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June 16, 2018

A White Man trains in Authentic Leadership at Naropa University.

I just completed the first part of an Authentic Leadership training retreat at Naropa University. My colleague, Dave, did it recently, as well.

At one point a discussion came up around privilege, gender, race, and power—a discussion that, as founder of Elephant, I encourage from all perspectives, (please write, below) not in accusatory terms but in frank, honest, constructive terms.

That said, I’m wildly ignorant. I know this. I acknowledge this. I know history, pretty well. I believe in equal rights, and the ongoing and bumpy journey thataway. I acknowledge my privilege and hope to have the…er, privilege, to use myself up on service of this beautiful, terrible world.

But I also am curious. I want to learn, so that I can be a better boss and human, both. If you’d like to apply to join our team, you can do so here. We’re lucky to have staff from all over the world, and most of our team is female.

But I, of course, am a “white man.” And in the retreat, at one point, someone pointed out that most aggression happens by men, toward women. And that I, as a white male, may be more comfortable with aggression.

I pointed out, then, that I am not comfortable with aggression. My mother went through domestic abuse, when I was young, and I witnessed a little of it (though she protected me, and extricated me, so I have no memories of it, and thankfully little direct trauma).

And I pointed out that “white” is a blunt term. My family, quite recently, could not do business unless they changed their last name (‘Lewis’ is a fake name). On my mother’s side, my family would have experienced pointed prejudice from all sides only two generations back.

But I am white, and male, and privileged. I grew up poor, but I was privileged to have a powerful single mother who guarded my education. Education is our best investment as a country.

I can not equate myself with those who are, today, experiencing real and direct prejudice and abuse of power. Whatever our background and present reality, we can all, together, work toward real equality. With curiosity, sharing, eager resolution and even, at times, celebration. For unraveling the systems of hate and suppression is a beautiful, if difficult process. We can begin with acknowledging our many forms of up-power, and down-power, and resolving to work to be of benefit to all.

Aggression creates aggression. Love is stronger than hate, and it can be active, not passive.

Or, as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche urged us, never give up on anyone. Read more, here.

Waylon Lewis

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