
#3. Choose to be Courageously Vulnerable
What differentiates the Perfect Imperfect? They have the courage to be imperfect. They let go of who they think they should be and embrace who they actually are, for being who they are is enough. For the Perfect Imperfect, accepting their imperfections causes them to be vulnerable, beautiful and alive. And in their vulnerability, they’re willing to invest in others — including the struggling, the invisible and the targets of intolerance — even when there are no guarantees. And the rest of the world? According to research professor Dr. Brené Brown, most of us numb our vulnerability, try to make everything that is uncertain certain, go to a place of “I’m right, you’re wrong, shut up” and default to blame as a way to discharge the pain and discomfort of being imperfect or different.
#4. Choose to be Genuine
What differentiates the Perfect Imperfect? The genuine excel at being themselves and being as good as they can be. “They shine, they glean and they glow like they’ve swallowed the moon,” as described by Caroline McHugh, author of Never Not a Lovely Moon. They uncompromisingly don’t disguise their differentness.They don’t manipulate the easy-manipulatable. They’re more honest, perception-free, self-assured, adaptive, possibilities-driven and joyous. And in the same way that they openly reveal and celebrate their true selves, they encourage the struggling, the invisible and the targets of intolerance to be uniquely, fabulously and authentically remarkable.
#5. Choose Nonconformity/Non-Groupthink
What differentiates the Perfect Imperfect? They combat crowd conformity through resistance to and detachment from culture-bound group rules that hurt the struggling, the invisible and the targets of intolerance. Conforming is a human tendency and not only under extraordinary societal pressure. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Noam Shpancer, “Human beings are herd animals. We survive only in highly coordinated groups. Individually, we are designed to pick up social cues, coordinate and align our behavior with those around us. Recent research has shown that social disapproval provokes the brain’s danger circuits. Conformity soothes.” (You Are a Conformist (That Is, You are Human), Psychology Today, 2010.) Ironically, the Perfect Imperfect also seek out allies because they too are driven by a type of conformity, but specific to philosophies, mindsets and practices that uplift rather than tear down, damage or destroy “the different”.
Thought Provokers: In life and in work, with all of our society-deemed imperfections and differences, we have the opportunity to: 1) become the Perfect Imperfect; 2) grow our leaders and employees into becoming the Perfect Imperfect; 3) positively influence the next generation of leaders and children so they become the Perfect Imperfect; and 4) STOP discrimination and intolerance. What are YOU SPECIFICALLY DOING to become the Perfect Imperfect and to model the way by STOPPING workplace discrimination and intolerance?