First, let’s get one thing out of the way. Understanding trauma and how it functions is scientifically sound, empirically useful, and one of the most effective ways to develop to your full potential.
The great challenge of adulthood is embracing complexity. We do this by taking on multiple perspectives in our minds and building this capacity into our hearts and bodies.
Nowhere is this challenge more evident to me in the United States than in the area of cultural and racial conflict. Even those of us who are doing our best to create a better future have a lot of growing up to do.
You know what’s great about growing up? When we do it, the benefits accrue in all areas of life.
That’s why I think that reframing how we approach race and culture isn’t only about black and white. It also yields benefits in whatever context we choose to lead.
Sure, you could use what you learn about leadership from organizational life to make a contribution to our societal struggle with race, but this also works in reverse. The cauldron of racial relations can foster skills and qualities you need to show up at your best in organizations—and in your family and community.
I’ve had several guides in this journey. One is leadership coach and retired executive, Diane Woods. Last year, we discussed why it’s important to talk about racist ideas rather than racist people and how combatting racism is in whites’ self-interest. My mind is still stretching from that conversation.
This week, Diane asks us all to try on a very different, albeit compatible, lens for understanding our experiences in this area. Drawing upon Resmaa Menakem’s book My Grandmother’s Hands:Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, Diane invites us to place the body—its trauma and its resilience—at the center of this story.
What if we set aside the patterned roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer in favor of a more complex body-centered understanding? What if, instead of either rationalizing racist behavior or demonizing each other, we did the following:
- Set clear boundaries around racist words and behaviors
- Understood racism as multigenerational trauma—black body trauma, white body trauma, and police officer body trauma?
As she did before, Diane speaks from her own experience, informed by her extensive reading, and in a way that invites us all to take a second look at our own lives and family’s experiences.
- 7:50 We’re in love with our minds & stop at the chin or neck
- 15:00 Black and white bodies carry unresolved trauma between generations
22:00 When people we love tell their stories, our anxiety and pain has meaning
25:30 Dirty pain versus clean pain
30:00 Indigestion leads to self-soothing—healthy or harmful
32:20 “When the ouch in my body stayed three months”
34:00 When I know my value, my capacity to bounce back is deeper
39:30 We don’t have to condone racist behaviors to have a compassionate stance
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