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Owning My Part in a Better Tomorrow

It’s a painful thing, to come face-to-face with your own breach in values and the price you’ve paid for not stepping into your courage when you needed to. For me, it was a single incident, probably eight years ago, and it still haunts me.

We cannot hide from ourselves.

When I lived in NY, we lived in a small village, just outside NYC. Beautiful older homes on tree-lined streets. It looked like a picture out of a Norman Rockwell painting. One day, when my mother-in-law was visiting, she saw something suspicious happening at our neighbor’s house next door. Two men had come to the door and knocked, and they were looking around suspiciously. Then one of them went to the back door and walked through the house and let the other guy in. She immediately told my husband what she had seen, he went to the house next door and, sure enough, there was a burglary in process! The police were called, they caught the guys, and our neighbors, who had been away, visiting family in India, were incredibly grateful as the robbers had their family heirlooms in their possession. My mother-in-law had saved the day! Yay!

Several weeks later, my son, who was probably eight at the time, was taking a piano lesson in our family room. The piano teacher, who had been standing behind my son watching him play, happened to look out the window and saw a guy peeking into the front window of the house across the street and was looking around. Then the guy disappeared into the back. I was sitting in the next room and he came and told me what he had seen, and I was incredulous! Oh my gosh! How dare they rob another one of our neighbors! I immediately went into action! My husband wasn’t home, so I wasn’t about to go over there and confront the perpetrator, and the piano teacher certainly wasn’t keen to go over there, so I called our “village police” and within two minutes they were on the scene.

No robber.

Our neighbor, who happened to be African American, had locked himself out. He was trying to get into his own home.

I felt horrible!! Ashamed! My good intentions came crashing down around me as I imagined what he must be feeling. What he must think. Would the same thing have happened if my white husband had locked himself out? Would someone have called the police? Part of me hopes they would have, given the recent burglaries in the neighborhood, and part of me would have been absolutely shocked.

Now, I know that I didn’t profile my neighbor and call the police because of the color of his skin. I had asked the piano teacher what the “suspect” had looked like and he said he couldn’t really tell. It was getting dark outside.

But where my breach in values came in is in the fact that I recognized how my neighbor must have felt when the police arrived, but I didn’t have the courage to talk with him. To apologize and explain I was trying to keep them safe. To own my mistake, regardless of my intentions.

We cannot hide from ourselves.

Last week I attended a BizCatalyst 360° event that focused on Moving Beyond the Racial Divide and when we were asked to think of a time when we have experienced racism, this came flashing into my mind in full color. I was filled with anguish and shame over my part in how my neighbor must have felt. Our village was a predominately white community and I imagine how horrible that must have been for him.

And my own feelings that I felt eight years ago were still as fresh and raw as if the situation had just taken place. I’ve been carrying them with me all this time.

When we’re in breach of our own values—of our brave—we feel it. It becomes a weight that we cannot put down. Even when our actions are understandable, no excuse can heal us of our own knowing. We know when we could have done better.

It is our disappointments in ourselves that rob us of our self-esteem.

I feel like, when it comes to talking about race, that I’m like a one-year-old, just learning how to speak. My whole life has been a not-knowing how to talk about it. Even though I’ve hundreds of dear friends of color, I’ve never discussed race and our different realities. It didn’t, somehow, feel appropriate. It felt like it was an off-limits topic. But I suspect it was mainly because of my own discomfort.

It’s been just in the past six months since so many in our country have had the courage to say “ENOUGH,” have I recognized the need for a new language, and have seen my own part in the problem. For in our not-knowing-how-to-talk-about-it, we do nothing. We hide from the truths that are all around us. I didn’t know the “right” way to talk about what had happened with my neighbor, so I did nothing.

I don’t know what his experience was because I didn’t have the courage to find out, but I know that I’ve been paying the price for my silence ever since. We cannot fully be our best, most authentic, and powerful selves when we’re carrying the weight of our regrets.

However awkwardly, we’ve got to work to talk to each other about the hard subjects. To make it safe for others to share their stories. To listen deeply. To tell ourselves hard truths. To own our part, whatever that might be. To take action.

I know I want to be a part of the solution, not the problem. If I want to see change, it starts with me.

And you.

Let’s start creating a better tomorrow by owning our part in creating a better today. One brave action at a time.

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Kimberly Davis
Kimberly Davishttps://www.braveleadershipbook.com/
An expert on authentic leadership, Kimberly Davis shares her inspirational message of personal power, responsibility, and impact with organizations across the country and teaches leadership programs world-wide; most notably, her program “OnStage Leadership” which runs in NYC and Dallas, TX. Additionally, Kimberly teaches for Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Cox School of Business’s Executive Education Program's Transformational Leadership Program and their Latino Leadership Initiative. She is also privileged to teach for the Bush Institute’s WE Lead Program (empowering female leaders from the Middle East). Kimberly is a TEDx speaker and her book, Brave Leadership: Unleash Your Most Confident, Authentic, and Powerful Self to Get the Results You Need, is the 2019 winner of the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for Business and Career; an Amazon Bestseller in Business Leadership, Business Motivation, and Self-Improvement, and Motivational Business Management; and was named as the number one book to read in Inc. Magazine’s “The 12 Most Impactful Books to Read in 2018,” with a cover-endorsement by best-selling author Daniel Pink.

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14 CONVERSATIONS

  1. Dear Kimberly,

    No wonder your renowned book ‘Brave Leadership’ is so revered.

    Knowing you, I cannot imaging your calling the police because of person’s color. Totally out of your inclusive character. The sad thing is, others could see it as indeed the opposite. Your experience of the next door neighbor would have put you on a subconscious alert. You did not over react but reacted as anyone would. You are ‘color-blind’, as I am.

    My kids were brought up to be ‘color-blind’. Not overtly ‘taught’ about the issue; being ‘taught’ can alert someone it the the issue. To this day, they are, bless them, color-blind.

    When at boarding school, there were students from many countries. We also had the privilege of being taught by an Indian teacher. He wore a turban and with great sensitivity unwound the turban and replaced it on his head to demonstrate the significance.

    In the city where I live there is zero overt prejudice. To an extent prejudice of any form can be handed down from parents.

    On a different type of prejudice, being brought up Jewish, I experienced prejudice; including being accused of killing Jesus. Apparently I ‘don’t look Jewish’ to coin a phrase presented to me. Or when the subject cam up at one time, I was told by one individual, your not one of ‘then’ are you. His prejudice was handed down from his parents.

    Kimberly, you have addressed an exceedingly sensitive issue with gently, but strong words. Linkedin is as fare as I am concerned (as is Bizcatalyst360) wonderfully ‘race/color blind’. We are civilized folk and would not tolerate such behavior. AS far as I am concerned everyone is the same. Everyone I meet on walks (friendly city!) I say hello, and have always done so; naturally and spontaneously. Sometimes chatted with someone; anyone. Race, gender, color, manner irrelevant. No conscious decision to engage. As a voluntary steward at an award winning I welcome visitors from all over the world and I just love engaging. I just love engaging with everyone.

    I love engaging with people; natural empathy. I am who I am.

    • You are a gift, Simon!! 100% heart. If you would have asked me for the duration of my life, up until the last six months, I would have absolutely said, “Yes! I’m color-blind!” And I think the SPIRIT behind that is absolutely beautiful and with the very best of intentions. I’ve also learned from my friends of color these past six months, that there really is no such thing as color-blindness, and that it can have unintended consequences, of which I had never considered before. Saying we’re color-blind often anesthetizes us to the experience of people of color. We don’t see how people are being treated differently. We become blind to our own privilege. I’m working to see and celebrate our differences, while keeping the spirit of what I had intended through my blindness alive – that we all are equally worthy of respect and dignity – that we all have value – that we all deserve freedom and protection from persecution – that we all are the same on the inside. I feel like I don’t know the “right” way to approach this, but I hunger to find it, which is better than assuming I know. I so appreciate you sharing your story, my friend. You are a gift.

  2. My dear Kimerly! The full-body goosebumps accompanying the last paragraph of your beautiful piece say it all! 👏💎👏

    “I was filled with anguish and shame over my part in how my neighbor must have felt. Our village was a predominately white community and I imagine how horrible that must have been for him. And my own feelings that I felt eight years ago were still as fresh and raw as if the situation had just taken place. I’ve been carrying them with me all this time. When we’re in breach of our own values—of our brave—we feel it. It becomes a weight that we cannot put down. Even when our actions are understandable, no excuse can heal us of our own knowing. We know when we could have done better.”

    I believe you’re being too harsh on yourself here and that you could have not done better my friend! Actually, you did THE PRINCIPLED THING TO DO my friend! No matter the race or age or gender or religion– you name it– of the “suspect”, the right thing to do is to call the police given the circumstances!

    What liberates us from the anguish, guilt, shame, and regret is basically destroying our own limiting beliefs after clearly seeing them, and admitting them in complete transparency and grace exactly as you did! 🤗

    When we do so, and even when our quick and sincere apologies to the hero of the story don’t lead to the expected result– which could be understandable being armed with the knowledge that people are carrying tons of flashbacks and emotional scars, we don’t feel any of those hard feelings. We listened to our integrity call and honored it. We were vulnerable, genuine, and took the risk of being rejected when apologizing for the incident. What comes out of it is none of our business!

    • I think you totally nailed it, Myriam. It was being out of integrity with myself that was the problem. Once I could actually own that, learn the lesson I needed to learn, it was easier to forgive myself and put it down. But until I could fully own it and take responsibility for it – even if it was only in telling myself the truth, it hijacked a part of me. I think that’s what happens when we’re not in integrity with ourselves. We can pretend and move on, but it’s still there. Only when we tell ourselves the hard truths can we be free.

  3. “We cannot fully be our best, most authentic, and powerful selves when we’re carrying the weight of our regrets.” So by telling your story here – by challenging yourself to behave differently, to act – are you able to put your regret down? Your share here probably helps further awaken many of us reading your piece. It did for me. I was involved in somewhat of a similar situation years ago – one that I also shared at Salon 360 – and didn’t know how to respond at the time. I was simply caught off guard and unfortunately had no basis of knowledge at the time to know how to respond. I want to believe that I will behave differently in the future.

    Thank you, Kimberly, for this heart-felt share and clarion call.

    • You know, Jeff, that’s a really good question. I think I still wish I would have done something differently, but in writing this piece, I was able to really get clear on the lesson I needed to learn and can allow myself a little grace. I think when we hide or bury these incidents from ourselves, or pretend they didn’t happen (nothing to see here!), which is what I essentially did, we can’t truly learn from them and the guilt or shame we feel if they surface (which at some point they will – we can’t hide from ourselves) becomes toxic. But in examining them and owning our part, we have an opportunity to understand ourselves, appreciate our own humanity, and behave differently. But the examining and owning part is crucial. Without it, I don’t think it’s possible to ever really move on. We become the sum of our behaviors.

  4. We can see that the largest share of your grief and shame is not in the actual act of calling the police, as that was the act of a caring neighbor… and I almost hope that if it were me trying to get into my house and my neighbors could not see that it is me, that they, too, would call the police… The great sin in your eyes is not owning it after it happened. There is no way to put a good face on it, and it’s fair to ask if the same thing would have happened if everything were the same except for your white husband trying to get into your house after locking himself out. And we see so much of what we don’t like and how we feel that it isn’t how we want to be. The shame meter is registering off the chart and we want to go back and change all of it. That you own it now and still feel that shame and embarrassment with it and felt the need to share it with all of us more than cancels the debt. What I think your greater point is, and why you shared this, is no matter where we stand, however brave we might feel, no matter how big a champion we might feel that we are for any cause, we are all flawed, we all suck at some time, we have all let people down, disappointed others and ourselves – but you grew from it. You might say that whatever punishment that you have inflicted upon yourself does not fit the crime… it’s just another reminder that sometimes we don’t get the “do-overs” that we all so desperately want in life.

    It really shows us how the world can be a place where a couple hundred bajillion “atta girls” can be wiped out by a single “oh shit.” You, in that moment were not who you wanted to be. But here you are, wearing that scarlet letter for all of us to see, and so the rubber really does meet the road, and you are walking the talk. Had you handled that moment better back then, would you really have been sensitized to seeing how easily some of us can fall into traps of not being kind, or not seeing someone, or blindly being a “pretty good Joe” most of the time… And Brave ain’t like that is it? You owned it now, and it is to our great benefit. Thank you for your example. We have to see interaction as precious and important and meaningful. Ain’t nothing is a throwaway thing. They all count. And you showed that even all these many years later, owning it can’t make it go away, but it can teach others. No one gets to go to their grave with a perfect batting average. It’s what those “outs” teach us that help us the next time we get to the plate. As long as we keep getting “at bats” we can make a difference. Keep swingin’,

    • Tom, sometimes I feel like you know me so well that it’s scary! We must have known each other in a past life or something. Yes, “ain’t nothing is a throwaway thing.” If that’s not the most perfect Tom quote ever, I don’t know what is. It’s important to me to be honest with myself so I can learn and be better. I also know I’m not alone in being a flawed human being – that we all get the privilege – and I want to give people permission to tell themselves their truths. Brave is anchored in us being real, first and foremost with ourselves. I’m tired of people putting on a show for other people and pretending that they’ve achieved some kind of perfection. That’s hooey! I’d rather sit down on the dirt and say, “This is how I messed up and want to be better, how about you?” Then we have something really interesting to talk about! Then and only then can we really get better. Because in pretending that we’re already there, we learn nothing and rob each other of the beautiful humans we can actually be. Hugs to you, my friend.

  5. “…If I want to see change, it starts with me.”
    “…One brave action at a time.”

    Very Powerful share Kimberly Davis, I just loved it, especially the last paragraph and the two last lines, which I mention above. So sad for something in the past with really good intentions, you still are carrying it with you. You are a very warm heartfelt, kind and compassionate woman.
    Reading your share I was only seeing great opportunities for the Now.
    Making a great shift towards Walking the Talk in your own save environment with your knowledge of today.
    Looking at your last two lines and what you learned in The Salon, and ending carrying the past.
    I see beautiful opportunities in the present, to reaching out and to have “that talk” with your good neighbor and a close colored friend, both people you know and in your own save environment.
    It is often in our own environment where the shift starts of Walking the Talk.

    As a black woman, I would highly appreciate it you reaching out to me for “that talk”: connecting Human to Human

    • Oh Ineke! What a gracious invitation! I’m so very grateful for your insight. I carry the same hope for our future and do believe that it’s the hard lessons that pave the way for great change. I promise you, there will absolutely come a day when I will take you up on your thoughtful invitation friend, as I would cherish a thought-partner who can help shape my understanding.

  6. Thank you, Darlene. It’s important to me that people see that bravery is not the absence of fear or thinking you’ve got it all figured out – in my head it’s quite the contrary. I’m hoping that showing my humanity gives others permission to do the same. For we can’t get better if we don’t deal with what’s real. I appreciate you!

  7. You wear your brand well, Kimberly, with sharing this story. You are most brave for being so honest. Many people would not admit this faux pas. I commend you for doing so. Your voice comes through loud and clear. I appreciate your authenticity which to me is in short supply these days. Thank you for this.

    • (for some reason my reply showed up as a comment and not a reply, Darlene, so attempting to put it here so you see it) Thank you, Darlene. It’s important to me that people see that bravery is not the absence of fear or thinking you’ve got it all figured out – in my head it’s quite the contrary. I’m hoping that showing my humanity gives others permission to do the same. For we can’t get better if we don’t deal with what’s real. I appreciate you!

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