Some new friends gave me a gift last week. It wasn’t my birthday. I wasn’t expecting it.
I wish I could re-gift it to everyone I know.
I went to my company’s home office to attend our annual Diversity & Inclusion Summit. It’s the second time I’ve attended it. The day was incredible and inspiring. My company has made Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) part of our Sustainability strategy. It is one of the many reasons I am proud to say that I work for The Hartford.
I traveled to Hartford the day before the Summit. In the weeks leading up the event, a coworker asked if I would partner with him to facilitate a Courageous Conversation Circle (C3 as us cool kids call them) the afternoon before the Summit. My response was “absolutely!”
The C3s are the latest evolution in our D&I strategy. They are how we encourage our people to bring what our Chief Claims Officer, D&I Champion and all-around-cool-guy, John Kinney describes as “their whole authentic selves to work”. A C3 is a framework for having open and honest discussions about those most sensitive topics – things like race, religion, politics – while ensuring participants feel valued and respected. A C3 is not about bringing people to a single shared perspective. It is about acknowledging that the events happening in the world around us – events like the police shooting of Michael Brown, the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, the Central American migrant caravan – are not left at home when we come to work. They impact us and stay with us everywhere we go… except for work. “Not appropriate for the workplace… you shouldn’t talk about those things at work…” Those were the ways we have traditionally thought about these discussions in the workplace.
Well, not at The Hartford. The C3s are a real commitment to Inclusion. And they are happening in my company right now.
My friend and I were part of a group of about 40 people across the company picked for the first wave of training on facilitating these new Courageous Conversation Circles. This C3, on the day before the Summit, would be one of the first presented. Sponsored by our Black Insurance Professional Network Employee Resource Group (open to all employees as are all of our ERGs), the topic was sure to go into places not commonly visited in a work discussion: Police Relations and Trust Within the Black Community.
The participants started showing up and finding their seats in the conference room. There were about 20 people in the room. My co-facilitator and I started laying out the framework for the discussion. Guidelines for the discussion – not so that we all came to the same opinion but so that everyone had the opportunity to be heard and respected. We finished the set up, introduced the topic, and…
An hour went by in a flash.
As facilitators we didn’t have to do very much heavy lifting. The group spoke plainly and authentically. They shared their views – which varied from person to person reflecting each person’s unique story – as the discussion progressed. Honestly, it was a very successful C3. I can’t wait to facilitate my next one.
But that wasn’t the gift.
Out of the 20 people in the room, I was one of 3 white faces. As the participants shared their perspectives, I began to realize that although I had had encounters with law enforcement in my life, my own experiences were nothing like those being described in the C3. There was no moment when I nodded and thought, “Oh yes, that has happened to me.” I looked around the room and saw myself as fundamentally different that most of the people around me. I had a revelation.
Is this what it feels like to be a minority?
I’m not suggesting that being in the minority in the room and not sharing similar experiences is the same as being Black in America. But for a moment I was able to see the world from a different perspective. I felt viscerally different from almost everyone around me. Different in ways that touched every facet of my/their lives.
The moment shook me to my core.
So rarely – almost never, to be fair – do we have the opportunity to set aside the lenses with which we view the world. To pick up new lenses and see everything around us vibrantly different. To have a glimpse of someone else’s perspective and, if we might hope to be even luckier, build a connection with that person.
Isn’t that exactly the cure for what ails us today? Wouldn’t we ALL be better off if we had more empathy? If we were able to agree that just because I have a different life experience, a different perspective we can still acknowledge the truth of each other’s stories?
In the 1986 film classic Highlander (don’t judge!), the titular immortal Scotsman ends the film as “the only one” having outlasted every other rival immortal to claim The Prize. And what is it that will spur every other immortal to risk their (literal) necks to claim? The Prize, we are told in the closing voiceover, is the ability to read the minds of every person on Earth. The ability to connect with everyone. The ability to help them understand each other.
How I wish we all were given The Prize.
I was excited to facilitate the C3. I was excited to attend the D&I Summit the next day. But I never expected to receive such a generous gift. For that one moment I was able to see the world through the eyes of others. I felt connected to them in a fundamental way.
So thank you, Dimitrius, for asking me to facilitate the C3 with you. Thank you, everyone who participated in the C3, for allowing me to hear your stories. Thank you, The Hartford, for having the courage to embrace these open and honest discussions. Thank you, all, for the rare opportunity to see the world through a different perspective. Thank you for this wonderful gift.
I wish that I could re-gift it to everyone.
Open (and sincere) offer: Do you disagree with my stance on D&I? Feel that it’s overvalued or just flat out wrong? Maybe as a white guy you wish everyone would just stop always bringing it back to race? (Or any other facet of Diversity & Inclusion?) This is my pledge: I will listen to you. Let’s have a cup of coffee, a beer, maybe just a stroll around the block. Let’s talk. What’s the harm in that?
Obligatory Disclaimer: I am speaking on behalf of myself. My opinions do not necessarily represent those of The Hartford. Please visit The Hartford’s Diversity and Inclusion page for more information. (I think you’ll be impressed by what you read there!)