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Getting to Know Jim Morris

By Uncategorized

 

This is short Q&A I did with my colleague and Executive Assistant Lizzie Salsich. I hope it helps my readers get to know me and my approach to DEI&B a little more! Enjoy.

1. What first brought you into this work?

 

I left being a leader in for- and non-profit organizations in the mid-90s and decided to go into consulting on my own. At the time I was focused just on generic leadership development and team building. I lucked into some great engagements, including being a consultant for Duke Leadership Training Associates at Duke Power where I got to work with organizations like Novozymes and the EPA. Then in 2000 I attended a white men’s caucus run by White Men as Full Diversity Partners and it changed everything for me. Suddenly, as a man and a leader, I saw a whole body of work before me that I hadn’t even considered and, frankly, was embarrassed to have missed given some of the underrepresented populations I had been serving for over 20 years. Today my journey in that work continues and I and have just as much to learn as the day I started –  just in different ways.

2. What is the most important thing for you in doing this work?

 

It’s really easy to focus on what we as consultants and facilitators need to do and say to help clients when we are working with them, but the reality is this work is always about the client – what they are able and willing to commit to in terms of moving towards equity. If we’re purely listening and seeing what’s real for them, and advising them based on where they are, the rest falls into place. I guess it’s as simple as making the shift from presentation to being present.

3. What is one common mistake you see leaders making when it comes to DEI&B?

 

I think the only way I can answer this question is to break it into two parts: Part 1 would be, what mistakes do I see the insider group members make as leaders when it comes to DEI&B? And Part 2 would be, what mistakes might leaders in general make?

What I see about insider group members is they don’t understand the advantages they have as members of the dominant group, much less how people behave differently around them because they are leaders. They forget the impact of power on people who feel like they are in a power-down position. 

My answer for leaders in general would be that typically the C-suite or senior-most members of the organization think it’s important for everybody else to understand about DEI&B as if they either don’t have anything to learn or the investment in their development isn’t worth as much. The truth is, unless the senior team members are not only aware of their own areas of development but also demonstrably practicing inclusion and equity in the way they lead, it doesn’t matter how “with it” everyone else is, the sustainability of the effort will be at risk. 

4. What relationships hold you accountable to your work in DEI&B?

 

I haven’t made it official yet but I have a small but potent Advisory Board of colleagues who I rely on to tell me when my view of the world is either skewed due to my social group identity or personality, or if I am missing some situation altogether. It’s not their job to convince me, but when they speak from their truth, if I am listening, it’s really helpful. 

Recently a colleague and employee of mine gave me feedback about how I move too fast and might make fewer mistakes if I would slow down. I felt like it might have been risky for her to tell me that, and of course I’ve heard it before and believed it, but for some reason hadn’t taken it to heart. What was different this time was that my colleague told me how she was noticing my approach was impacting ME without guilt, blame or shame. I like to think I’ve taken her feedback to heart.

5. What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?

 

This is going to sound like a stock answer, but, for me, being outdoors is the one activity that heals everything else – that and having time with my person, my partner, and my love, Moe. Both of us started our careers in the therapeutic outdoor wilderness arena working with at-risk kids and people. I eventually owned a commercial rafting and guiding company and did all that stuff for a living. Now it’s just nice to be outdoors for leisure, doing almost anything from skiing to biking to taking a nap in the woods.

Moral Outrage and the Algorithm – Two Small (But Mighty) Steps

By Education, Emotional Wellness, Leadership, Men's work, Uncategorized

In the first article of this blog series, I talked about how some families in my hometown of Bend, Oregon are “quiet quitting” public schools in favor of homeschooling. There are several reasons behind this. One is that some parents don’t want their children to have to learn about enslavement, social justice, civil rights, or the history of discrimination in the United Statesnot because they are making a conscious choice—but because they have read/heard quotes about Critical Race Theory and its supposed negative impacts on children.

The second article in this series turned out to be about a tragic event that also happened in Bend when a young man went into a Safeway store armed with an assault rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun and killed three people before taking his own life. The thing I focused on from the story was the now predictable profile of who the shooter was: a young, isolated, depressed, and angry white man. 

I’ve used up, if not exceeded, my time talking about the problems. Here are two things I’m going to do in terms of trying to make things better; join me if they make sense to you:

1. We have got to learn to deal more constructively with our moral outrage. And what exactly is moral outrage? It’s the strong emotions we feel when we experience or see an injustice that we then convert into a moral judgment in a nano-second. When we feel it, we often resort to shaming or attacking the wrongdoers.  

Though I can’t prove it, I think it’s highly likely that many quiet quitting school families are keeping their opinions to themselves, so they don’t have to suffer through the judgments and moral outrage of their neighbors. We don’t know the motivations of the Safeway shooter, but his social media posts and reports from people that knew him suggest he felt isolated and unable or unwilling to express his feelings out loud. 

In my own extended family, I notice how one group of relatives whom I know feel differently about a number of societal issues than I do rarely allow our conversations during visits to stray into current events, politics, or personal beliefs. They’ve also witnessed my hyper-verbosity and intensity when I unbridle my moral outrage. That preview alone would probably be enough to keep them from ever wanting to engage with me on topics which we disagree about. 

For me, the solution is to remember that relationships and connection with other people is one of my primary espoused values, and allowing my moral outrage to take control is counter to those values. Also, if I tell myself the truth, my moral outrage is harmful to other people; there is nothing constructive about shame or guilt. I can’t let myself go there, no matter what the injustice or wrong is.

2. Less is more: I need to pay attention to how and when I use social media. Of course, this is a huge topic, but in this context all I’m talking about is what I need to do to build better partnerships with people who see the world differently than me. The way I use social media—including how I express my own moral outrage on occasion—also does a lot more harm than good. The anonymity of digital communication can enable us to behave pretty badly towards one another if we’re not mindful of it. 

I’ve been reading The Chaos Machine – The Inside Story of How Social Media Rewired Our Minds and Our World by Max Fisher. Fisher talks about the physiological response most of us have to social media posts that prompt different feelings, including moral outrage, and the data is not good. There is a lot of creepy stuff that social media companies do to keep us engaged—and it’s engagement that is the key to them making money on us—but we can’t blame them for creating the algorithms that hook us; it’s still our choice. 

Since reading the book and noticing my own unconscious response to different stimuli on social media, I now catch myself before writing and sending snarky responses to complete strangers. I also notice that most of the snarkiness comes from other white men, and Fisher’s research also confirms this.

I’m noticing social media is an accelerant for creating and maintaining polar differences between us. It’s hard for me to even find or get access to groups whose members see the world in a different way than I do. The algorithms I experience on Facebook and Google are almost impossible for me to break out of. It’s not hard to see why those politicians who take pleasure in fomenting the polarization are also heavy social media users.

The world’s got big problems, and these are but two small (but mighty) behavior changes. Still, imagine what would happen if all of us actually committed to making them.

Note: Along with these ideas, there are some additional tools and tips that you can try. These are described in my new book, Gaslights and Dog Whistles: Standing Up for Facts Over Fiction in a Fearful and Divided World 

 

Lowering the Walls that Divide Us

By Leadership, Men's work, Racism, Uncategorized

Courtesy, Central Oregon Daily News

Two weeks ago,  I talked about my hometown of Bend, Oregon and the silent move over 1,000 families have taken to pull their kids out of schools and opt instead for homeschooling, as many of them don’t like what the schools are teaching when it comes to critical race theory, racism, or the unpleasant elements of U.S. history.

My plan to follow up that post with a how-to post changed when, last Sunday night, a young man from a nearby neighborhood walked into a Safeway with a shotgun and an assault-style rifle, shot a few rounds into the air, and then walked into the store and killed two people before taking his own life.  

Our town was rocked, as was I. At the time of the attack, a buddy was across the parking lot in a Whole Foods grocery store. His recounting of being on lockdown in the store for 90 minutes made the experience even more visceral, more real. 

The murderer’s online manifesto revealed a rageful, isolated, hopeless young man who consciously used the event to take his own life. He was in his early 20’s, and he was white. It’s not a coincidence that so, so many of the people committing mass murders in the U.S. are white men; over 80% of them are. 

It’s not like the struggle with identity or the depression and anger white men feel is new. It began during the financial crisis in 2007-08 when so many people suffered catastrophic financial losses in their savings. White men in particular felt like their shot at the American dream was lost, along with their savings. 

The crisis made the income gap between the richest and the poorest among us more real. For many, the crisis provoked a loss of confidence in our financial system, economy, and even the government. Social psychologists suggest that some white people weathered the blow worse than other groups because they sensed that their race gave them an advantage in our society. Their loss, some suggest, was harder due to a sense of entitlement. Whatever the reason, individually and as a group, we white men have been in trouble ever since.  

I won’t recite all the statistics, but on a per capita basis, we’re more likely to commit suicide or acts of violence—especially with assault-style rifles—than any other group in the U.S. We use more prescription drugs, and we are less likely to ask for help or seek therapy. 

We don’t know what the Bend murderer’s life was like, but it’s a good bet he didn’t have the level of mentoring or support he needed to cope with the stresses he felt. He may have had underlying mental health issues that weren’t treated or addressed, which also could have contributed to his death. 

In the hundreds of sessions I have conducted with the thousands of participants over the past 20+ years, I have noticed that many of the angriest white men I’ve worked with feel they’ve been labeled as “white” and that, to them, being white hasn’t felt like an advantage whatsoever. 

They hate the term “white men” because it represents a stereotype of a middle-class and up, suburban-raised, liberal arts-educated person who only had a job in high school so they could buy gas for the cars their parents lent or gave them. Meanwhile, the other group of white men—the ones who were not born into as much money or convenience as others—often worked to contribute to their families from an early age, or they wore hand-me-downs to save money, or their after-school social lives were limited because they worked five days a week after school.

And now, here I am, lecturing them on who does and does not have privilege, as if I know anything about what their lives were like. 

Often they don’t see or believe that racism, sexism, or homophobia is as real as people like me think it is, but they sit through the session, afraid to voice their skepticism or reveal their truth, as they risk being labeled, or worse, being told they discriminated against someone at work. 

So here we are: on opposite sides of a deep canyon created by economic hardship and disparity, and a different view of if it is caused by individual random acts or some larger system. Our ideological differences also keep us apart, even though many of those differences stem from a belief system we inherited because of where we were born and who we were born to.

 

Here’s one first step we can take to lower the walls of the canyon, whatever our position on these topics: we can work to suspend our moral outrage, the feelings that convey an “I’m right and you are wrong” message, even if we don’t say it. Our beliefs—whatever they are—don’t make us better than anyone else, so let’s stop acting like they do.  

We don’t need to get better at debating the issues. Debating more often than not turns into an argument about who is right and who is wrong, and right or wrong in this context doesn’t help.  Moral certainty in any of us —the belief that we are in the right and others are not—just deepens the canyon and makes bridging it almost impossible. 

The tragedy of the shooting in Bend isn’t just about guns or mental health or class; it is also about the ways we marginalize, demonize, and vilify people not just after they have committed a heinous act, but when they simply tell us they disagree or they don’t see it our way.

I LOVE being right. It makes me feel better to know I KNOW something. It alleviates some of my chronic self-doubt. But if I bring that righteousness to my relationships, it will lessen my connection with others instead of enriching it. 

We know the positive behaviors to embrace that can help whomever we are “in the canyon” with climb out; empathy, compassion, care, and the gift of listening. 

We will never know what would have happened if someone could have touched the heart of the man responsible for the murders in Bend with care, listening, and compassion. I hope people tried. I hope he wasn’t made to feel small or less-than because someone was more interested in telling him he was wrong than telling him they cared.

Caring about the outcome and deepening our connection with others instead of making someone feel less than—that will make it easier for both of us to climb out of the canyon, won’t it?

 

(This is part two of a three part series by Jim.)