By John Dame and Kamran Loghman
With another contentious election behind us, how do we get back to being neighbors? How do we unify and strengthen our community despite our differences and disagreements?
Sawubona is an African Zulu greeting that means “I see you.” It has a long oral history, and it means more than our traditional “hello.” It says, “I see your personality, I see your humanity and I see your dignity.” In the African village context, where everyone knows one another, it’s an exceedingly powerful representation of welcoming and understanding.
Recently, a young woman was touring the battlefield at Gettysburg with a group of her friends. As she approached the Robert E. Lee Memorial a busload of men followed their guide to the monument. Immediately, the young woman felt uncomfortable. The men were wearing hunting outfits, some in camouflage. They wore ball caps and were a bit older than the ladies, who were stylishly dressed. Based on sight only, the young woman immediately connected the men to a political party and a set of beliefs that were different from hers. She also had been taught to be very careful around groups of men and saw them as unsafe.
When we spoke with her, she had already thought about her view of these men. Instead of fathers and sons, husbands and friends, she saw a set of beliefs that had no basis in fact. The young woman did not see them as happy or sad, getting over an illness, working on a relationship, or loving their kids and family. She saw them for what they wore and how they looked – and not for who they really were. We talked about why she failed to see them differently. Could it be the media that portrays groups with a very broad brush? Or does social media set us up to only see things and people we like?
We told her that we recently attended a retreat with psychologist Dr. Bill Crawford and a group of CEOs and their spouses. He discussed neuroscience with us. He suggested to us that our thoughts tend to live in that emotional “fight or flight” zone. When we react emotionally, it is hard to jump into the neocortex where we can think and reason. In that lower brain we react with anger, stress, adrenaline, frustration and cortisol. Our reactions and responses are quick and usually angry. The neocortex houses clarity, confidence, compassion, problem-solving and interpersonal skills. The young woman questioned why we don’t spend more time with our thoughts in the neocortex.
The reason is that our brain is wired for survival, and it is set up for self-protection. When we have a belief that things will hurt or injure us, we stay firmly rooted in the survival mode or the lower brain. This is where the concept of Sawubona can help. If we make small adjustments in our outlook and learn to really see each other as mortal and fragile beings worthy of dignity and respect, we can begin to see and function differently. In this way, our heightened emotions subside, and we begin to see things clearly and will create the potential to work and solve problems together.
Albert Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” So, a shift of outlook can bring understanding, respect and friendship. Finally, a dose of humility can truly bring people together, as no one is without fault. Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “When you point a finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you.” Humility, therefore, is not about thinking less of yourself, it is about thinking of yourself less. When we have humility, we are agile and flexible. When we are rigid, we are like a dried tree branch that breaks with the first wind.
We are reminded of a story about Abraham Lincoln’s respectful outlook toward others. Lincoln always saw himself as a servant of the people and the Constitution. Once, a White House servant went into the basement to fetch some supplies. He was surprised to find President Lincoln sitting on a bench, shining his boots. “Mr. President,” the servant said, “why are you shining your own boots?” Lincoln looked up and replied, “Whose boots should I be shining?”
CEO coach, executive team consultant and leadership strategist John Dame is the founder of Dame Management Strategies and the Evolution Leadership Academy and Conference.
One of the most sought-after experts in creativity, leadership and performance in the business community, Kamran Loghman is an executive development consultant at the largest computer, mobile phone and consumer electronics company in the world.