We are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality. . . . Strangely enough I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way the world is made.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Recently NPR reported a study of American banks and their hiring practices of African Americans. The findings were stunning, and in my opinion apply far beyond the banking world. First, the study concluded that it’s not enough simply to not be racist. It found that when banks were simply not racist, they allowed entry level hires of African Americans with the expectation that they would rise through the ranks, but that never happened when banks were simply not racist. The study dug more deeply into why.
It found that those employees who did advance (white) always had two things working for them: critical feedback from superiors and mentors who took them on. Critical feedback meant telling new hires what they were doing that was not helpful, but white supervisors were afraid to give that kind of honest feedback to black hires for fear of being accused of racism. The study also found that mentors chose mentees who were like them. White mentors chose white mentees. With no black supervisors in the organization, there were no mentors choosing black mentees.
Being my true self depends on you being your true self, and you being your true self depends on me being my true self. We are a community of mutuality whether we understand that or not, resulting in oppression where we all ultimately suffer, or in freedom where we all ultimately benefit.
Today, we have the opportunity to be our true selves. Risk involved.
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I find this fascinating!
What I take away from this is that being one’s true self involves always acting from the core of kindness in your heart, without worrying about how it may be perceived by others. But it also means that we have a responsibility to receive communication from others with the presumption that they are acting/speaking authentically from a place of Love, without ascribing ulterior motives or manipulative intention to the interaction.
(In my personal experience I have found that it is the latter which proves the most challenging. Many people are so accustomed to bringing their own baggage to every personal exchange that they find it nearly impossible to let go of the notion that there must be a self-serving subtext in every encounter. And that saddens me.)
Very helpful insights, Christiana. I cannot say that what I am advocating, or really, what Dr. King was advocating, is easy, but the deep truth of it speaks to me and in me. I have been around people, had interchanges with people who were so clearly being their true selves, no masks, that it called the true me forth from behind my masks. And, it seems to me that there is a fine line between that kind of mutuality, and a persona that seems harsh and demanding while pretending to be the true self. The sort of “well that’s just who I am and you can take it or leave it” is just another mask, and it does damage–to those around and to the one who sends it forth.