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Perspectives: The Supreme Court Nomination Hearing

I got the opportunity yesterday to see and listen to a portion of Supreme Court candidate Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings. Aside from the praise and acknowledgment of her incredible career and family, as the hearing began a slew of ideological commentaries and questions indicated a particular point of view. And while I disagree with many of those viewpoints, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for some of the Senators who were cherry-picking portions of Judge Brown’s rulings, written opinions, and connections.

I realized that any time I don’t feel compassion for another human being, the issue is with me. I started telling a story to myself about those Senators, and it converted them into villains. I quickly dropped a bomb into my thoughts with a highly edited list of adjectives to describe strangers. I constructed a permanent label or flaw for those with whom I had no personal contact or a relationship.

I understand that some people’s flaws are unbearable. I’m not claiming that I don’t equate compassion with permission, nor am I claiming that misery is a fabrication or that the flaws I identified aren’t significant. However, I’m arguing that the adjectives we choose significantly impact our perceptions of and responses to others.

I came away from the Supreme Court nominee confirmation hearings yesterday feeling extremely proud of how Judge Brown handled herself, and with three questions that I’d like to share with you and ask your thoughts on, and if you have the courage, I’d love to hear your answers:

  • Can someone’s point of view so profoundly affect us that we find no value in the other person?
  • How do the stories we create affect our attitudes toward other people?
  • Can we accept a more moderate and completely different story about others?

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Phillip T. Williams
Phillip T. Williams
For more than two decades, Phil was an employee of Merrill Lynch & Co., now known as Bank of America, Merrill. The range of Phil's work experience has been in Corporate America as an operational leader with direct human resources accountabilities. His most recent position was Vice President, Regional Client Relationship Manager for the Pacific Northwest Region in San Francisco, CA. Phil is a highly skilled and accomplished Human Resources Business Partner, Consultant, Relationship Builder, and Advocate currently working with a mission-based organization. His prior executive experience working with senior management in Financial Services, Sales, and Operations of a Fortune 500 company has led Phil to change the paradigm of human resources from a cost center to a value-added group by aligning all HR efforts with the strategic objective mind. Phil is recognized for his meticulous interpersonal skills, engagement, and extensive human resources knowledge. Phil studied business and human resource management and development at the University of Phoenix and Villanova University in Phoenix, AZ., and Villanova, PA. He holds a Bachelor's and a Master of Science degree in Human Resource Management and Development and is currently a Ph.D. student at Northcentral University, San Diego, CA. Phil resides in the greater Atlanta, Georgia, area.

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9 CONVERSATIONS

  1. Phillip, I appreciate the questions you’ve asked and your measured reflections on the hearings. I watched Senator Cory Booker’s statement/speech addressed to Judge Jackson and was moved to tears. What I have discovered/experienced with different people is that individuals are multifaceted, complicated human beings who often hold many different, conflicting points of view. Some human beings are walking paradoxes in that they say one thing and behave in a completely opposite fashion. In a group, I do believe some humans can taut the “party line” kind of like the popular girls in high school -who individually could be very kind to me-but as soon as they joined in a group-she became very unkind-and joined with the Group Judgment of me as an individual. I believe “group mindset” can close the door to an openness to another person’s perspective. Your second question-the stories we create most definitely impact our attitudes towards other people-and how important to constantly question our “stories” And “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” —Maya Angelou You can learn to trust your direct experiences over time of an individual-or even your gut reaction to a person’s energy, body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, words spoken– Can I accept a moderate or different story about another person? Again, if I have 22 years worth of direct experiences of a person-that’s a great deal of content to sift through to connect dots and see a certain wholeness-or shape-shifting of that person. Constantly gathering information about ourselves through self-discovery and personal development-we have a richer opportunity to see a whole human being in the mirror-and another multifaceted, complicated breathing human being when we look and experience another person-one human being to another. Listening with curiosity and your whole self to the person in front of you, you can experience a complicated human being-sometimes filled with unhealed hurts and wounds-that they themselves may never take the time to bravely face and heal. Thank you so much for this meaningful essay and for asking such thought-provoking questions, Phillip.

    • Hey Laura,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my essay!
      You make some very good points, that I whole heartdly agree with.
      It amazes me how we can so easily sing in the choir of “group mindset.” It makes me wonder if they really have agency!
      Isn’t it amazing how one person can have such a big and powerful influence on other people and they all go down the road of foolishness?
      I’m glad we have a mind of our own!

  2. Oh Phil! Thank you for using your words so powerfully. They’ve made me reflect on my feelings from the hearing. Before I answer your three questions, I just want to add that I felt such empathy for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during the moments of the trial I watched. Some moments were abrasive and others were warm and loving. I couldn’t help but be moved to tears when Sen. Booker said, “You did not get there because of some left-wing agenda. You didn’t get here because of some ‘dark money’ groups. You got here how every Black woman in America who’s gotten anywhere has done, by being, like Ginger Rogers said, ‘I did everything Fred Astaire did but backwards in heels.'”

    He also said, “When you ascend onto the highest court in the land, I’m going to rejoice. I’m going to tell you right now the greatest country in the world, the United States of America, will be better because of you.”

    – Can someone’s point of view so profoundly affect us that we find no value in the other person? It’s easy to dismiss those who do not hold the same beliefs as we do. We seek confirmation of our thoughts and ideals. So when one does not agree, we become defensive. That’s natural. It’s what we do after that’s magical. Do we react? Or do we respond with our head held high? I think it was easy to see how Judge Brown handled her situation. And we need more people with frontal lobes like hers to be in positions of power.

    – How do the stories we create affect our attitudes toward other people? Our stories and experiences create generalities. We’ve all experienced toxicity in others. So when people bring up similar emotions and red flags, we naturally place them in a bucket. And for our well-being it is important to not allow people in our lives that harm us. However, we are also a part of a larger world. One where most of these people affect our lives, albeit not personally. We need to hold a different place for people who we do not directly interact with. We need to hold a difference space for people we are only exposed through lenses of media and politics. Side note: Politics is a playground for folks obsessed with power and control. And folks obsessed with power and control are not empathic. Those people are not leaders and should not lead. But that is also why America is great. There are enough checks and balances that they can be kept at bay.

    – Can we accept a more moderate and completely different story about others? We can. But only if we are aware of the way our minds work. And ready to give up our biases.

    • JoAnna,
      Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate your responses and I couldn’t agree with you more! It seems power is extremely toxicating to the point that we literally leave our senses!

  3. Excellent questions, Phillip.
    I see people like a Venn diagram: whatever is before us is the little area of current interest – in your case attitudes to Judge Brown and her legal history. There is the rest of their circle just like there is the res of our circle, and as much as we may disagree with the current issue, perhaps we can find common ground on another yet unexplored issue.
    But only if we are willing to look for it. And if we have already written a story about them being “your list of adjectives”, we may not want to look.
    And if we can be just a little curious about why they hold their misguided opinions, we may even learn about other worldviews – a lesson that possibly may serve us later if we dare listen.

  4. Phil, you continue to amaze me, humble me, and earn my admiration for the evenness of your hand and the generosity of your spirit.

    I don’t know that it’s a matter of courage. But I accept your request to know my thoughts:

    1. Can someone’s point of view so profoundly affect us that we find no value in the other person? Only if we fail to see the other person fully. Especially in the context of Congressional hearings, it can be easy to forget that people are different from, fuller than, the one-dimensional personae they adopt in those hearings. Ideological agendas leave little room for thoughtfulness. As a result, Point A can often be made to the deliberate exclusion or preclusion of Point B. Now that we’ve allowed politicians to turn politics into a zero-sum game, common ground becomes ever less desirable and ever more scarce.

    2. How do the stories we create affect our attitudes toward other people? If our stories are created out of reactionary disagreement and defensiveness, our attitudes will be affected accordingly. I know I’m preaching to the converted here, but if our senses of agency aren’t strong enough to preclude our closing our hearts, our minds, and our ears, the stories we create will be judgmental at least, combative at worst.

    3. Can we accept a more moderate and completely different story about others? That depends on the stories we create for ourselves and the ways in which we choose to see ourselves. If I recognize I’m a close-minded nincompoop, that recognition gives me the choice to be otherwise. If I’m a blindly self-righteous ideologue, not so much.

    I love the very idea that you, a man whose hand I’ve never shaken, can make me a better person just by your energy and your influence. I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

    Thank you.

  5. Mr. Williams: Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important and timely topic. I’ll try to avoid demonizing anyone here, and I do stare at a permanently caucasian man in the mirror each morning, so there’s that. It’s not that those senators’ POV sours my opinion and regard for them. It’s the hypocrisy, and the way they demean themselves and the institution they serve that erases all value for me. Second question, our stories do indeed represent us, so I believe we have a responsibility to make them true stories, and not fabrications meant to gratify the public. Would it be too much to ask of our leaders that they lead? On this level they failed as well, in my opinion. Third, we can accept a more moderate story, but in the context of this nomination to our nation’s highest court, I believe Judge Jackson was not afforded the level of quality scrutiny she deserved, just tired, shameless and ultimately worthless evaluative questioning unworthy of her credentialing and expertise. I get it that a nominee to the SCOTUS must be scrutinized without fear or favor, but the circus atmosphere crafted by certain republican senators was unworthy of her position, or that court.

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