Here at Modern Servant Leader, we often discuss the power of digital media to expand leadership. So I appreciated the opportunity to speak about this at TEDx Calvin. In this talk, you also hear my gratitude for the role you each play, in advancing the servant-leadership movement.
The objective of the talk is to encourage more people to leverage digital media, to intervene against evils. Watch or read the message below. Then, tell me how you plan to “Be the Good”…
Be the Good
Evil expands in the absence of Good.
The 4th Century African Bishop, St. Augustine, defined evil as, “Privatio Boni” which is Latin or the “absence of good”. He explained that, just as you cannot have darkness without the absence of light, you also cannot have evil without the absence of good.
Now, the good news is, even just a small amount of light can push away a LOT of darkness.
If he were alive today, St. Augustine would say we’re doing a poor job of being the Good that resists Evil. This is especially troubling, considering every one of us has, in our possession, the greatest influencing tool in the history of humanity – your phone.
Through digital media, it is easier today than ever before, to influence ten, hundreds, thousands, even millions of people, with your message of good.
Yet, with this immense power, what do we do with it? We look at cute, cuddly kittens online, nice puppy photos – we socialize with friends, and that’s all fine.
But when we refuse to stand up to evil – which we tend to do a lot of – we let it grow.
We say things like, “You know, I don’t really want to engage – I don’t want to create conflict.” Or, “I’ve got a cousin, three times removed, who doesn’t, necessarily, agree with my views… I just don’t like to get involved.”
We make excuses, left and right, but every time we do, we allow evil to expand a little further.
Evils, like Sexual Assault.
The Evil of Sexual Assault
If evil expands in the absence of good, then what good is absent, that permits the continuation of sexual assaults?
Psychologists will tell us that sexual assault perpetrators don’t really act alone. Instead they act on the beliefs and value systems of their peers and their community.
Now this is not a defense of the perpetrators. It’s an expansion of accountability to the broader community. We need to find ways to get more Good into more communities.
For another example, let’s look at modern racism.
The Evil of Racism
A 2018 report by The American Journal of Public Health found that Black Men in America are, on average, three times – three times – more likely to be killed by police officers. In some of our own midwest communities, that number jumps up to EIGHT times more likely.
Now, I want to be clear: most police officers are amazing people. They are out there to serve and protect. They’re out there for our good and they’re just looking to do good.
Later today you will hear an example of one family that is deeply impacted by the incredible challenges police officers face on a daily basis.
But, this is not a defense of the guilty. We have to stop defending the guilty.
When we defend the guilty, we break the trust in the innocent – we break the trust in the entire system. This is not a defense of the guilty.
This is an expansion of accountability to our police departments to engage more GOOD – to be the good that resists more evil, through things like implicit bias training.
We have to do more good.
Choose an Evil to Resist
Now, these are just two evils. There are all kinds of evils in the world, that we see all the time.
But we’re here today, not just to listen and to hear about evils. The topic of today’s TEDx is INITIATE, right? We’re here to initiate something new. So I’m here to ask you a favor.
I want each of you, right now, in your mind, to think of one evil, that you’re not going to make an excuse for the next time you see it. The next time you’re scrolling online or seeing it on the street, you’re not just gonna pretend like you didn’t see it.
You’re not gonna say, “I don’t want to engage” or “I don’t like controversies.”
You’ll be the good. You’ll intervene.
You don’t need to tell anyone here about it today, but pick it right now, in your mind. I’m going to look around – give me a head nod when you have an idea what it is, so we know we can move forward.
There’s some examples… yes, there is racism, there’s sexual assault, there is domestic violence, there’s hunger – things like that.
And some of you young parents here might even want to have something a little less serious – a little more lighthearted, like getting rid of the evil we know as the Baby Shark song!
But on a more serious note, what is your one evil?
So just give a head nod or a little smile, so I know we’ve got a sense – everybody’s kinda got an idea of what their evil is? We’re initiating today – I want you to keep this in mind as we move forward.
Think about how you are going to resist that evil, with your good.
Modern Servant Leadership Movement
Okay, For me, the evil I chose to resist was bad bosses in corporate America.
Like many people in their career, at some point, you’ll work for a bad boss – and I worked for a doozy of one.
But, as bad as he was, I knew he wasn’t alone. There is a reason it is a cliche. Especially in corporate America, we lack enough GOOD bosses. So, we end up finding bad bosses acceptable – or even expected.
So I did a lot of studying and over the course of about a decade, I came to the realization that the concept of servant-leadership would be my answer of GOOD to the bad bosses.
And, like each of you now, with your idea in your mind – your evil that you want to resist, I had to figure out how to reach strangers – new communities, with my message of good.
In order to do that though, we need to first realize that evil, when we see it, is just a symptom of a bigger problem. That one evil of bad bosses is a symptom of a bigger problem of poor leadership development.
The evil you have in your mind, is one symptom of a bigger problem. And when we look at recovery programs – especially 12 step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, and many other great programs, that recognize how we change the world and how we fix our broken problems, they all begin with one thing: an intervention that recognizes we have a problem.
And that’s where digital media can help.
The Good #MeToo Movement
That’s where digital media – a specific example like the #MeToo movement helped.
Before the #MeToo movement, the statistics were clear: 81% of women and 43% of men had experienced sexual harassment or assault.
During the #MeToo movement though, 19 million tweets – shared around the world, said: “I hear you, you are not alone, it happened to me too. This is a bigger problem than we may have admitted or recognized in the past, but this is an intervention.”
We recognized, through this movement, that there was a problem we need to address.
Many people knew it – we couldn’t refuse it anymore.
Now, critics will tell you that a movement – a digital movement, like #MeToo, doesn’t really change anything in the real world. They say, “it’s digital “slackitivism”, it becomes an excuse for doing anything in the “real world” – as though digital media is not a part of our world.
But, that’s just not true.
In fact, it reaches some of the darkest, toughest communities to break in to.
The #MeToo movement, specifically, reached a community just 2 hours from here – the Thumb Correctional Facility, a prison not far from here. And, it reached a gentleman there by the name of June.
June has a long history of crimes – and he’s serving quite a long period in prison there. And some of his crimes included indulgences with women – often based on drugs, or alchohol or the sex trade.
June and I have chatted a lot – and he is really a changed man and he’s been reformed for a while. He feels like he regrets his past a great deal. But, he told me – he said, “Ben, even though I felt like I’d changed and I’d reformed so much, it wasn’t until the #MeToo movement that I really appreciated the harm that had been done to these women – that I really understood the value and the changes that happened, especially to abused women.”
If you ever tweeted #MeToo, shared that movement – supported it in some positive manner, then you did that. You were the good. You helped our communities, like June’s, recognize, we have a problem.
The Good #TakeAKnee and #BlackLivesMatter Movements
For another example, going back to our racism issue: we have a problem in our country, still, with racism. And it dates back to 1965 – well it dates back much longer than that. But in Selma Alabama, in 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. defined the use of television – their form of digital media at the time, in their fight for equal rights. He said:
“We will no longer let them use their clubs on us in dark corners. We will make them do it in the glaring light of television.”
As the horrific beatings of peaceful protesters spread across the country’s news, apathetic white people – especially in the north – could no longer make excuses like, “I just don’t want to get involved”, “I don’t like confrontation”, “my cousin might not agree with my views.”
We couldn’t make excuses anymore. The intervention impacted a need.
Now we’re affected by the events of MODERN racism.
From smaller incidents like white women calling police on black BBQs in the wrong location. Or, on 8 year old black children who are just trying to help their parents, who are unemployed, but they’re selling bottled water without a proper permit.
To much bigger tragedies like the killing of unarmed black teenagers, by police officers.
These incidents gain momentum through movements like #TakeAKnee and #BlackLivesMatter.
There are many people who are critical of these movements. Those who are critical of #TakeAKnee often say it’s unpatriotic. And to those people, I appreciate their sense of pride in our country – and I say, that we need that pride, because we are one of the greatest countries in the world and we should be strongly proud of that.
But unfortunately, some people are misinformed. Because the very act of kneeling, itself, shows the patriotism – shows the respect. It is done in a manner that is intended to show respect for the service of our military men and women and other service men and women in this country.
THAT is why they take a knee and don’t just sit on the bench.
Other critics will say of #BlackLivesMatter there are people who’ve done terrible things in the name of the #BlackLivesMatter. And, they’d be right. There are some people who have definitely taken it too far – just like in the 1960s people took the civil rights movement then too far and did some things – wrong actions then.
But that does not change the fact that we have a problem, that needs to change!
It does not change the fact that we need an intervention – and if it’s #BlackLivesMatter and #TakeAKnee that we get an intervention through – then so be it! That is the intervention we need in this country.
Movements like #TakeAKnee and #BlackLivesMatter open our eyes. They are the interventions that are helping our police departments recognize we have a problem.
And they cause police departments to work with people like Dr. Kimberly Kahn. Dr. Kahn works with police departments to make strategic changes, including in the areas of implicit bias training.
Dr. Kahn believes that these trainings start as a foundation for broader changes in policing of our citizens. And she says these changes are happening more – and having a bigger effect, thanks to movements like, #TakeAKnee and #BlackLivesMatter.”
So, if you ever tweeted or shared in support of these movements, you did that. You had an impact. You intervened. You were the good.
But your issue that you’ve chosen today to initiate your fight for good on, may not be as big as racism or sexual assault – it may be like mine: bad bosses in America.
And in those cases, you still need to figure out how to make the change.
For me, I started a similar method. Created a blog, started a digital online community and in the first year, we had several hundred followers across a couple of countries. By year 3, we reached several thousand followers, across most countries.
Now, in year 10, the movement for modern servant leadership spans 6 continents, every major country, and most major languages.
We are committed to advocating servant leadership awareness and adoption, across organizations.
Evil is very real, my friends.
It comes in the form of darkness, it comes in the form of racism, in sexual assaults, in bad bosses, it comes in the form of evil that each of you has chosen today to initiate your fight for good on.
And everytime you come across some evil in this world, you make a choice: you either sit quiet, idly by, and allow them to continue using their clubs in dark corners or you speak up, and be the good.
Please, be the good.