Sunday, July 14, 2013

Personal Change: Two Key Learnings from Zimmerman/Martin Altercation

First, I want to make it clear that I believe the death of Trayvon Martin is one of the most tragic real-life scenarios I have heard.  Everyone loses! The entire situation is terrible, and I would imagine that the Martin and Zimmerman families will be affected by this event for decades to come. I feel very sorry for the loss of life and range of emotions that come with an event such as this.  I’m sure many people have and are continuing to reflect on what could have been done differently to have a different outcome. But the reality is we can’t change what was done: we can only learn from it and move forward.

The United States Legal System is an interesting thing – complicated and oft times misunderstood.  I believe it is a system that most Americans do not even begin to understand. The legal system is designed to uphold the laws of the land (state or federal laws). It’s a system that is designed to ensure that the accused receive a fair trial and are able to defend themselves. The system was not designed to judge on emotion, conscious, or preconceived notions. It was designed to uphold the laws of the land.  In the aftermath of this trial, many may initial disagree but, when we step away from the emotion of it all, it is true that we want judges and juries to determine outcomes based on law (i.e. same-sex marriage, abortion).

Now, I could spend my time poking through all the problems I saw with the legal case as well as all the failed logic and ignorance that has been used in the media whether it comes from a spectator or a media professional. Some examples of this include: referring to Zimmerman as Caucasian when he is Hispanic; accusing Zimmerman as profiling Martin but not the fact that both of them profiled each other; and the list could go one. But what good would that do now? The real question is: what can we, as a society, learn from this situation?

No matter what side of the legal case you were on (State of Florida or Zimmerman), I see two great lessons we can learn. The first is that we must be more committed to rejecting violence. We fill our lives and our children’s lives with violence.  Just look at the media we watch (i.e. movies, TV commercial, video games). Violence is everywhere. We argue about the tools used in violence (e.g. guns) but we rarely, if ever, discuss the real causes of violence – hate, anger, envy,  mental illness.  I know way too many people who are looking for a fight. They are looking for something to be mad about. They are looking for injustices. They are looking to be tough, cool, or a “bad a$$.” Nothing good comes from violence and we should avoid it at all cost and teach our children to do the same.

If we want true peace in our communities, we need to replace our fear, anger, hate, etc. with love. We need to teach ourselves and our children how to love, how to have more compassion and how to have empathy for others.  In essence, we must practice the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” (See Holy Bible, John 15:10-12) We need to spend less time on our sofas and computers and more time serving our neighbors. We need to spend more time giving people the benefit of the doubt, understanding our differences and embracing our commonalities. In my experience, the fastest way you can learn to genuinely love another person(s) is through serving them. Service doesn't have to be big extravagant service projects. Simple acts of kindness can include a friendly smile, a simple hello, bringing a garbage can up from the curb, or giving someone your seat on the train. Service doesn't have to be difficult.

Communication is one of the top three stumbling blocks that my clients trip over when trying to effectively manage change. Why is that? I have come to the conclusion that one’s ability to communicate is a dying skill. Sure, lots of people know how to talk, shout and scream. We see that on daily talk shows all the time and in our own personal lives. How many times have you thought or actually complained out loud that someone misunderstood what you meant by some action or statement you made?

Effective communication is a two part process: speaking and listening. Often times we just don’t speak when we should. My 15 year-old son often says things like “[insert name] hates me.”  Upon further inquiry, the conversation goes something like this:

Me: Why do you think he hates you? Did he tell you that?
Son: No, I just know.
Me: Well, did you do something to give him reason to hate you?
Son: No. But I am sure he has his reasons.
Me: I think you just made this up in your head.
A couple of weeks pass by.
Me: So, I saw you talking to [insert name].  Does he still hate you?
Son: No. He didn't hate me. He was just being weird and not talking to me that day.

Now this may seem like a trivial example, but I can give you example after example of situations where a lack of communication caused someone to make some off-based conclusion. Just think of how different this situation could have been if a conversation of understanding actually occurred?  What if George had asked Trayvon if he lived in the neighborhood or if Trayvon had asked George why he was following him? They may have ended up having a conversation opposed to a fight that led to death.

I love Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit #5 is my favorite habit and states: “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.”  This is where active listening comes into play. We need to learn to listen to each other. Instead of thinking about what you are going to say next, practice listening to what someone is saying. Follow up with probing questions and statements that indicate understanding and that enables a person to clarify if the understanding is wrong. We need to teach our children these skills so that they too can be an effective communicator.


We can spend hours talking and complaining about the short-comings of society. We can call on government to get more involved. But, the reality of it all is that things will not change until we have a change of heart. Societal change comes from a collection of individual changes. Individuals need to take responsibility and make a change within their own heart and then help others to do the same.

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