I’ve long admired you, my friends at AT&T, for your corporate culture. I first experienced AT&T as a child, when my father moonlighted in his second job at the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company in Piedmont, West Virginia – a job he loved and held for almost forty years. So my experience with AT&T is from the ground up.
It’s truly an organization with an unrivaled tradition of innovation and connection, which is why I was so delighted when AT&T invited me to host a live session of "Finding Your Roots" at your company headquarters. My hope is that it will be of value in your corporation’s journey to deeper understanding.
As a series, “Finding Your Roots” raises questions at the heart of our search for self-knowledge. Among these questions are: What makes us who we are? What have we inherited from the cultures and the countries from which our ancestors originated? These are big questions, and ones not usually tackled in the workplace. Especially in today’s divisive world, those questions can sometimes lead to tense or uncomfortable exchanges.
But this is precisely why these conversations need to happen. And it’s that strong culture of innovation and connection that makes AT&T employees a group well equipped for mature, meaningful discourse.
Earlier this week, AT&T launched Days of Dialogue – a week-long, voluntary program in which all employees are invited and encouraged to participate in team conversations intended to deepen understanding and inclusion. It would be wonderful if "Finding Your Roots" could be seen as a natural extension of those conversations.
We all need reminders to help us on this journey to deeper understanding. Here are some of my takeaways from my time helping individuals and groups on this important path:
1. Step back and try to look at the picture from someone else’s point of view.
When assessing an awkward situation related to differences in race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, always ask yourself, what or whom is being cropped out of the picture? What am I not seeing and why? Step back for a minute and try to imagine yourself as the other person in your gaze. View the picture from a different angle. Have the courage to say to those you are struggling to understand why they might hold a certain opinion and ask them to help you to comprehend their point of view.
2. Avoid falling into what we might call a “world-view bubble.”
Read books and articles or watch TV series and films that challenge your assumptions. Take the risk of trying to get to know someone who does not share your worldview. Invite them to lunch or dinner. Attend a house of worship with someone of a completely different faith—or even no faith at all! Everybody at all points on the political spectrum shares the same concerns: Loving and providing for their family; staying healthy; living well; being a good person and a good neighbor; defending both their citizenship rights and their right to be themselves, whatever that might mean. Under the superficial differences that seem to divide us, DNA analysis of the sort that we do each week on Finding Your Roots reveals that we are all the fundamentally the same.
3. Support the free and open exchange of ideas.
Defend freedom of speech and the press from censorship of any kind. (This does not, of course, include hate speech, which every organization regulates in its own way.) The marketplace of ideas can function and thrive only when everyone is allowed to speak and be heard. Listen most carefully and patiently when you most disagree. But defend your ideas and principles with gusto!
“Finding Your Roots” celebrates all the things that unite us, the bonds that we all share in common, not what divides us. Genealogy is such a fulfilling journey of discovery, and one that is so important in our world today. Our mission is to connect, and I hope that my time at AT&T helps further strengthen your wonderful culture of connection.