Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it. ― Jane Wagner
I have learned the hard way that the further you get from, what a colleague of mine calls "ground truth", the less capable you are to make decisions that are relevant and meaningful. This is pretty intuitive. Yet all of us consciously and unconsciously remove ourselves from the "ground" of our businesses, our neighborhoods and our communities. The consequences present us as individuals and our society with serious challenges.
And among all of the disconnects from ground truth, money and success can separate us from reality more than anything else. The more money we make and can remove us from the worlds of needs and realities of the people and families "below" us. We tend to reside in a band of commonality that surrounds us with people more like us than not. Again, not driven by conscious choices, but by the centrifugal forces of life. Our economic profile will largely determine where we go to school, where we live, who we meet, who are friends become, and shape the worldview of our kids.
Michael Sandel in his book, What Money Can't Buy, discusses how these centrifugal forces are powered. Sandel says, "Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of ordinary life." But what he calls the "skyboxification" of our lives is minimizing if not eliminating the chances people of very different economic means interact. If you can afford it, you don't stand in lines any more or have a special line based on your customer status or premium payment. Fast passes at Disneyland. exclusive floors at hotels, American Express ticket perks…… This is becoming the exception rather than the rule.
I wrote a piece for LA Magazine online a few years ago about the Brentwood Triangle. About the bubbles we live in the protect us from seeing and experiencing the needs in our communities.
Our ability to govern, to solve problems, meet customer needs, and run successful organizations is increasingly dependent in understanding the totality of our society–from top to bottom. Nearly impossible to do anything relevant from an ivory tower or a Brentwood Triangle.
How Diverse Is Your Network?
Well established that people with more open minds and with networks with more diverse perspectives live longer–up to 9 years! Maybe the most important attribute to diversity is economic. Clearly people with very different net worths and income have different realities. The collision of these realities is where truth emerges.
Ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation and religion can provide different perspectives. However, I believe economic diversity is the most potent and the most insightful of perspectives. Why do universities spend so much money on financial aid? Because they believe that diversity and especially economic diversity is essential for a complete education. Education happens in the hallways and corridors of life. Who you meet, disagree with, compare life experiences with, matters at school and for the rest of our lives.
But we intentionally and unintentionally limit or eliminate diversity. The "best" neighborhoods, schools are rarely chosen for their economic diversity. Hanging out with, living near people "below" our standard of living is perceived by many as unimportant and to others dangerous. Generally, it is not a priority.
Therefore you have to make efforts and take conscious steps to stay in touch. You have to build and nurture a diverse network. It rarely just happens. In fact the opposite is more true. We keep and maintain networks even when they are ineffective and unfulfilling. Habits are hard to break.
Evaluating and constructing your network is neither an "affirmative action" process or akin to the selection of Noah's ark passengers. You gravitate to people through your worlds of contacts and don't reject people who "don't make as much as you." People's economic status in life should not exclude them from your network—People you meet through your kids, at church, at work, on the golf course, and through others.
I can hear some you getting defensive. I don't doubt your compassion or your intention to be open to meet and embrace others. But take a hard look at your network, your neighbors, your kids' closest friends, and your own close friends. How diverse is it? Economically? How insulated are you from reality? Is it good, good enough?
I remember when my aunt told me about when she pulled her kids out of an exclusive private school with great academics and little ethnic and economic diversity. Like all middle class parents they made sacrifices to provide the best for their mixed race children. In the sixth grade, my cousins were asked repeatedly about their "stock portfolios." No one in their family had equity investments! But at this school it was part of the casual playground conversation. Then my cousins came home singing, "Ching Chong Chinaman!" They never heard what they thought was a catchy song before and did not know it was directed at them. They left that school and my uncle and aunt got more involved in the selection of the next school choice.
Your network reflects you, where you are and where you are going. Stay grounded to the truth.
Thanks for reading. John