Are We Stuck in a Fixed Mindset?

Doña Quixote here, back charging at windmills.  I have been enjoying a conversation with my BC360 colleague Len Bernat on my last post about CRT.  He gave me food for thought that I figured I’d share here.

I think/hope/wonder if we can agree that the media sensationalizes words.  Surely, we can agree on that, regardless of our media leaning?

Those words become labels that we fling as weapons against those who we know lean differently.  Weapons tend to make us humans a wee bit defensive, so we lash back.  And so it goes.

One thing that is different about the conversation with Len, who I suspect leans a bit differently than I do, is that we share mutual respect because we are both Marines.  That shared experience makes me want to listen harder to what he says, because I trust that he is coming from a place of mutual respect.  I sense he feels the same.

So, when I ranted about CRT last week, Len jumped in with thoughtful comments about his personal experience as a Marine.  He pointed out that bias goes in many directions, not always in a racist direction.  Man, I agree with that, having seen my gender impact how I am treated over the years.

My first thought when I first read his comment was, “Oh boy, here we go,” and I started lacing my virtual boxing gloves.  I read it again.  And I realized that he was sharing an experience that made him the person he is today; an experience that framed his perspective on life, relationships, and bias.

I’ve become so used to putting on the ole’ boxing gloves that I had to shake my head for a moment and realize that I didn’t have to do that.  This was a conversation with adults who, even though we don’t know each other personally, share a sense of mutual respect.


I am losing energy and interest in whiplash conversations.  But at the same time, I feel a deep, visceral need to talk about this “stuff.”  I so hate avoiding conversations with individuals, known and virtual, that throw definitions, articles, books, videos, etc. back at me to prove their point about why I am wrong.

Then, of course, I have to hold up my end of the bargain and go looking for definitions, articles, books, videos, etc. that prove my point.

And on and on it goes.

What are we really proving?

One of those whiplash conversations pointed me toward Thomas Sowell’s 2005 book Black Rednecks and White Liberals.  I bought it and I’m reading it.  I probably wouldn’t have indulged, but I have always respected Thomas Sowell even though my personal ideology has shifted lately.

I’ve only read a bit, but it is fascinating.  It is well researched and well presented.  It’s interesting that the book was published during the Bush administration, making the point that this back-and-forth dialogue about racism is ongoing.

I’ll finish it, and it will sit on my bookshelf next to Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste.  Caste is incredibly well researched as well and peppered with personal stories about the author’s own experience.  But Wilkerson draws a different conclusion from that drawn by Sowell.

When I suggest reading Isabel Wilkerson, I hear the author called a “race-baiter trying to drive the wedge deeper.”  She definitely is trying to make a point – there’s no denying that.  Yet, are there facts and even, perhaps, conclusions that she draws that are worthy of being heard?  I think there are. Are there facts and conclusions that Sowell will make that I will respect?  I’m pretty sure there will be.

But by labeling Wilkerson a race-baiter without reading her content – not just Googled quotes and Wikipedia – but her facts, interpretation, reasoning, and the mental process that led to her conclusion, one is missing the opportunity to learn, ponder and perhaps understand.

Sowell’s interpretation, reasoning, and mental processes led him to a different conclusion, but it is worthy of being heard and pondered.

Who’s right?  Facts are facts, right? 

Sowell’s book contains facts.  Wilkerson’s book contains facts.  Date, actions, events probably happened, maybe even the same dates, actions, and events are cited in both books.

But what creates an article or book is the conclusion drawn around those facts.

Sowell disputes a conclusion that systemic racism is built into America’s psyche.  Wilkerson promotes that systemic racism exists in our country.  They can use the same set of facts yet come to very different conclusions.  Why?

Their conclusions differ because of their experience, their values, their history, their perspective, and possibly even the part of the country they are from.  Is one or the other wrong?  How could both perspectives have a certain “rightness” to them when they are so totally different?

Maybe the discussion points lie deeper than the title, the book Introduction or the Google abstract.  Maybe the deeper dive is where the real conversation can take place.  We may still disagree at the macro, but we may find respect for another’s conclusion.

Back to the Concept of Mutual Respect

I so value the discussion with Len that I mentioned earlier is because he was willing to say he could see where I was coming from.  He’s coming from a different place than I, but he was open to a dialogue.

When we hide behind labels and leanings, and don’t give another person the sense that there was anything of value in what they said, well, that’s when the virtual boxing gloves come out.

And the one side cites an article that the other doesn’t read and comes back with an article that the original person doesn’t read.  And we are stuck in our fixed mindset with no hope of finding anything in common.

Carol Dweck’s theory of fixed and growth mindsets is quite relevant here.  But to experience a growth mindset, we have to give up a little of our own perspective in search of someone else’s.

Is that worth doing?  What happens if we don’t?

We no longer read facts and threads of reasoning, we read conclusions. And God forbid we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and consider that someone with a different leaning might actually have a point.

I get that.  I resist acknowledging a point because I don’t want someone to go, “See, I’m right about this so I’m right about everything.”  A bit of hyperbole there, but I think you get what I mean.

While Len and my mutual respect was enhanced by our Marine Corps experience, perhaps it is possible to use our shared humanity as a source of mutual respect.

What do you think?  Could we take off the boxing gloves, share our stories, learn from each other and get to a place of respect?

Doña Quixote signing off here, clinging to the hope that we aren’t as far apart as it feels like we are.


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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  1. Your post made me thing of one of the LI posts by Dr. Benise Berry, who says that when people throw weapons at you, step aside. Yes, we want to string up the boxing gloves but it is not a rule that we must. We can just step aside. You did that with Len, Carol, and it probably felt good enough that you will do it again – perhaps it doesn’t take another Marine to make the conversation worth while.

    But I loved reading your post on CRT and the conversation in the comments. That is why I joined BC360 – to open my input channel to alternative view points promoted by people, not SoMe or news organizations with other agendas.

    • Hi Charlotte, and thank you for your kind words, but it was the way that Len phrased his response to my post that allowed me to back off, and I appreciate that.

  2. Thank you, Carol, for your kind words. You are right in all that you said. In our earlier discussion, I just was trying to raise the point that mean people, regardless of race, gender, religion, etc., will be mean people. And neither of us went to calling each other names or quickly putting on a label on the other because I valued your opinions and wanted you to value mine. It worked – we talked – we learned – we took the time to understand each other’s point of view – and so we grew as a human being. Now, if we can get others on board, wow, we could once again be the nation we should be. Thanks, again, my friend.

salon 360°