- On July 11, 2019
While I’m all for hunkering down with a good novel to lose myself in someone else’s story for a while, I also seek out books that “sharpen my saw” (as 7 Habits author Stephen Covey would say), to read something that makes me question what I thought I knew or fills in some blanks on what I don’t know.
I just read a book that definitely cut a few more sharp notches in my saw. Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr. Joy Degruy, showcases the long-term effects on our culture from the African-American experience of 200+ years of slavery followed by another 100+ years of institutional repression.
From my work in coaching, I know that almost all of us all have psychological wounds we have integrated into our being resulting from a real or perceived trauma in our lives. The wound that is buried deep down could be Shame, Betrayal, or Abandonment, or a combination.
You might have grown up in a family where nothing you did was ever good enough.
Or people you wanted desperately to be part of mocked you for some differences.
Perhaps a critical adult figure abandoned physically or morally their parental responsibilities.
Maybe you trusted someone and then were betrayed by how they hurt you.
Generally, we develop ways to preserve our efficacy and move on. These wounds get buried deep down and we seemingly ‘get over it.’ Except we really don’t.
What happens to you and your society when you live through not an event, not a few years, but centuries of sustained trauma that creates these unseen wounds?
The historic wounds of shame, betrayal, and abandonment are manifested in historic social behaviors and perpetuated by the response from mainstream society.
In the field of epigenetics, there has been some research on Holocaust survivors and Civil War prisoners that seem to indicate that trauma can affect DNA that is then passed down to future generations who were never exposed to that trauma.
What is the inherited trauma then for multiple generations born, living, and dying in highly stressful and dangerous conditions? And what of those who, by commission or omission, have been complicit in the perpetuation of institutional ‘lesser than’ policies, what part do they play in the healing?
So, here’s the new tooth on my saw:
How do I do my part? How can I relate better to that story, to understand, to have courage enough to be vulnerable in all that I don’t know and to show my good faith? Maybe it’s being curious, having respect, and keeping awareness when assumptions seem to push people apart?
This book shifted my own worldview. My appreciation and empathy deepened for fellow Americans with a set of experiences and a history so different from mine. It disrupted what I thought I knew; gave me a new lens through which to view the world.
I believe that this is the responsibility of leaders—to constantly expand our understanding of the world, to challenge what we think we know (and delve in where we don’t know what we don’t know), and be courageous enough to do something with what we have learned.
OK, that was some heavy stuff for a bright summer day…
What are you doing to “sharpen your saw?”
If you’re not sure right now, I highly recommend picking up Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome as a starter or check out this video of Joy Degruy speaking on this topic if visual saw sharpening serves you better.
Photo: Cover of the book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, by Dr. Joy Degruy, paperback 2017