In General, Wired For Disruption

On this day, 25 cities in the US are under curfew. Protests and riots are happening around the country. People are demonstrating, angry and frustrated at the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African American, killed by a white police officer this week. It’s a stark reminder of how racism is a part of the fabric of this country and a beneath the surface “normal” experience of many African Americans.

I will preface this post by saying that I realize this is an uncomfortable topic. What I write about below is just my own experience. If your experience is different than mine, please share it in the comments below. My intent is not to offend you. My intent is to share the power of deep listening. It makes us better leaders and better human beings. The two are inseparable. At the end of this post is a tool to do that.

My week has been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster. I am neither black nor white. Truth be told, my race is not a big part of my identity. I was born in Pakistan but grew up from the age of 11 to 19 in Tanzania, Philippines, and Thailand and went to international schools. I have close friends of all races. What I love about them is their ability to go deep in human connection. We have gone through trials and triumphs together. So naturally this week, I reached out to several of them (white and black).

I spoke to my friend Ann (we’ll call her Ann to protect her privacy). She’s the mom of two young African American boys. I shared that I was feeling sad that we’re not in a better place in this country. I wanted to hear about her experience. She spoke about her conversations with her sons about how to put their lives above their pride, to be calm and obey orders when confronted by law enforcement. She spoke about the pain of knowing that no matter how educated her boys are, they will still have the experience of others seeing them as suspicious when walking down the street or jogging in the neighborhood.

We both sat with heavy hearts as she described the visceral experience of watching the George Floyd video. It sent her back to the time she visited South Carolina for her brother’s funeral and had to submit to a body search through airport security — the act of just having to obey someone who has more power because of their uniform. It wasn’t the first time. She travels all over the world for work and only gets consistently flagged for security in South Carolina. These micro-aggressions are exhausting. She is tired.

As I listened, I experienced being moved by her story. It is not part of my experience to be racially profiled. Yet, in that moment, I understood what it is like to feel powerless. It was a shared moment of grieving. I felt more complete as if a thread had been added to the fabric of my humanity as I understood another person’s experience.

Here is a tool to help you discover how you listen. This week see if you can listen at Level 3 or 4. It can change you and change the other person. New solutions can emerge when our hearts are moved. If you are so moved, reach out to check-in with an African American colleague. It may be as simple as: “How are you? You are in my thoughts in this time of high racial tension.” Yes, it can feel awkward. But it will help you develop your emotional intelligence, humanity, and authentic connection.


Showing 4 comments
  • Candice St. Pierre

    Thank you Henna.
    You are a gifted writer.
    Thank you for sharing Ann’s story and giving us a way to think about how we listen to others.
    These are indeed turbulent times. It saddens me so deeply that we struggle to co-exist without violence. All humans should be allowed thrive. We must figure out a way.

    • Henna Inam

      Hi Candice – Good to hear from you! Listening without judgment truly changes us. Be safe and well.


  • Denise Beckles

    HI Henna,

    I appreciate your honesty and transparency. I am deeply concerned about the recent disturbing events, reactions, uninformed comments, individuals using peaceful protest as an opportunity to lash out and cause harm.

    There is a must deeper conversation, need for raising awareness to increase understanding which informs behavior and hopefully helps us find a resolution. I’m a trained Diversity Practitioner, who is Black and lived through the terrible riots of 1968-69 when there were a series of murders of prominent black leaders including, Martin Luther King. He taught non-violence, but was met with vicious treatment and eventually murder. My parents moved us as family from the South where segregation and prejudice was rampant — hoping for better opportunity and safety. There is much that has yet to change and many candid conversations to be had–to move us past tolerance to acceptance.

    Who will stand to do this courageous work to bridge the gap of equity, diversity awareness and inclusion?

    I’m praying, asking God to show us who have an awareness of the need for courageous conversation to come together in unity and help our nation move past the pain to understanding and treating others as we want to be treated–with dignity and respect.

    Thank you for listening.

    Denise Beckles

    • Henna Inam

      Thank you Denise. I appreciate your sharing your story. Thank you for the work you’re doing to build bridges. Each person’s story is unique and deserves to be heard. Our unique stories unless told leave the mosaic of humanity incomplete. I love this question you ask:

      “Who will stand to do this courageous work to bridge the gap of equity, diversity awareness and inclusion?”

      I believe we will elevate ourselves when we are willing to share our stories and listen deeply to others’ stories – dig deep enough into our uniqueness and we will find our universal connection.


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