Let's start with the obvious... the terms white guilt and black power are complicated and loaded in today's world. When we see them in print or depicted as images, we immediately have rapid and powerful emotional reactions. Whether we are angered, saddened, irritated, or infuriated by these terms, we all feel something... and for different reasons. We are trigged. In fact, some of you may be about three seconds away from closing this browser window and moving on to the next item in your newsfeed. I get it... trust me, I do. Earlier this week, I re-posted a recent article from Club Industry and was blown away by the negative responses I received, which were all in response not to the article's content, but to the article's cover image which included a clinched brown fist (similar to the one above). The article simply stated that Club Industry would be publishing a series of articles about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the coming weeks. The article went no further. The comments on my re-post would lead you to believe otherwise. The demonstration of blind antagonism that quickly filled the thread revealed something very serious and dangerous about our society right now. And it's time that we stop blame-shifting and sugar-coating it to avoid dealing with it. White, black, orange, purple or green... we are all unnerved by the current state of race relations in our country. We can all agree that something needs to be done, but the majority of us are overwhelmed by the complexity of the issue. We are angry, we are frustrated, and we are distrustful of our government and the media. We feel like our voices are not being heard and we are desperately seeking validation that we are not alone and that we will remain safe. We are all exhausted and let's just admit it... we are scared as hell. Now that we have gotten that out of the way... everyone take a deep breath in... count down backwards from 5 (4, 3, 2, 1)... and exhale. Ok, so you probably figured this out by now, but this article isn't really about white guilt or black power at all. This article is about what happens to us when we are trigged by topics of difference and race. These triggers are so powerful that many of us simply cannot and will not engage in conversations about the either topic. Those readers will be happy to know that despite the imagery and tag at the top of the post, this article is really about something entirely different: my golf swing. Like many golfers, I recently purchased a new set of golf clubs in the hope that they alone would magically improve my scores. Needless to say, after several less than impressive rounds and about $1,000 in equipment and greens fees, I reluctantly came to the bitter conclusion that the clubs had not improved my game and that I was actually getting much worse (proof below). Generally speaking, my shots had become inconsistent and erratic and I felt like I was losing all control of my game. I found that I was consistently second-guessing EVERYTHING and stumbling through routine shots that used to be automatic for me. I was so in my head that I could no longer get my body to do very basic things. After my last round (pictured above) I told myself that I was one quadruple bogey away from giving up the game for life! Luckily before I quit, I decided it would be wise to see a golf coach for some professional help. What I learned that day was about much more than golf. The session started with a quick analysis of my swing and setup. The pro asked me to hit about 10 balls and sat back and watched as I hit each one. As I hit one ball and then the next, each ball was struck more cleanly and crisply than the one prior. When I was finished, I immediately threw my hands up the air emphatically shaking them in both disbelief and embarrassment. I yelled, why can't I do this on the course!?!? The golf pro laughed. Once he stopped laughing, he then said this: The problem with golf is that everyone's practice swings are perfect... We can stand here for hours and you can hit hundreds of balls. The vast majority of them will be infinitely BETTER than most balls that you will hit on an actual course. Here's why. On the practice range, there is no target to hit or something to 'win or lose' after each shot. Because of that, your body tends stay relaxed and your mind remains clear. You will not swing too hard or fast, or tense up during your shots. You will start the swing with positive thoughts and you will generally assume that you will hit the ball and it will go straight. But when you're on the course, there is always something to win or lose... your score, your ego, your pride, or maybe even envy of another person in your playing group... you name it. And before you even hit the ball, you will either set unrealistic expectations for yourself about how far you'll hit it, or you might even tell yourself that you are going to hit a bad shot. And that is why people come to me. To help them learn how to focus on the mechanics of each shot, keep their minds calm, and let just the outcomes speak for themselves. The gravity of his wisdom did not land on me fully until later that evening when I was at home scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed. I promise... my digressions here are purposeful. I have a very diverse friends group on social media including many people that I have ideological differences with. So as per the usual, there were dozens of posts about the upcoming election and COVID and people arguing about various points on either topic. After my session with the golf pro, I now noticed a very consistent and repetitive pattern in nearly ALL of the posts I saw where dissenting viewpoints were being discussed. Conversations typically went like this: Person A posts a comment or meme or article link about a sensitive, trigger-worthy topic. Person B responds to Person A, using a similarly toned comment, meme or article link to make a counter-point. Persons A and B mutually assume that the other person is wrong and that they are right. Person A's friends see the post and jump in to support Person A. Person B's friends see the post and jump in to support Person B. The friends of Person A and Person B are now arguing with one another. Multiple side threads erupt in the comments as it becomes nearly impossible to respond to each of the arguments (via comments, MEMEs, and links) being shared. Things generally continue to escalate until Person A blocks Person B, or either person is de-friended, threatened, or reported to Facebook by the other. The world's problems are not solved. Donald Trump is still the President. COVID is still a reality. And everyone involved has lost friends, hours, and brain cells that might never be regained. So, what does this have to do with my golf swing? A lot. What if we could approach conversations about differences just like we would approach a golf swing at a practice range? Well, it starts with having a positive mindset and neutralizing triggers. For example, when an amateur golfer has to hit over a water hazard, they usually start by assuming the worst. They say to themselves, there's a good chance that I am going to hit this in the water. Next, anticipating that the ball will not go far enough, they swing harder (and faster) and mishit the ball directly into the water. They allow themselves to be triggered by the hazard and psych themselves out before ever taking a swing. Our conversations about differences or other sensitive or personal topics are no different. When we see certain imagery or hear certain phrases (like Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, Donald Trump, Democrat, The Confederate Flag... you name it), we immediately tense up and prepare for the worst. As a consequence, we become easily agitated, defensive, and accusatory. Instead of keeping our eyes on the ball, we take blind swings take even deeper cuts at those who share perspectives that do not align with our own (#block, #unfriend, #delete, #ignore). We allow ourselves to be triggered by words and images that alone do not have the power to hurt us and psych ourselves up before the first counter-point is even shared or spoken. The emerging trend to preemptively discourage opposing viewpoints on social media posts is a great example of this. Has anyone noticed that more and more people (representing a variety of perspectives) are starting to qualify their social media posts with statements like This is my page. I do not want any negative posts., or If you disagree with my post, I ask that you keep your opinions to yourself.? How can we expect to make progress as nation of diverse and passionate people if we are unwilling to work through our differences and if we insist on living in echo chambers? So... how can we all do better? The key to great golf and navigating through differences is mastery of the fundamentals. Golfers know that having the proper stance, swing plan, club selection, and follow-though are each critical to creating great shots on the golf course. It should not surprise us, then, that the same elements make a difference off the course as well. I will go into the specifics of how we can do this in my next blog post. Here's a sneak peek of what I will be writing about. In the meantime, let me know what you think or connect with me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Take Time to Practice; Talking about differences take practice (reps) and patience. You will not be an expert overnight! Keep the Ball in Play; Going out of bounds always comes with a cost. Be mindful of your audience and self-manage to prevent escalating a conversation unnecessarily. Avoid Playing to Win; Understand your intentions and aspire to be more emotionally self-aware. Forgive Yourself; If you want to get better, be prepared to fail forward and fail often.