In my professional opinion, saying All Lives Matter is unnecessary; it is offensive and to be avoided in public and private discourse.
I want to offer well-intentioned business leaders and CEO’s with a rational, expert reading of the context and the impact of that particular phase.
Guys, this is not a sermon, but an explanation.
My training as an actor at the National Institute of Dramatic Art taught me …
Character is a composite of your actions.
The writer creates, the actor plays and the audience observes a character through action.
When a character warmly embraces another, it reveals something about their values and intentions.
When a character slaps another person down, or restrains them, or presses a knee into the back of their neck, it provides insight into the values and intentions driving that character, in that moment.
Values and intentions change. They are shaped by the character’s environment and they evolve during the course of a story. But some characters seem to have a limited repertoire; some are more inclined to embrace people and others to slap down or restrain.
However, the relationship between action, values and intention does not merely apply to physical action.
When a character lies, this impacts on the dramatic eco-system in which that character is presented. Dramatic stories track the trajectory of masterful liars like Richard III and Walter White as they grow in power. However, in these stories, these characters ultimately come undone. This suggests that the great human drama has a reliable, self-correcting mechanism.
Intensely moving moments in drama depict characters arguing for truth, compassion or progress. Think Atticus Finch, or Ruth Bader Ginsberg as portrayed in the bio-pic On the Basis of Sex.
Lying and advocacy are actions. As are seduction, manipulation, inspiration, encouragement, inclusion and empowerment. They can be mere words, but when authentically animated by human beings, we can call them actions, and they are the components of character. (Investigate the Stanislavski system and method here)
For leaders aiming to achieve greater impact and influence, a foundational principle is…
Communication is action.
Your character – your leadership brand – is a composite of your actions.
A principle commonly applied to leadership in business and coaching is the standard you walk past is the standard you set. Walking past something, is action. Failure to act, suggests values and intention.
It’s generally accepted that people, business leaders especially, should be accountable for their actions. The list of actions that might reveal the character of a business leader include:-
· They launched this business
· They bought that company
· They sold that underperforming asset
· They achieved this EBITDA.
To this we can add the more subtle psychological actions performed by a leader:-
· They included this group
· They encouraged their voice
· They recognised their courage
· They supported their agenda.
On the basis of observing all these actions – the physical, the concrete, the psychological, the subtle – we can draw conclusions about their character.
Why avoid saying All Lives Matter?
Because they are not just words. Speaking those words is action that suggests values and intention. Those words have impact.
The explanation needs a bit more detail from dramatic practice.
Some actions can be defined as coming from a position of power; we call it high status. It’s not a bad thing. It’s reality. When your surgeon says; “I know what I’m doing,” it’s reassuring that they seem powerfully certain. Your surgeon has earned the right to be powerfully certain having trained and practiced.
Some actions can be defined as coming from a position of power relinquished; we call this low status. This is not to be confused with low-value or worth less. It simply recognises the power dynamic of that specific context. When your waiter asks; “Where would you like to sit?” is encouraging to know their question is genuine and you have choice. By empowering you to nominate your table, the waiter is being professional, as they also are when they hold status when recommending the perfect wine.
Drama arises when two characters engage in psychological competition; when the actions they play on each other are continually high status actions.
“I know what I’m doing.” (To assert)
“No, you don’t.” (To rebut)
“How would you know?!” (To challenge)
“You haven’t read the report.” (To accuse)
“I don’t need to!” (To deflect)
“We want to sit by the window.” (To inform)
“You can’t sit there.” (To forbid)
“Why not?” (To dispute)
“It’s reserved.” (To condescend)
“There’s no sign that says it’s reserved!” (To protest)
Dialogue composed entirely of high status actions leads to an escalation of drama. If no one backs down it becomes a win-lose transaction.
Black Lives Matter vs All Lives Matter
I don’t assume to speak for anyone other than myself on the issue. I wade into the conversation as a dramatist with a perspective on leadership communication.
When people say Black Lives Matter they are speaking the truth.
It is a truth that needs to be spoken again, and again, and again, because the message does not seem to have gotten through. In “civilised” Western societies, evidence clearly indicates that black lives have mattered less, and continue to matter less, than the lives of all people. Black lives have been bought and sold. There are significantly higher rates of incarceration, deaths in custody and more roadblocks to education and opportunity. Surely, this is no longer up for debate.
As complex as these dynamics are, for all the progress that has been made and as admirable are the people working to achieve further progress, justice and equity, the outrage remains that more has not been done to address the imbalance. Or at the very least, more needs to be done.
It is right that the collective be reminded that Black Lives Matter. These words should have power to change – to correct – the trajectory of Western civilisation. The actions played when these words are spoken might be something along the lines of:-
· To assert
· To profess
· To uphold
· To proclaim
· To affirm.
Again, this is appropriate, even necessary, until the collective gets it, and individuals, leaders and institutions combine to take collective, corrective action. Everyone is part of the problem, and for everyone to be part of the solution, everyone needs to get it.
So, what’s the problem with All Lives Matter?
If you’ve followed my explanation this far, the next part should be easy.
All Lives Matter, in the context of this conversation, is a rebuttal.
Without question, the general value set of humanity recognises that every person, every sentient creature even, deserves a life of dignity, fairness and freedom. Our systems of government, our courts, our regulatory and governance frameworks were designed with these principles in mind. That there is more to do to achieve true fairness and freedom for all does not extinguish the good that has been created.
But privilege is blind. Across a spectrum of degrees, black lives still seem to matter less, evidenced by gross exploitation, abuse and disenfranchisement to the subtle effects of unconscious bias leading to exclusion and discrimination. A correction – a cultural evolution – is necessary.
It is right and natural that with the democratisation of communication media, advocates for black lives expect that their voices will be heard; that their impact will be felt and drive widespread corrective action.
When people respond to Black Lives Matter with All Lives Matter, it does nothing to achieve progress towards the serious, corrective action that is required.
All Lives Matter is a rebuttal; a rejoinder; a petty correction of language, when the main issue is far greater and all-encompassing. It challenges the authority of black lives advocates, implying there is a higher moral ground occupied by advocates for all lives. It is paternalism dressed up as wisdom and fairness. It patronises black lives advocates who are entitled to encouragement, support, resources and a far better future.
Railing against political correctness is no defence. That term is an insidious, self-righteous rebuttal of the truth and has no place in a worthwhile contest of ideas.
In acting terms, saying All Lives Matter is action intended to hold status against the undeniable truth that wholesale, systemic change is required. In terms of character, saying All Lives Matter suggests the values and intention of self-preservation and the conservation of your power over other human beings.
This is not a moral judgment, but rather a functional analysis arising from dramatic practice.
Do what you want. However, should you ask my advice, I’d say;
Don’t do it. Don’t say it. It’s beneath you.
Instead, listen. Learn. Allow yourself to be moved and your world view to evolve.
We will all be better for it.