What kind of world do you want?

“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”

I believe it was Malcom X who coined this provocative and relevant thought (and if my citation is inaccurate, I’m sure Malcom X said this at some point, while living this philosophy as his truth). And it’s so accurate, right?

I am obsessed with great content, and especially when that content assists in creating real and raw perspective. For example, when Kerry Washington accepted the Vanguard Award at the GLAAD Awards this past weekend. Pause and listen to her speech. This speech is incredibly valuable, and something which should be replayed over and over – there is a lot more we can be doing, and a lot more inclusion we should be observing. I’m curious to see how Kerry continues the dialogue.

Outside of this speech, and, of course, the previous posts I have used to articulate my thoughts on activism or the current reality in my home state of Oklahoma, I want to pause and show some appreciation for my alma mater, the University of Central Oklahoma. This past week, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at UCO launched a campaign, advertising The Tunnel of Oppression, which is a phenomenal simulation to help students better understand privilege and oppression, and how these concepts impact everyone. Check out the posters below:

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Asians..

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Black Men...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Disability...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Muslims...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Gay Men...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Native Americans...

First, I want to thank these brave students for “coming out” in these posters. Whereas many people of color are already “out” as noted by race (being, “color blind,” is not a thing, and all of that), sitting with these search items is a heavy and intense moment – a reality faced by any oppressed or marginalized individual. Next, I want to highlight that these, “Societal assertions,” are very real and are played out for people every single day. And this should not be a surprise. In fact, if you gasped at the items listed in the search bars above, I challenge you to think about your surroundings a bit more critically. This is certainly the case following the OU SAE incident, and has been a theme in a lot of the conversations I have had with friends and colleagues now two weeks after the release of the video. We must challenge a little harder, and push a little deeper.

And this starts with inclusion. How are you integrating inclusion into your conversations and into your personal and professional engagements? As Luke Visconti argues, and I tend to agree, it is so much more than simply asking (expecting) baristas to talk about race in the 20 seconds they have with a customer at Starbucks. If we want inclusion, diversity, equity, multicultural understanding, etc. to be something that is espoused and enacted, it must be something that is integrated through every fiber of an operation. As Visconti points out, it must start from the top (and in the most, see-someone-to-be-someone, kind of way).

One year ago, I was a cluster facilitator at LeaderShape, a leadership retreat for college students. The university where I was working did a campaign to advertise this opportunity, and passed around various flyers reading, “I see a world where ______.” Individuals could write in what kind of world they see. For example, “people have clean water,” “cancer is fully treatable,” “we find peace,” and, “everyone has a puppy,” were a few of my favorites. When I filled out my own flyer to be hung on my office door, I thought long and hard. What kind of world did (do) I want to see?

And, today, I ask you this same question, among others:

How do you see the world? What kind of world do you want? What kind of contribution can you and will you be willing to make? Do you dare?

Engaging,

Michael

*I see a world with liberty and justice for all.

Our Gathered Soul

The soul is a fascinating thing. Some people want to save it, some hope to protect it, and many aim to preserve it. Ultimately, the soul is something that we’ll never actually see, and continues to be a mystery in both make and model. This weekend, and in the midst of a powerful leadership camp-like experience, I had the privilege of working with a student who revealed to me her philosophy on the human soul. This particular student’s belief is that when each of us our born, our soul is divided up into millions of little pieces, all to be gathered over the course of our life.

Meeting new people, traveling, losing and loving, break ups, television shows, family, strangers, movies that make us ugly cry, learning new knowledge about ourselves or others, the past, the future, etc., the list goes on and on – these moments all possess little pieces of our soul, and during and following these moments, we gather that missing piece and add it to our already acquired bunch. Deep, right? Yes. And powerful.

This is, by far, one of the biggest ‘ah-ha’ moments I have had in a long time, and has been resonating with me since the initial conversation. I buy into this philosophy so very much, and am still in a state of mind-explosion over discovering how much this connects to my life and the future I see for myself.

Though I have no clue what the soul is exactly (or who, or why, or when, for that matter…how, too, I guess), I do believe it assists in shaping who we are and who we are meant to be. Let’s take *Simon, for example (*The name Simon is used in place of my former classmate’s real name). When I was in elementary school, Simon was one of my classmates from Kindergarten through 6th grade. We were two of around five students who stayed at our school, and without moving from military base to military base. Simon had severe learning disabilities, and was never fully present in class or the social experiences involved in elementary school. Because of this, many made it their mission to pick on and tease Simon. Knowing I, too, was a bit “different,” I made it my mission to make Simon feel like he belonged. I constantly stood up for Simon over the course of our time in elementary school, and tried to include and involve Simon in most aspects of life. Courage, friendship, and acceptance were all part of this growth.

A few years ago I was organizing some boxes of the old stuff still at my parent’s house (I’m a packrat, y’all, it’s bad), and I came across some yearbooks from elementary school. As I was flipping through one from my younger years, I saw a note from Simon, which said the following:

“Michael, thank you for being my best friend.

Love, Simon”

For some reason, I never noticed or remembered that gesture, and it hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it. To this day, I have no clue where Simon is, nor how he is doing, however I always hope that the moments in which we were able to connect were impacting for him in some capacity. Going to school with Simon was something that helped me fully understand the reality that people matter. It’s often the smallest gestures that can make the biggest impact(s). Thus, soul particles gathered. Many soul particles gathered.

Simon aside, people are a big part of how we gather our soul. Again, people matter, and experiences with others are are gold. I had a mentor tell me a few years ago that saying, “Yes,” is essential, and that there was true benefit from gathering as many opportunities, experiences, and environments as possible. I think this might be why I love my SUV so much. Knowing that he (Huck) has been with me all over the United States, in times where I have sobbed, in times where I have endured some “coming of age moments,” and even in times where I have weathered both physical and emotional barriers, my vehicle holds (held) many pieces of my soul. Furthermore, I’m sure my car would also tell you that some of the musical moments I have had in that enclosure were some of the most soulful (no…well, yes, pun intended) to date. Let’s actually take soul music, for example. I think the reason this type of music is so impacting and “deep” (in whatever form, ‘deep,’ means for each of us) is because of the life moments and depths those who engage have been through. You have to go through some shit to dig up some shit, right? Soul particles.

People often tell me that I have had too many different life experiences for someone my age (to which I respond, No, I’ve just lived many lives), however I think it’s more so that I have an old soul. I have moved, lived, taken it all in, experimented, and continue to push myself for more. And going back to my student’s phenomenal and progressive way of thinking mentioned at the beginning of this post, I am and have been collecting those perfectly-me pieces of my soul. I am becoming more and more myself, and love every second of that. So, what does all this mean for me (you, us) today, Michael, you might be wondering?

I am just coming back from seven days of being at a powerful leadership retreat where students were pushed to explore their life-visions, and also who they are at their core. This has me thinking of both them and myself, and what exactly I need in continuing to inspire myself and others. Whether you’re an, “old soul,” “good soul,” or “lost soul,” it’s time to open doors, release windows, dig deeper, and dream big. You owe it to yourself, and moreover, you owe it to those little pieces of your soul that are waiting on you to seek and conquer. So, what are you waiting for?

Gathering,

Michael

Leadership Camp & My Quest to Connect the Disconnected

So, I have a confession. Roughly two weeks before any facilitation experience, and leading right up to a report date/time, I have a moment (several sometimes), one where I get really close to backing out of the opportunity. I freak out. I let my nerves get the best of me, and have a period of weakness where I think I will either A. not connect with students and/or co-facilitators, or B. completely fail at inspiring students/young adults to do whatever it is that the curriculum is guiding.

My confidence may fool you, however this happens almost every single time I am set to facilitate or lead a group through some high-level leadership or processing experience. And like clockwork, it happened this past weekend as I prepared for LeaderShape, a six-day intensive leadership retreat for undergraduate students in higher education. Thankfully, I did not drop out of the experience (and never do), however last night, I had a moment that affirmed a feeling of being exactly where I was supposed to be. Upon meeting my small group “Family Cluster” of 11 students, my opening note was that I believe everything happens for a reason. Furthermore and in experiences like this, there is a reason we are all (our small group and other small groups) in this (any) specific environment together. Ideally that reason will reveal itself at some point, however the truth is we often do not realize the power of “that (or any, for that matter) moment” until weeks, months, and/or even years later. Needless to say, the reason is there and, in due time, it will reveal itself.

Several years ago I had the privilege of facilitating another leadership camp-like retreat, and during that experience, questioned the process so much so that I was unable to truly invest in the powerful moment that was happening all around me. I have since learned that I was in that particular moment for the mere reason that, in the future, I needed to trust the process.

Trust the process.

How often do we allow ourselves to do that, and in whatever facet of life it arises? One of the most inspirational people in my life once told me, “Connect the disconnected.” She said this to me in the context of the “general member” of an organization or company (or work environment), however today this is resonating with me in a way that reflects the disconnected parts of my self and my own leadership journey. Trusting the process and connecting the disconnected are valuable ideas that are aiding me on this goal of bettering my self-confidence through more thought-out ideals.

What parts of your life are disconnected? Are you trusting the process? Do you even know or see or feel the process? Is “checking our confidence issues” a reality? Another day of leadership camp is ahead, which means more reflection and processing for me both internally and externally. I am present and accounted for, ready and eager for more learning.

Connecting,

Michael