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Jean Latting
Jean Latting
Leading Consciously 
Dr. Jean Kantambu Latting is a coach, consultant, and educator. As President of Leading Consciously, a leadership development company, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Houston, Jean specializes in helping people capitalize on their strengths so they might better accomplish their goals.
 

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Obama’s Teachable Moment: How to Bridge Differences across the Races

Jul. 27, 2013 6:04 pm
Keywords: None

The headlines last week read, “Obama Explains Black America to White America,” heralding a teachable moment in the country’s history.

The news article summarized President Obama’s speech to the nation a few days after George Zimmerman was declared “not guilty” by six women jurors (five White and one Puerto Rican) for killing Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenage walking home to his father’s house. Zimmerman, a White man with Hispanic roots, had thought Martin looked suspicious and followed him. During the trial, Zimmerman successfully argued that during the subsequent fight, he feared for his life and used a concealed gun to shoot Martin to his death.

The news article noted that the President’s intent was to explain that a collective history is the backdrop against which contemporary African Americans experienced that verdict:

I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away…. I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.

Those praising the President’s speech were exuberant that he had provided a historical context for the anguish experienced by millions of Black African Americans as well as sympathetic members of all races upon hearing the verdict.

Detractors of the speech pointed out that public policy addressing current issues of the day cannot be built by focusing on the past. Most pertinent now, these commentators claim, are the high rate of Black-on-Black crime and disintegration of the Black family. Naturally, these claims led to counter-charges that a focus on what was happening in the Black community in the absence of historical context led to overly simplistic -- and false -- conclusions.

Reading the accusations back and forth, I was struck by the parallels between the dissension and what my coauthor and I had explained in Reframing Change about bridging differences. As we noted, dominant group members tend to see cross-cultural conflicts in the here and now. Nondominant group members frame them in a historical context. Under these circumstances, differences are more easily bridged if dominant group members can display empathy for the past, even while promoting policies designed for the future.

The situation also reminded me of a similar public upheaval in 2008 after Proposition 8, a California ballot initiative was passed declaring that only marriage between a man and a woman would be recognized as valid in California.

A few days after it passed, I sat with a mixed group of straights and gays discussing the implications of the ruling. The gays were especially distraught – speaking openly about the pain of being denied this very basic citizenship right to citizenship– the right to marry whom one pleased.

At the time, I was taken by the enormous parallels between what was happening with gay rights at the time and my memories of the civil rights movement in the 1950s. The elimination of legalized segregation in the country had had a similar series of legal wins and losses along the way. Listening to my colleagues decry the implications of the California vote, I thought it was inevitable that equal rights for the GLBT community would eventually prevail and said so. “This reminds me of the civil rights movement in the 1950s,” I declared. “This will be overturned. The train has already left the station.”

The reaction toward me was swift and harsh. One woman, carefully phrasing her words, told me that I had no right to try to tell gays and lesbians how to think or feel about the California decision. “You as a heterosexual don’t know what it feels like to be denied to the right to marry someone you love,” she declared.

I was stunned. Never mind that I had ridden the back of the bus for most of my childhood. Never mind that as a young child, I had read about the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till for whistling at White girl. Never mind that I had once loved someone of a different race and couldn’t see my way to bridge the racial divide to make it work.

It was their collective pain and their time to voice it. As a heterosexual, I was a dominant group member and they as GBLTs were nondominant. It was their turn to educate and explain and my turn to listen and learn.

I shut up and listened.

Note: Cross-posted at EthosConsultancyNZ: http://www.ethosconsultancynz.com/profiles/blogs/obama-the-racial-divide-and-a-teachable-moment?xg_source=activity

Bio: Dr. Jean Kantambu Latting is a leadership consultant and researcher, focusing on change at the personal, organizational, and community levels. President of Leading Consciously and Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Change in the Graduate College of Social Work, University of Houston, Jean specializes in helping people examine and change their systems, relationships, and perceptions so that they might better accomplish their goals. She coauthored Reframing change: How to deal with workplace dynamics, influence others, and bring people together to initiate positive change with Jean Ramsey, published by Praeger.

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Mark Herbert
July 29, 2013 at 3:49 pm
Thanks for the perspective

Dr. Latting,

I found your post to be pretty illuminating. I guess as those old saying goes "history is written by the victors".

As a member of the "majority" (a white, heterosexual male) I find that the benefit of empathy has value to most situations. As you say the majority just typically wants to "move on" without appreciating that change is hard and there is grief even as meaningful change occurs.

It is also accurate that each group "owns" their time and resents the implication that others have "shared" their experience.

I remember over thirty years ago a conversation between two colleagues , a white woman and an African American man. When she told him she "understood" his issues he clearly indicated she did not and shouldn't presume she did.

In another situation I had the opportunity to share a social situation with an African American friend where I was the only person of "non" color. It was a great learning.

My solution for me personally is to try to understand and empathize and to give each person the right to their perspective.

I remember learning the "platinum rule", don't treat others as you would like to be treated, but rather respect them and treat them consistent with how they would like to be treated...

Thinker's Post
Jean Latting
August 3, 2013 at 5:21 pm
Thank you for your comments. As you imply above, these situations are often difficult to navigate, and individuals may vary in their preferences on how they wish to be treated. For this reason, empathy is a key tool and the platinum rule, as you say, is the best policy.
Thomas J. Donegan
July 28, 2013 at 12:09 am

Hi Jean!

The emotional argument you make is compelling for the sentimentally ordered; such arguments may also be employed by children - and they will be - desiring to engage in sexual relations with adults. Such arguments will certainly be made by pedophiles; after all Jerry Sandusky - if he were asked - would most likely claim he no more chose to be a pedophile than Barney Frank, Elton John, or Jody Foster chose to be homosexuals. If morality is predicated upon sentiment, then it is ground in shifting sands. Because an individual has a desire, an urge, a feeling etc. does not mean such desires, feelings, or urges should be given license?

Cordially,

tjd

Thinker's Post
Jean Latting
August 3, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Hello Thomas. I will admit that at first I was puzzled by your comments. Then I realized that perhaps you were advancing an argument against recognizing the humanity and civil rights of GLBTs. If so, then that's a debate I'm not interested in pursuing. If you regard my own opinions on this subject as child-like and "sentimentally ordered," then I can only say that the United States Court has ruled on this based on their interpretation of the rational rule of law.

Now the last question you pose is more provocative to me -- when should "desires, feelings, or urges be given license" and when should they be constrained. I like Martin Seligman's approach. He distinguishes between that which gives us momentary pleasure and that which gives us long-term happiness. GLBTs seeking marriage rights are interested in the type of long-term happiness that comes from stable, loving relationships. That's a goal worth pursuing.

Thomas J. Donegan
August 7, 2013 at 8:56 am

Hi Jean!

No I was not asserting that you’re argument, or assertions were childlike, I was saying that children generally express their desires as imperatives, without any consideration, appreciation or concern with the consequences… Adults, whom find objective moral principles as irrelevant – even thinking/holding such as formalized bigotry e.g. the SCOTUS in its DOMA decision – opt for a generalized apotheosized “tolerance,” from which they argue persuasively, although sentimentality is their argument’s kernel, to a population of sentimental disposition; dispositions very much like those of children. So that you may know what I mean by sentimental: a sentimental individual will not alter their view – no matter how compelling the argument to the contrary – until their feelings have changed.

The People of the United States have changed their views on many moral issues as a result an what I shall call the Gaussian/Kantian Moral revolution (What Gauss accomplished in negating the Parallel Postulate, Kant’s 1st Critique accomplished to the Natural Law, thus Kant offers a replacement in the Categorical Imperative) the rest is assimilation and intellectually organic processes… Often children do not know, or care to know, what is good in their long–term interest – “I want candy!” Thus, as Chesterton says:

“Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached upon the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, "Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good—" At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.” Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (2011-03-30). Heretics (Kindle Locations 143-151). . Kindle Edition.

Now Chesterton is not addressing children (Circa 1905), but he addressing the abandonment of an objective worldview, from whence objective morality is derived; which goes to assertion regarding the SCOTUS, and thus:

Regarding your assertion/intimation that the SCOTUS majority DOMA decision was a reflection of: “the United States Court has ruled on this based on their interpretation of the rational rule of law.” My interest in that statement is what is meant by the term: “rational” the whole edifice of Western Jurisprudence hangs on that meaning; the Court shows itself’ inconsistent and incoherent when it rules as it did, for the U.S. Constitution presupposes an objective moral order - it is clearly necessary for any approximation of the Preamble’s principles to be realized - that very order is Chesterton’s concern; the abandonment is tantamount to abandoning the rule of law, and anything like a rational order… You may glance at an essay titled: “Answering George Orwell’s Call to Duty”- it is an article on my blog - if you desire to know definitively what/how a rational order relates, and is presupposed by American Jurisprudence. And yes, I know that is an arrogant claim of a “nobody!” If one studies History and one asks: “How and why do Culture’s/Empire’s rise-and-fall?” The answer is that they utilized principles “X,” “Y,” and “Z” to ascend, and then, gradually, they abandoned them, which lead to their Fall.

Regarding Dr. Martin Seligman’s approach distinguishing “that which gives us momentary pleasure, and that which gives us long-term happiness.” I’m guessing that you mean such relationships are consensual, but I must observe that consensual relations contravene the “Platinum rule” in some instances, for there are cultures which view women as property… So in those instances what do you do? Do you abandon the Platinum Rule, or agree that some women ought not have Rights? Perhaps, another proponent of the Platinum Rule will differ with you on that; it would be interesting to read a greater development of that principle – for it seems that it would be quite friendly to despots…??

Now back to “Dr. Seligman’s approach” it strikes me that children (whether the child is 17 and the adult 18, or as NAMBLA advocates, the child is 6 and the adult is an adult) may desire – particularly when the culture encourages such relations, via value-free sex-education courses, beginning at adolescents, and maybe sooner – to involve themselves in the very types of relations the good Doctor describes. By the way, there is such a thing as NAMGLA, so they too have an interest in the SCOTUS effective repudiation of the Natural Law; the Court also tacitly rejected the Categorical Imperative as well… Sentiment matters, but as eros surmounts reason, the law becomes a tool for those in power whom lack restraint, because they quite simply see that part and parcel of the suborning of Western Culture via bigoted, homophobic, hateful white-men.

Now Jean, I’m also interested in what you mean by “love,” or perhaps what Dr. Seligman means by “love?” So many use words as weapons to divide people; their primary concern is to ensure/prevent a dialectic e.g., it has been along time (maybe 25-30 years, since I made myself read it), but I believe that Betty Friedan argues/intimates in the Feminine Mystic to avoid establishing a common ground with opponents (a tact employed by those whose arguments do not win on merit i.e., intellectual cogency)… I believe (Note: it has been awhile, I could look it up, but I’m pretty sure – she like so many advocates of social “progress” did not want a debate, she wanted her way. Such methodology is often attributed to Sal Alinsky by a number on the political Right) she advises to vilify/characterize opponents and expresses herself as a misologist i.e., as a hater rational argument. Such is the tact of so many today; I’m an advocate of “identifying the beast” so to speak, thus I like people to define their terms so we may know via implication what is circumscribed…

As people generally think of love in terms of attraction, desire, sexuality etcetera, I generally argue that if “love is an emotion/sentiment, it betrays!” Now I have written a couple of essays on love on my blog (one called: “LOVE” the other called: “A Tad More to Say on Love”) and will not repeat them here (they were somewhat lengthy), but I would argue that loveas a moral imperative to seek the good of another… At the end of the day when we argue as SCOTUS in the majority DOMA decision, the Court was neither rational, for they argued that ephemeral sentiment should trump reason… If the Court should argue the Principle of Equality (I’ve written on that as well: “Equality;” note that Jefferson’s “equality” was prior to the law i.e., moral and mortality) before the Law, the argument may be extended to children and adults more easily than an argument for confused sexual unions. Age restrictions are arbitrary; the biology of sex requires medical intervention to alter. If we make the Law a contingency of desire/sentiment, we overtly repudiate the rule-of-law, as the majority SCOTUS did in the DOMA decision. This all makes Chesterton so apropos:

“So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.”

In the end, I think Chesterton’s paragraph above describes the path our Nation finds itself upon; it has been on this path almost since the Nation’s inception, but it took time for the confluence of destructive forces to extinguish the Philosophy of Light.

Cordially,

tjd

 

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