Need to Have a Conversation About an Important Topic? Watch a Movie!

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“Wasn’t that a great movie?” I asked the woman who had been sitting one seat away from me in the theatre. “Yes!” she quickly replied. “I really enjoyed it. I could see this movie winning Best Picture at the Oscars,” I said. She agreed.

That movie is The Green Book. If you haven’t yet seen the movie, I highly recommend that you see it on the big screen. Everyone needs to see this movie.

The woman who I struck up a conversation with – and her friend – are African-American. My husband and I are Caucasian. We all agreed that everyone needs to see this movie to be reminded of the history of our American culture, and to give voice to centuries-old issues that we face to this day, like racism and inequality.

I could have easily walked past her after the movie ended. Instead, I chose to engage in dialogue. Pretty soon, her friend joined in, then two more African-American women, then another Caucasian couple. We formed a circle in the hallway outside the theatre, sharing our thoughts and feelings about the movie, and about our related life experiences.

When I served as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in graduate school more than two decades ago, the professor overseeing our Communication 101 course created the class syllabus which included the viewing and discussion of the classic 1957 movie, Twelve Angry Men.

I remember the conversation within my two classes, and how shocked I was by how little the students knew about the topic, about our justice system, power, persuasion, ethics and the decision-making process. It got me thinking: If you need to have an important conversation about a sensitive topic, let a movie guide you through the process. 

You see, watching a movie with a diverse group of people, like your co-workers, creates a safe space for open dialogue because you are first observing the story, then responding to its content and lessons. It provides a good starting point for a conversation. Most companies and organizations invest great time and money in developing leadership, management and diversity programs. A great way to enhance any one of these programs is to include one or several “required watching” movies that spark open dialogue.

Until this movie, I had never heard of the real-life Green Book. The African-American women knew, though. One woman shared her childhood experience. She and her siblings were traveling with their mother in the Deep South in the late 1950s. They arrived at a Holiday Inn late at night in search of lodging. Unfortunately, blacks were not welcome at that particular hotel. Fortunately, the woman on duty secretly accommodated the family by offering a small room on the first floor if the woman’s family could be checked out before 4:00 a.m. The mother agreed and was grateful for the kindness of the night desk clerk, so grateful in fact that for the rest of her life, she patronized Holiday Inns whenever she traveled. She never forgot the generosity of that night clerk.

The other Caucasian man shared a story about his Army days, traveling through a small town in the South with his fellow soldiers on furlough and the racism that he witnessed because one of the men in his troop was black. With some finessing, he and his Army buddies were able to get their friend the train ticket that he needed so he could keep traveling with the troop to their final destination.

What started as a simple question to a fellow moviegoer had now grown into a full-blown, enriching dialogue among eight strangers. Each one of us had different backgrounds, histories, and lived experiences, yet we found a way to look at and talk about the common themes in the movie: Compassion. Kindness. Protection. Equality. Friendship.

When you listen, and when you value others’ perspectives, you open up your heart to hear and acknowledge their voices.

What movie could you watch with your team? What conversation could you initiate that could open eyes, enlighten, and even change perspectives?

What Jon Stewart Teaches Us About Power Positioning

Jon Stewart, Comedy Central

Jon Stewart, Comedy Central

When Jon Stewart left Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, people were wondering what he was going to do. The answer is simple: He is doing good. Listen up, professionals, and learn from Stewart, who is using his positioning power to give others a voice.

On the December 7, 2015 Daily Show, host Trevor Noah welcomed back Stewart, who is bravely tackling a serious issue before Congress right now: the fight to continue funding for first responders of the 9/11 tragedy through the James Zadroga Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act. H.R. 1786 “amends the Public Health Service Act to extend the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program Fund.  Watch the full episode here.

Stewart and a video crew accompanied first responders to Capitol Hill, visiting the offices of senators, most of whom were (conveniently) out, unavailable or in meetings. With every rejection from Senate staff, Stewart pushed on, heading to the next senator’s office, determined to let first responders’ voices be heard. There were no altercations, no harsh words, just a message that needed to be heard. The only leader who took the time to talk with Stewart and first responders was Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who later signed the act.

For two decades, I have coached professionals on the importance of power positioning. I define power positioning as “The art of putting yourself in a place that you want to be, that maximizes your talents, skills and contacts.” Stewart demonstrated power positioning in action on Capitol Hill. In his Daily Show appearance, he reached millions of loyal Daily Show viewers, encouraging them to contact their senators and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He asked them to Tweet using #worstresponders. He recognized that he had the clout and power to raise his voice and raise the collective consciousness of Americans. Political leaders across the country can take pointers from Jon Stewart’s integrity and high level of professionalism. It comes at a time when lives have been shattered and communities are still rebuilding from devastation. It’s time to do the right thing.

All too often, you can easily become passive, detached or uninvolved in the issues of your community, your workplace and the world. The next time you rationalize why you shouldn’t get involved, think again. Your voice could make a difference in someone else’s quality of life.

Thank you, Jon Stewart, for elevating our awareness about this important issue. You continue to be a positive role model for other leaders. You inspire and motivate us all to do a better job of putting other people’s needs ahead of our own.

Is It Any Wonder, Stevie?

StevieWonderIs it any wonder that a blind man can show others how to open their eyes and see the world with compassion, joy and love? Acclaimed songwriter, singer and 22-time Grammy Award winner Stevie Wonder was honored recently for his musical genius spanning more than five decades. His messages of acceptance, understanding and love have taught generations to face inequality, injustice and indignity with unified strength and grace.

His honest interpretation of the world as he saw it encouraged people of color to stand up and let their voices be heard. To the audience of privilege and perfection, he exposed them to the reality of life in the city for the poor, the forgotten and the invisible. His music range, as a solo artist, is unparalleled. He wrote openly of indifference. He wrote of political action and justice. He wrote so eloquently of love, birth and renewal. He wrote songs of hope, light and possibilities.

I remember watching “Little Stevie Wonder” perform Fingertips on the Ed Sullivan Show when I was growing up. His passion for the music, his gyrations to the crisp notes flying from his harmonica made me stop and notice. He was just two years older than me, and already a force to be reckoned with. Nothing stopped him from sharing his musical messages with the masses. He remains one of the most beloved artists – and greatest crossover artists – of all time.

My husband, Mark, and I have shared a love of Stevie Wonder’s music over the decades of our relationship. To this day, Ribbon in the Sky remains my all-time favorite. Mark’s favorite (and he requests it at every event we attend that has a DJ) is Superstition. When we finished watching the CBS-TV broadcast on Monday night, I turned to Mark and said, “We need to play Stevie Wonder’s music more often!” He nodded in agreement.

There are so many lessons we can learn from Stevie Wonder. For me, the greatest lesson he has demonstrated: Lead by example. He is a man who has remained authentic throughout his entire life. He has shared his vision of a peaceful planet with millions of people around the world. He remains an inspiration to us all and a cherished national – and international – treasure. Rock on, Stevie!

 

Discipline Delivers A Voice

Viking Opera SingerOne year ago this month, I began this new journey called blogging. Prior to that, the word only was captured as an item on my rather large to do list. What brought it to life was discipline. Each week, I have written on a topic that is relevant to today’s professional. I’m still at it today.

Before I began the process, I engaged in a healthy debate with myself, asking questions like, “What are you going to say?” or “What do you have to say that’s different from everyone else?” The answer: Plenty.

During a conversation with my husband a few years ago, he asked the really big question: “What do you really want to do with your life?” I revealed a deep desire by responding, “I want my voice to be heard.” I didn’t know at that time exactly what those words meant. I also didn’t know that blogging would be a way for me to share my voice with the world.

We all have a voice inside of us that wants to be heard. A voice that is different from everyone else’s. A voice that is unique only to us. Our own voice. When we share our voice, we speak from the heart. Our voice can allow others to see our perspective, understand how we feel or open up the conversation. Our voice can be soft and gentle or loud and clear. Our voice can advocate for others or set ourselves free. Our voice can create positive change.

You have a voice. What is it that your voice wants to say? If you were to share your voice, what positive change could occur?

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