“A coach is someone who shows you how to be excellent, reminds you of your excellence, and lets you know when you're being less than excellent.” John Wooden, basketball coach, UCLA.
I was jolted awake at 1:00 AM one recent Monday morning, with a flood of questions from somewhere “out there.” And, they weren’t of the pleasant variety. “What ARE you doing?”, “Why ARE you doing it?” “Who ARE you doing it with?” “And, what ARE they doing?” the voice was screaming.
“You say you care about the environment and want to make sure your grandchildren have a decent chance for a decent life, yet in the last 17 days you burned enough fossil fuel flying half-way around the world and back for 17 human beings in their entire lifetime?” “You’d like to believe that you are not biased or prejudiced, so what was that anxiety and fear you felt walking down the streets of London where you were an obvious minority, if that isn’t some kind of bias, prejudice, “ism” or phobia?”
Ever have one of those moments? An existential crisis? This wasn’t the first one; I have had many in my lifetime and I am guessing it won’t be the last. They have always been life changing too.
As you can see, these moments are not the warm and fuzzy kind. They are very confrontive. From the inside out. The problem with such moments is that they never give any answers, they just point out the unexamined behaviors. I didn’t go back to sleep. I tried. I couldn’t. As is their nature, these types of questions, when they come from the inside, don’t go away. I’ve been walking around since then, in a “what do I do about these things”, shadow.
So, what HAVE I done? I’ve changed a few things. I have cancelled some long-distance trips to minimize my impact on the climate. I purchased carbon offsets on all my upcoming travel and will continue to do so as I fly and use rental cars.
But most significantly I have hired a coach. My existential crisis moment left me with a sense of wanting to know more about how my racism (or “group privilege bias” as my coach would call it) which became obvious to me in London manifests itself.
It wasn’t a question of AM I racist, but HOW I exhibit my racism and project my racist energy (which makes me a part of THE problem) and what to do about it. I realized that I am not as much a part of the solution as I so want to be. I care deeply about racism (as well as all the other “ism’s” that are a part of me, i.e., gender, age, country, spiritual, etc.).
So, I hired a racism coach. (Remember the experience I spoke of when I was in London? The uneasiness and fear I experienced? I knew it was my racism being activated.)
A coach is a special person; at their essence, a teacher. As a young man beginning my coaching career, I was aware of two models:
A “Blood and Guts”, authoritative Vince Lombardi, (Green Bay Packers Football, “Winning is the only thing”) type.
A humanistic philosophical John Wooden (UCLA Basketball) type.
In my experience the excellent coaches are patient, kind, challenging, instructive, tolerant and have objectives for the players that go far beyond winning games. They don’t treat everyone the same because they know no one is the same. They know that what motivates one person doesn’t another. They hope to use the opportunity that sports provides to teach their brood how to succeed in life. They have wonderful and creative ways to teach their charges, demonstrating the fundamentals, teaching the strategies in ways that make it easy to excel.
So, what’s a racism (or group privilege coach)? I didn’t know. Never heard of one. But I knew I wanted one. I needed one. So, I asked a gentleman who I had met, if he would be willing to help. I wanted someone who could help me understand how my racism (that I desperately don’t want to have) exhibits itself in how I see, talk, hear, think, and act.
Turns out, Tony was coached by John Wooden when he was a student-athlete at UCLA. Tony played professional baseball (my favorite sport to coach) at the highest levels. He is exactly the kind of coach I needed. He exudes John Wooden energy.
With his permission, I am sharing just a few nuggets of what I have learned so far. (He is a brilliant coach BTW).
Language is everything. For example, he identifies himself as an American of African ancestry; accentuating the unity before celebrating the diversity.
We all are of the same race, biologically, but we choose to separate by race (socially and politically) because it is of advantage to someone. Some of us are a lighter shade of brown than others, but all human beings are shades of the same color - brown.
Privilege, is a word often used in discussions about inequality. Disparagingly most often. A word usually used in the context of those who have it and those who don’t. Tony’s perspective is what we might call privilege is more understandable if we substitute the word passport for privilege. For example, if I have an American passport, it allows me to leave my country and re-enter it without hassle or questions. Because of my age, it puts me in a special expedited line at customs upon my return. It affords me certain privileges that those without one don’t have. There are an endless variety of such societal passports. For example, if I am under the age of 12 or over the age of 60, I can order from a special menu at restaurants, while others can’t. If I am 75, I can go through the TSA Pre-Check line while others can’t. If I can write, that gives me access to things that aren’t available to those who can’t. Where I got my education (if I got one), if I wear a red MAGA hat, what religion I am a member of, what political party I belong to, what sports team I support, whether I carry a weapon, what uniform I wear; all these things are examples of specific passports. Such passports, if we have one, allow us easy entry. If we don’t have a particular passport, it denies us entry into certain conversations, situations, associations, places, experiences and activities.
What I am learning is that behaviors that appear as a factor in one of my “isms” (such as my racism) are applicable to many other parts of my life.
If you are interested, I know he would be willing to talk with you. Contact him at Tony@theempathyguy.com And as always, I invite you to let me know what you think.