Meaningful Connections

I don’t know what I was thinking when I chose “networking” as a competency to develop this year for my job. Did I set myself up for failure? An unabashed introvert, I am not good at networking. Talking to strangers at a business conference makes me uncomfortable. I do not have the gift of gab. Connecting with people for the selfish purpose of getting ahead professionally is not attractive to me.

My company offers free LinkedIn courses so I watched a video on Creating Personal Connections, taught by John Ullmen, PhD. Ullmen began by describing personal connections as the flow of energy between people. He said that being uncomfortable is not a bad thing. It can help to reframe social anxiety as excitement. Connecting with others is an opportunity to make things better, to shine your light on others.

Ullmen gave advice on what to think, how to feel, and what to do before an interaction. First, observe your thoughts. Send silent positive intent to the other person, which will set the stage for rapport. Go into the interaction with curiosity about the other person. Your goal is learn how you are connected. Although we may appear unconnected to others on the surface, we can connect to others on the deep.

Secondly, choose in advance how you are going to feel about the person. Make the choice to like them. Perhaps they remind you of someone you really like.

Finally, prepare yourself physically for the interaction. Pay attention to your body language. Smile and adjust your posture.

It is customary when greeting another person to ask: how are you? Ullmen says to avoid the generic “I’m fine” response. Instead, respond genuinely (not by sharing your aches and pains). Share something meaningful that happened to you in the last 24 hours. Use two sentences to respond. “I’m great. I just heard a good story about…”

Ullmen also suggested syncing up your conversation with the other person. At the moment you begin a conversation, the other person has something on their mind. Try to align yourself with them.

Ullmen recommended using the E.M.P.A.T.H.Y.® approach to communicating, based on an acronym developed by Helen Reiss. (To learn more, watch her Power of Empathy TEDTalk.)

Eye contact – I see you
Muscles of facial expression
Posture – conveys connection
Affect – expressed emotion
Tone of voice
Hearing the whole person, keeping your curiosity open
Your response to the feelings of others (align yourself)

Ullmen also suggested that you create personal connections by learning about the other person’s strengths, goals, and interests (SGI’s). Ask what they like to do outside of work. Share more of yourself by talking about things that are personally meaningful. What are you thankful for? Share a treasured memory.

Ullmen approached networking from an angle that is much more appealing to me. I enjoy deep, meaningful conversations. I like getting to know other people. So I’m going to stop thinking of networking as necessary but distasteful and focus on making meaningful connections.

How am I? I’m great. Today a talkative little boy at church hugged me and said I love you.

Pillars of Caste: Dehumanization and Stigma

Isabel Wilkerson rightly described the sixth pillar of caste systems, Dehumanization and Stigma, as a war against the truth, a war against what the eyes can see. It is easy to recognize other members of the human species. Yet human beings have used ethnicity and meaningless physical differences to deprive other fully human beings of the benefits of being fully human.

Dehumanization is the denial of full humanness in others and the cruelty and suffering that accompanies it.

Wikipedia

Dehumanization allows the the perpetrator to avoid the stab of conscience that should come with being cruel to another person. If the marginalized group is seen not as the humans they clearly are but as something less than human, then it becomes easy to justify treating them inhumanely.

David Livingstone Smith says that “thinking of humans as less than human paves the way for atrocity.” Yes, it leads to the horrifying atrocities of slavery and genocide.

The Holocaust epitomized dehumanization. Nazi Germany made Jews their scapegoats, blaming them for the country’s troubles. Their heads were shaved and they were stripped of their clothes, their jewelry, their identities. The bodies of prisoners were tattooed with numbers. They were starved. Their bodies were used for experiments without their consent. They were systematically exterminated, like vermin.

What’s most disturbing about the Nazi phenomenon is not that the Nazis were madmen or monsters. It’s that they were ordinary human beings.

David Livingstone Smith

What’s most disturbing about the enslavement of Africans is that white slave owners were not madmen or monsters. They were ordinary human beings. Slaves were stripped of their given names. Their bodies did not belong to them; they were auctioned off like cattle. Children were taken from their mothers at a young age because they were just another commodity to be sold and put to work. Slaves were not allowed to learn to read. They were not even free to express normal human emotions.

Wilkerson noted that it is difficult to dehumanize an individual but if you dehumanize a group, you dehumanize the individuals in that group. When we dehumanize other people, we deprive them of human qualities like intelligence or personality. When we dehumanize, we deny others their human dignity. When we dehumanize a group of individuals, they become nameless, faceless scapegoats.

When we dehumanize others, we separate ourselves from our own humanity. We stop feeling what humans should feel when another person suffers.

Wilkerson didn’t write about how stigma is used to uphold caste systems. Wikipedia defines social stigma as “the disapproval of, or discrimination against, an individual or group based on perceivable social characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other members of a society.”

Blacks have been freed from the dehumanization of slavery but they have not escaped the stigma of being Black in America. Laura Cathcart Robbins wrote an article, A White Woman Told Me She Doesn’t ‘Think Of’ Me As Black. When a white woman said that to Robbins, she thought to herself: Do you imagine that affluence trumps race out there in the real world? Because honestly, it is the other way around. Despite her success, Robbins has been stigmatized and called nigger because she is black.

Even people who are not of African descent are not free from the stigma of being a person of color in America. Amelia Zachry, an immigrant from Malaysia, wrote about a racist incident she experienced at a restaurant in Kentucky: A Man Spit On My Toddler And Called Her The N-Word. He walked away, “oblivious to the inaccuracy of the insult.” Zachry did not retaliate against the man, saying “I would have been the angry Black woman who doesn’t even self-identify as Black.” Does it matter that she doesn’t even identify as Black? Of course not. People who do identify as Black do not deserve to be treated as subhuman.

It is disturbing to read about the cruelties and atrocities that result when human beings see other human beings as less than human. It disturbs me because I am fully human and have the capacity to empathize. But I think it is important to face the horrific things human beings have done to each other (and continue to do to each other) so we don’t forget our capacity for evil. It starts with treating someone as “other.” It starts with blaming and shaming and stigmatizing.

In this war against the truth of what the eyes can see and what the heart can feel if we let it, be the one who defends the dignity of fellow human beings.

Packing up to move

Whenever I have dreams with a common theme, I ponder the meaning. I used to have recurring dreams about climbing. Whether it was a staircase or a steep hill, the higher I climbed, the narrower or more insecure the foothold. I eventually concluded that my dreams reflected anxiety about pursuing my goals.

Recently, I’ve been dreaming a lot about moving. The dreams seem strange to me because my husband and I moved about 20 months ago. I didn’t have these dreams when we first moved. Why am I dreaming about moving now? Moving to another state was definitely unsettling, but we’re now comfortably settled into our home. The newness has worn off. Life doesn’t feel weird anymore. We don’t plan to move again. We were in our last home for 27 years. So why do I keep dreaming about moving?

When I searched for information on dreams about moving, I didn’t find an explanation that fit my situation. Dreams about moving can be a sign of instability. They may reveal a desire for freedom or independence. They may represent the end of something or the beginning of something.

  • dreams about moving may signify a desire to change our circumstances
  • dreams about moving may signify an ending or a beginning
  • dreams about moving may show you are overwhelmed and want to get away from the pressures of life
  • dreams about moving could indicate you are going through an inner transformation

My dreams have been about packing for a move and not about the move itself. I am always organizing stuff. The dreams are never about me and my husband moving. My siblings and my dad are in my dreams. In one of my dreams, I went into a room where a lot of mom’s things were stored. I searched the room for some specific thing I wanted to remember her by and I couldn’t find it. I found a pretty vase that I liked but my nephew wanted it.

Missing my family. Feeling unsettled. Wanting to get everything organized and ready for a move.

When I was a kid, we moved 13 times by my count. I believe there were financial reasons for some of our moves – cheaper rent? Closer to dad’s job? Mom moved us several times after the divorce. I have often thought that she wanted to move to change her circumstances. A new environment would make everything better. Every time we moved, mom quickly turned our house into a home. But frequent moving definitely made my childhood feel unstable, like I had no control.

We moved 20 months ago because I was tired of living in a suburb of a big city with too much traffic. I wanted to live closer to nature. The desire to move was a persistent longing that I couldn’t ignore, even though I crave stability. We moved the day after we buried my father. That was traumatic. I’m a planner but you can’t plan these things.

I am comfortably settled in my new home but I feel unsettled at the same time. It’s no wonder that I feel unsettled. I left friends behind when we moved. I miss them. I transitioned to part-time work this summer but it hasn’t been a smooth transition. My replacement can’t fill my shoes.

Perhaps my dreams are about transition and my desire to get some control over the changes.

Getting old is a huge transition. We lose the ones we love. My mom and dad are both gone. My husband’s parents are both gone. My oldest sibling is 62; the youngest 45. I worry about losing my husband someday. I don’t want to lose any more loved ones but unless I die first, more loss is inevitable.

So I remind myself that God is in control. He is with me wherever I go. He comforts me.

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Photo by Michal Balog on Unsplash

Pillars of Caste: Occupational Hierarchy

Isabel Wilkerson began her discussion of the fifth pillar of caste systems by comparing the bottom tier to a mudsill. The mudsill, or “sill plate,” is the first layer of wood installed on top of the foundation wall. The floors and walls and everything else that makes a house are built on top of the mudsill.

In a caste system, the mudsill is the bottom caste that everything else rests upon.

Isabel Wilkerson, Caste

Wilkerson quoted James Henry Hammond, a U.S. senator from South Carolina, who said (in 1858): “In all social systems, there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill.” Hammond described this low class as “the mud-sill of society.” He said that blacks are an inferior race and that being made slaves was actually an elevation over the status “in which God first created them…”

Hammond was a monster. But as Wilkerson noted, he gave voice to the economic reasoning behind a caste system that was initially based on slavery. Well into the twentieth century, Blacks did the hard, dirty, menial work that Whites didn’t want to do.

As Wilkerson wrote in chapter four of Caste, this is a long-running play. “The actors wear the costumes of their predecessors and inhabit the roles assigned to them…The roles become sufficiently embedded into the identity of the players that the leading man or woman would not be expected so much as to know the names or take notice of the people in the back, and there would be no reason for them to do so. Stay in the roles long enough, and everyone begins to believe that the roles are preordained, that each cast member is best suited by talent and temperament for their assigned role, and maybe for only that role, that they belong there and were meant to be cast as they are currently seen.”

It makes me sad to think about the millions of Black bodies and souls abused by the American caste system. It is a shame that so much human potential has been squandered because of occupational discrimination. I feel for Blacks who have been denied equal opportunities because of our caste system.

When I think about some of the jobs I had before I earned my degree, I am very grateful that I was not pigeonholed into a role that didn’t fit my talents and interests. Even though I was poor, no one expressed doubt that I could be anything I wanted to be.

While more roles are open to Blacks today, thanks in part to the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, progress has been very slow. Blacks are still underrepresented in managerial or white-collar jobs. Whites still act surprised when they hear that a black person is enrolled at an elite university or that a Black person occupies a role dominated by whites.

My company and many others have launched diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in response to the racial unrest of 2020. I hope that these efforts bear fruit. I commit to listening to people of color and to acknowledging the ways Whites have kept Blacks on the lowest rung of the ladder.

Why aren’t black employees getting more white-collar jobs?

Barriers for Black Professionals

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Photo by Josh Miller on Unsplash

Lie low and exalt God

This is a lesson from my pastor’s sermon on Luke 10:1-24.

We like to see people get the credit they deserve. We don’t like to see anyone take credit for someone else’s efforts. Sometimes we should give credit to God, unlike the seventy-two disciples Jesus sent out ahead of him.

Jesus sent out the seventy-two with instructions about what to take, where to stay, what to say, and even how to respond if they were not received well. He told them to take no money or belongings and to stay in the same house the whole time, eating and drinking what the hosts provided. Why these odd instructions? Pastor Andrew said that God was giving them a “lay low” message. They were to take only what they needed and were not to draw attention to themselves.

When the seventy-two returned from their journey, they said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

In other words, the glory belongs to God!

As my pastor put it, God is lifted high when we lie low. God is exalted when we serve him with humility! When we focus on ourselves, when we seek attention and glory for ourselves, we are headed in the wrong direction.

When our focus moves to ourselves and how God is using us, we are headed the wrong direction. 

GotQuestions.org

Who were the seventy-two disciples in Luke 10? We aren’t told any of their names. Their names are not important. The important thing is that their names were written in heaven!

I confess that I am proud of myself when I do something good for others. Sometimes I even give in to the temptation to toot my own horn.

Lord Jesus, help me to be humble, to think of myself less. Thank you for reminding me to focus on you and to give the glory to you. I rejoice because my name is written in heaven!

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash