Who Are You and Who Are We Together?

Posted on April 4, 2023


Some people take their childhoods and use them to define their view of the world. Others take their experiences and use them as tools to create powerful lives that their childhoods could never have envisioned. Lori Brewer Collins is a tool user. Lori’s vision of the world and her place in it is far more powerful than a childhood spent on a Michigan farm would indicate. That is, until you talk to Lori and you begin to understand that every single thing that has ever happened to her has moved her forward in life. Lori doesn’t understand life in any other way.

Lori’s experiences have led her to a successful career in worldwide leadership coaching. And the tragic loss of her son several years ago in a charity bike race has led to the creation of a non-profit in his honor, Cultivate the Karass, which brings leaders from disparate political belief systems to connect with each other at retreats, in ways that normal life doesn’t allow.

Lori’s latest venture is a newsletter for leaders. Life in the Boomer Lane isn’t really a leader in anything, except maybe for getting her recycling cans out to the curb before anyone else does. But she gets that Lori’s passion for productive leadership is really a way for all of us to live our lives.

Here is one of her pieces that speaks to her in a very powerful way:

We need to learn the art of being both direct and kind, especially when speaking with people we don’t agree with or like.

It’s rare to find someone in our current culture who speaks directly and kindly at the same time. So rare that I really notice it when I hear someone doing it well.

I heard something about the Zulu a while ago that has me thinking this might signal cultural difference. The Zulu greeting “sawubona” translates as, “We see you.” The normal response is, “Yabo, sawubona” (“Yes, we see you too.”)

Say “sawubona” to someone and you are declaring that you see the other through your eyes and the eyes of your ancestors. You are, literally, acknowledging and agreeing to be fully present with them and all the ancestors they represent. This agreement obligates you to affirm and investigate the potential that is present in each moment, to explore together how you can participate in each other’s life.

Who are you? Who are we together?

When a conversation begins with “sawubona”, these questions linger in the background, creating a beautiful context for authenticity and kindness.

In our current culture, conversations begin differently. We generally tend to think of ourselves as individuals. And so I introduce myself to you (“Hi, I’m Lori.”) and you introduce yourself to me (“Hi, I’m Mike.”). If you agree with me and I agree with you, we’ll be predisposed to keep talking. That predisposition is pretty wired in.

Yet one of the things that makes us unique in the animal world is choice. We do not have to let sameness be the primary driver of collective action. Even though my first instinct about you might be that we have nothing in common and that you’re not someone I really want to get to know, I can, like a Zulu person, deliberately choose to see you as a human being. I can choose to take in the fullness of who you are, to learn what you value and think is important.

What’s up with you? What’s gone on in your life?

I can choose to put aside any preconceived judgments based on how you show up for me. I can intend to get to know the real you. I can choose to listen generously, with curiosity, in a way that makes you feel you are being heard.

I can witness you.

And in doing so, I can start to discover not only who you are, but also who I am in relationship with you.

Then, when I do speak, no matter whether I agree with you or not, it will be much easier to speak plainly and thoughtfully.

LBL forgot to say something else about Lori. Lori considers LBL a close friend, one who has something of value to say. LBL doesn’t challenge her opinion on this. She is simply grateful that this is so. And she has seen Lori lose it in laughter and be about as silly as a human can be and get carried away in clothing stores and discuss issues that LBL is certain have absolutely no place in the leadership arena. In other words, Lori is human, and LBL is beyond grateful to have her as a friend.