Nehemiah Frank left Tulsa as a child, became an elite gymnast, struggled to graduate from high school, blossomed in college, and returned to Tulsa as a young man to become a new voice for equity in education and social justice reform.
Nehemiah established a blog in February 2017 to express his observations about educational inequality and social justice reform. Little did he know that The Black Wall Street Times would get national and international attention and put him center stage in his efforts to educate the public about these important issues.
In this episode of The Spirit of Leading Podcast, I talk to Nehemiah about his journey, how it has helped him to evolve as a public advocate, and the impact he hopes to have in improving education for all citizens, and especially the under privileged.
My thanks to Joel Wade and Blue House Media for hosting the recording of The Spirit of Leading podcast. Blue House Media is a video, audio, and web development media company and recording studio. www.bluehousemedia.tv
People are real. Flesh and blood. Living, spiritual beings. We are not abstractions.
Human beings are not to be reduced to statistics, ID numbers, socio-economic classes, races, ethnicities, poll numbers, or any other demographic so identified to aid in sorting, classifying, categorizing, counting, or analyzing. Doing so dehumanizes them.
Love is the answer
We’ve all heard to love your neighbor as yourself. Why is that such a good idea? Because the only reality you know is within yourself. Everything else is a perception of reality. So, it’s relatively easy to think of others as not you–an abstraction.
But they are as real as you are.
Everything that you feel, and love, and fear, and long to be; everything that is real to you in the living of your life is the same that every other human experiences.
The ability to love ourselves and to love others as ourselves is the foundation of human interaction. Otherwise, there is you and only you, and everyone else is merely an object to be exploited for your own purposes.
Non-love produces divisions, strife, hate, bigotry, murder, thievery, manipulation, lying, all manner of actions against the well-being of others. Why? Because objectifying others is the direct result of not being empathetic or compassionate.
Love makes empathy and compassion possible
Empathy is your ability to personally identify with the feelings of others as if you were experiencing it for yourself.
Compassion is the ability to identify with the sufferings and misfortunes of others which motivates you to go out of your way to help.
Both empathy and compassion arise from loving yourself and loving your neighbor as yourself. Hence, the ability to feel their pain, their joy, their hopes, and their fears as if they were your own. That’s when everyone becomes real to you, because they are you.
It is spiritually impossible for anyone to love their neighbor as themselves and to belittle, besmirch, denigrate, humiliate, or to inflict harm in any way upon them at the same time. The two actions are mutually exclusive.
The true spirit of leading begins with loving others as you love yourself. Start there.
When every human being is that real to you,
you will be
I am always right in my own mind, and it must be so. You are the same way. And so is everyone else.
Here’s why I’m right
We are made that way. Each and every living thing seeks to survive. We possess life. I have a life–my life. It know it as me. I spend a lot of time making sure I’m OK. So do you.
One of the things I have to be OK with is the me that I am – my identity. OK=RIGHT.
It’s important to be OK with myself. To be right. And when I’m not OK, it’s NOT OK. OK?
Emotional safety mechanism takes over
Internal conflict is NOT OK. So, my built in self-correcting mechanism seeks to find a way for me to be OK within myself. My beliefs represent the pattern of the world that makes sense to me so that I’m OK.
When anyone challenges my beliefs, they upset my world, and that’s NOT OK. It’s an attack on my identity–me.
To be INPowered2 LEAD, I have to grasp the power of this fundamental truth.
To be OK. Listen to others explain their lives.
Listen to this Spirit of Leading podcast I posted last year. Listen to Lead podcast.
My prescription is for more intense listening and seeking to understand and respect each and every individual for who they are at the moment. Because in their mind they are right and right on.
Listen and be
The why is every bit as important as the what. Maybe more so. Leaders are able to make sense of facts in the larger context in which the facts exist. If they fail to do this, they fail to lead.
My little corner of the world is not the whole world. Although my life is 100-percent of my experience, my life is not the only life, no matter how much I feel like it is.
The way I see events is not the only way to view them. My perspective is not the whole picture. If I’m ever to see the bigger picture I must see it from other points of view. I cannot grasp the entirety of the world from my favorite easy-chair, or in the echo chamber of my closest friends.
To ask a leader to solve my problems without regard for the impact that solution will have on others is folly and myopic, not to mention egocentric. But that’s what we seem to want. Fix my problems for me, and screw the rest of you.
Politics has come down to fragmenting the system into ideological niches from which politicians accumulate enough shards to win an election. Screw the rest of you. That’s not leading. This madness must stop now.
There is a larger why in which my what lives.
I have learned that to find my life, I must lose my life for the sake of something larger than myself.
While I am a teeny-tiny part of a larger whole, what I do affects the whole. I act, and I affect those whom I touch directly, who in turn react to my actions and touch others, who do the same, and so forth.
Leaders see the larger whole and take action that considers both my individual situation and the health of the whole system. Without the system, we all suffer, or even perish.
When I understand this relationship of my corner of the world to the whole world, I can act more rationally and compassionately. I can look around in my immediate vicinity and ask, “What can I do to make things better for myself and others?”
After all, I ripple.
When I take the responsibility to do my part every day
to lose myself in the larger community
I find myself more
What offends us reveals more about us than it says about the offender. Why? Because we take offense when something that matters to us is disrespected, ridiculed, or dismissed. The offender might be unaware that they rubbed us the wrong way.
Our feelings get hurt.
When offended, we typically react indignantly. “How dare you,” we lash out, returning the insult, perhaps even louder and with greater intensity. We even have one or more physical sensations of anger that go along with the indignation–a form of anger.
Whatever we say or do, we feel justified in our actions at that moment.
We call people who are easily offended, thin-skinned, because it doesn’t take much to get under their skin.
Just as each of us is motivated by different things, we also are offended by different things.
Time to take a look within.
In most cases we learn to be offended.
When offended, we have the opportunity to stop and ask, “Why did that provoke me? Am I making more of this than I should?”
There are several categories of offensive culprits, to which we all have been programmed to react.
Beliefs and values are challenged or ridiculed.
We are born a blank slate as it pertains to beliefs and values. We adopt the beliefs and values imprinted on us throughout our upbringing, usually from parents and authority figures we seek to please. We also tend to adopt their responses, because we saw how they acted, and heard what they said when their belief system was called into question.
Therefore, we react similarly, unless we challenge the underlying belief or value. When we shift our beliefs and values away from what was originally imprinted, we risk offending those from whom we learned them.
The inertia to remain status quo is strong. Escaping the pull of those beliefs and values takes a lot of emotional energy and psychological capital.
Most don’t rise above them.
Those who do come to their individual conclusions about their beliefs while still respecting the beliefs and values they left behind, are on a path to self-discovery and maturity.
Our sense of what is proper, mannerly, or appropriate is irked.
This also is learned.
It’s very easy to offend someone by just acting yourself. Banned in Boston, but it plays in Peoria. Highbrow versus lowbrow. Animal House manners won’t cut it at the country club. Snob or vulgar depends on one’s perspective.
This is often the territory of cultural diversity workshops. It’s just as important to learn what others regard as offensive as it is to let it go when others unwittingly offend you. They might not know better, and there probably is no reason why they should know.
This also is the realm of political correctness, which has fallen on hard times lately. The idea is to go the extra mile to be sensitive to the sensibilities of others. Maybe we do try too hard sometime, but I’m glad we are trying.
To blow off other’s feelings by saying, “Toughen up,” doesn’t solve the larger problems. Even if that’s what you really believe, try a little kindness and empathy. Try to understand why a particular act, phrase, slogan, euphemism, logo, or cartoon is so upsetting. You might also get some clues why you, too, get so upset by similar affronts to your sensibilities.
If you know who you are, and if you are comfortable enough in your own skin to let unintended slights pass–again, maturity and self-knowledge–then you feel more INPowered to overlook the offensive acts.
Direct insults or ridicule are aimed at us individually or at family or friends.
When someone is intentionally and maliciously insulting you, it is difficult to hold back. But there is a story behind their anger.
If you can remain quiet and still, you will hear the story.
When you bear the onslaught of their verbal abuse and vituperation, you learn that you can hold back when you would rather match them insult for insult. You grow.
The best way to put out a fire is to deprive it of fuel.
When you stand and take the heat, they will burn out. Then, when you offer your empathetic response and lead them down the cool path of reasoned and non-judgmental conversation about their story, you douse them with the cool and refreshing waters of compassionate understanding.
You can stand firm in your impenetrable fortress of self-respect, because you don’t need their respect to prove yourself.
Your ability to forgive flows from your ability to understand the source of the offender’s motivation and not feel like you have to correct them.
When you know your own triggers and can avoid reacting to them,
others will see you as strong,
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Stephanie Cameron, OK2Grow Executive Director
When Stephanie Cameron moved to Tulsa in 2008 to work at a non-profit, she did not expect to become the highly visible leader of a foundation seeking to improve the science, technology, engineering, and math education in Oklahoma.
Stephanie was hired as the community affairs director at APSCO by its founder, the late Larry Mocha, and came under his tutelage. She found herself integrally involved in the OK2Grow Foundation and is program, Dream It Do It.
In this episode of The Spirit of Leading, I ask Stephanie to share some of the leadership lessons she has learned while at the helm of that project. Stephanie offers her views on what leaders can do to promote a more well educated workforce that would measurably improve small business development throughout Oklahoma.
Just as Larry Mocha mentored her, Stephanie is returning the favor by mentoring a high school senior, Sarah Plaster. Sarah also offers her take on the opportunities of young women in business and the value of being mentored.
Stephanie also speaks to the value of getting actual work experience as a teenager, working through her mother’s temp service business.
Stephanie is a member of Leadership Oklahoma Class XXIX. She received a 2015 STEP Ahead award from Women in Manufacturing. Stephanie is active in the Tulsa Young Professionals (TYPros), Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and the Tulsa Global Alliance.
Learn more about OK2Grow.
Learn more about Oklahoma STEM initiative
Women in Manufacturing STEP Ahead award
Learn more about APSCO manufacturing, where Stephanie works
Tulsa Young Professionals (TYPros)
Leadership Oklahoma Class XXIX
The Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance learn more
Big Brothers Big Sisters Of Oklahoma, Of Tulsa Green Country
Tulsa Technology Center student activities spotlight
Stephanie Cameron greets a class of students attending a summer camp for manufacturing at Tulsa Technology Center.
Your life is your one true work of art. The purpose of your work is to reflect the spirit of its source–you.
I’ve always been attracted to art in which I can see something of the artist as well as explore something of myself. I like uniqueness. I tend to walk past the same ‘ole, same ‘ole.
The copycat is never as interesting to me as the original cat.
We are all born originals. Even identical twins are still two different individuals. Hang around them long enough and you can tell them apart.
The people who get our attention are those who let their life-art project the world according to them. They are not asking you to accept their world. They are saying, “This is my world. This is my life.”
They get our attention.
We envy them.
We wish we could be so bold . . . so liberated . . . so ourselves.
So, why not?
Stop copycatting someone else. Be an original cat. In that originality, you will find your purpose, the spirit from which your life-art springs.
Whatever it is.
You are worth being you.
Then you will be free to see and experience and appreciate the life-art of everyone else.
And you will be
your true life.
Giving someone your undivided attention as you listen intently is both difficult and INPowering. Listening without getting distracted by your own thoughts and self-conversation is akin to a super power. And you can develop it.
Like meditation, INPowered listening requires you to empty your mind and concentrate on a single focus. In this case that focus is what the other person is communicating. Doing so will develop your capacity as an intentional and mindful listener.
The goal is to lose yourself in the speaker’s message. It’s a way of getting inside the bubble of their life with them. When I find myself in this mode, it’s like I’m trying to imagine their life and message from inside them. I totally lose myself in that moment.
Listen to what is said and how it is said
Listen for content and context. They are telling you their story at the moment. When you find yourself anticipating what they might say, or judging what they said, you have stopped listening to the message. Refocus. Just listen to the words and the story that is unfolding. There is context in the story that will help you to remember and understand.
Listen to tone of voice, volume, pauses and hesitations, inflections. There is a rhythm to their speech that conveys something about the meaning of their message: excitement, fear, hope, expectation, happiness, all the range of emotions an individual is capable of.
Watch for the non-verbal cues
Watch eyes, gestures, muscle tension, the rhythm of their breathing. This is part of your focus. Pay attention to every detail. This will keep you from focusing on yourself or about what you will say next. When the speaker stops, you will find yourself having to pause and process what they said before you can respond. This takes discipline. You will have to practice.
Feel the emotions being projected by the speaker
Try to get inside their head about what they are communicating about their hopes, dreams, expectations, disappointments, and so forth. You will find yourself feeling with the speaker–whatever emotions they are expressing.
This skill develops your empathy. When you can listen this deeply, you are finally in communion with them, which is the root of communicating.
Remember, everyone at any point in time is always exactly right. Try to sense that feeling of what it must be like to be them at that moment.
Others are INPowered to express themselves and share at a deeper level because they sense you are really into them and not just waiting your time to speak.
Listening with all your heart and senses
developed your ability to be
What is an assertive listener?
Can we talk?
Do your words build or destroy self-confidence in others?