DR. CUMMINGS: We’re different

June 30, 2013 

You’re black and I’m white. You’re a Democrat and I’m a Republican. You’re a Baptist and I’m not. You’re a woman and I’m a man. You live on the south side of town and I live on the north side. We’re different.

When we first moved here in 1975, my wife and I were told that our biggest problem was “race relations.” Last week, the Macon Chamber of Commerce announced the results of a study that was just completed: “The problem is race relations,” they said. In other words, “The problem is: We’re different.”

Really? Is this the reason there’s so much tension? Is this the reason there’s so much hatred and prejudice and cheating? Is this the reason there’s so much bickering in City Council? Is this the root cause of our inability to attract high quality companies? Are we saying that our differences make it impossible to live and work together?

I don’t believe it. I have lived and worked in this community for 38 years. It’s not our lack of “sameness” that separates us. It’s our lack of trust. We don’t trust each other. If we can begin to trust -- regardless of race or politics or religion -- we can build the finest community in this country.

A few years ago, a fine group of black and white community leaders banded together to form “The Center for Racial Understanding.” We had good intentions, but we failed because we focused on “race relations” instead of “trust.” We talked of the past instead of the present. We talked of race instead of trust.

A delicate plant needs the warmth of the sun and the moisture of the rain, and then plenty of patience. Trust needs the transparency of truth and the openness of motives, and then plenty of patience. We can do this. Here’s how:

• Tell the truth. Why is this so difficult? All sorts of reasons: I lie because I’m embarrassed. I lie because I’m ashamed. I lie because I want to win this argument and the truth would make me lose. I lie because I want power.

What would happen if a white manager told the truth about his prejudices? What would happen if a black City Councilwoman told the truth about her prejudices?

• Share your motives. We do all sorts of things for hidden motives. We flatter people just to get their business. Think of all the political candidates who told you what you wanted to hear -- just to get your vote.

I’ll never forget a staffer who worked for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign. I called to find out how Jimmy felt about a particular farming issue. She said: “How would you like him to feel?”

What would happen if we all began to say why we feel the way we do? “Yes, I did that -- or I said that because I’m still angry about what happened to my great grandfather.”

We can overcome all our differences if we just tell the truth and reveal our motives. Will we agree? Of course not. But we can slowly begin to trust each other.

I don’t always agree with the liberal political thinking of Charles Richardson, and I know he doesn’t always agree with my conservative bent, but we trust each other. I trust Charles because he tells me the truth, and I believe him. He trusts me because I don’t hide behind hidden agendas, and he believes me. Sure, we’re different. I can never be black and he can never be white, but that’s not an issue. I will never be a liberal and he will never be a conservative, but that’s not an issue. The issue is trust!

Can we trust each other? If we trust each other, our differences become topics of learning, not topics of hatred; topics of exploration, not topics of exploitation.

Is this easy? Of course not. Will it happen overnight? Not a chance. Trust is like that delicate plant; it will grow slowly, and only with lots of patience.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.

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