Between 1990 to 1995, I asked thousands of teens how many knew someone who was gay or lesbian. In the early years, a handful of brave souls would raise their hands. Most assured me that they didn’t have gay kids at their school or declared that they didn’t “believe in being gay.” Just a few years later, an easy majority would respond by enthusiastically telling stories of their favorite aunt or teacher or best friend, who they liked and respected – and was gay.

They didn’t change because someone told them the correct “sensitive” words to use; they changed because they knew and liked someone who was gay and had looked into (and through) their eyes.

In the 60’s, racial conflict within police departments was a serious problem. Sensitivity training often involved “enlightened” facilitators telling white cops why they were wrong and how they “should” behave. It didn’t work. Smarter facilitators had black cops and white cops sharing their stories and discovering their common hopes and fears, so they could look into (and through) each other’s eyes. That worked.

When Dr. King invited us to the mountaintop, he was not only delivering a message of hope to the oppressed; he was challenging all of us to see what he saw, to look into (and through) each other’s eyes, and to connect with our shared desire for freedom.

Authentic connection is the only thing that has ever created real and lasting change. Shaming, political correctness and other attempts to control each other’s behavior (no matter how “right” we believe we are) simply serve to divide us – and invite the day when those who disagree with us seek to control our words and behavior.

Inspired leaders know this truth. They roll up their sleeves and go first, doing the hard work of seeing past what divides us, and inviting us to see through (and into) each other’s eyes.

It’s what works. It’s worth doing. It’s why change happens. 

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Important Note: On Friday, my website was hacked. (I know, right?) During the few hours when it was infected with malware, McAfee, and perhaps some other services, “blacklisted” my site as untrustworthy. Please be assured, as soon as my monitoring service let me know something had happened, I took the steps to clean it and protect it from further attacks. However, getting it whitelisted again may take up to a week or more. If you visit the site and get a warning message, please know that is based on old data and the site is now clean. My apologies for any inconvenience.