In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, states that "you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”.
Today, we are engaged in a social and cultural divide not seen in recent times, and it’s easy to discount those that have different points of view. After spending 35 years in the Air Force and additionally one year at the United States Air Force Academy Preparatory School and four years at the U.S. Air Force Academy for a total of 40 years in uniform, I see those same issues now exist in our military. We like to say in the military that we are a reflection of society and are beyond the paradigms that plague our nation, but unfortunately that does not seem to be the case any longer.
I am watching a series presented by Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) called Unfiltered. It can be found on the AFSOC Facebook page or YouTube. It involves a dialogue between Lieutenant General Slife, AFSOC Commander, and Lieutenant Colonel Myron Chivis, a squadron commander of African American roots. I have been intrigued by the frankness of the discussion and more importantly the insights being highlighted.
One small example that speaks volumes is when the Lieutenant Colonel discusses Pseudo Folliculitis, a beard condition that occurs in up to 60% of African American men, he included. The only way to shave when you have this condition flaring up is to let the beard grow for a few days to allow the curly hair follicles to extend far enough to cut them without being extremely painful. As a young man serving as an executive officer, his condition became so severe that the only medical solution was to not shave for three days. He approached his boss, Colonel Slife at the time, with this information and the Colonel’s response was you don’t see any squadron commanders with beard waivers, do you? Myron quickly received the message that he would be considered a nonconformist and he would have to find an alternative method to his medical condition.
Instead, he sought out a skin laser procedure that was painful and expensive. What’s the point?
The Commander did not understand this individual’s medical issue and he didn’t try to inform himself on the issue. He only focused on the fact that Lieutenant Colonel Chivis would be sporting a beard which was not the norm in the military. There are several examples on this topic, but this one illustrates the magnitude of the cultural and diversity issues that our nation faces now. Today, our military as well as leaders in civilian organizations must better understand these cultural and diversity issues to have a more effective organization in the future. To be different is not necessarily the same as not conforming to standards.
Leaders must be aware of the myriad of issues of the various men and women in their organization.
Leaders should find ways to integrate these issues without impacting the well-being of the whole organization.
Leaders must find innovative ways to educate and train personnel on these issues without ostracizing one group over another.
As Atticus Finch so eloquently articulated, you must imagine being in someone else’s skin and walking in their shoes before you can adequately address the cultural issues facing our military, our civilian organizations, and our nation. There is room in our military and our businesses for all our differences, all our diversities. We must make room, now.