We've all been there, right? If you're anything like me then you've probably at least considered passing along that 8th pair of hideous socks, underwear, or tie you received as a birthday or holiday present. If not that, then I can nearly guarantee that you've at least wondered if someone exchanged the gift, or gift card, that you gave to them in good faith. This concept is commonly referred to as "regifting." In today's 40 for 40 entry let's reimagine how, why, and when we should put this practice to work.
Each year over 15 billion dollars are spent on gifts in the US. Black Friday sales after Thanksgiving swiftly turn into post-Christmas return extravaganzas. Some returns go back to the store, while others go to unsuspecting friends who you lovingly passed along the gift - you deemed not good enough for you - to them. Before you beat yourself up too much, know that a recent survey found that 1 out of 4 people regift their unwanted presents. For another example, could you believe that Americans have wasted $10.5 billion on unwanted Mother's Day gifts? You can check out the full story here. Chances are you've been both the giver and receiver of a "not so great" gift.
This weekend I was in Camden, AR to lead a community workshop where we discussed systematic oppression, power, privilege, and the influence these constructs have on communities seeking to build unity among its residents. Heavy stuff, right? Nothing says "HELLO!" on a Saturday morning quite like leading a diverse group of people through a conversation where we work through some of the most uncomfortable realities of our present which are a byproduct of some of the most ugly parts of our country's past.
Where Opportunity Lives
Believe it or not, I really enjoy these opportunities. Tackling issues of "isms," power, and privilege, are chock full of passion, and that's a good thing. It's good because when people show passion they demonstrate that they care. From a leadership perspective, I'd much rather work with a team of colleagues who passionately care about matters than those who are mostly apathetic. Bringing people together to discuss issues of perspective and contextual realities in the realm of diversity and social justice issues are complex because we all see the issue (and possible solutions) from our own unique vantage points. Peoples' memories of good, bad, and indifferent individual experiences are personal, passionate, demonstrate care, and facilitate an environment suited for positive outcomes. My colleagues in Camden cared enough about these topics to volunteer their time for their own personal growth and community gain! Good leaders know that energy garnered from passion can be a very effective fuel for leading effective work that can lead to long term change. I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to work with them on this endeavor.
Regifting in Action
Let's get back to "re-imagining regifting." My recommendation for all leaders is that you regift your best gifts instead of the leftovers. The caveat is that I'm not taking about tangible goods. Physical gifts and incentives have their appropriate place on occasion; however, what I'm referring to are the gifts from within that are irreplaceable: empathy, genuine concern, authenticity, time, attention to detail, etc. Oftentimes, there are many "little things" people in leadership positions do that go unnoticed by those they are responsible for. Under those conditions leaders are susceptible to believing that anything (extraordinary effort, innovation, support, compliments, etc.) we give outside of the basic job description - is a favor. This is flawed thinking that models a minimalist view of service that is poisonous and contaminating for groups who work together. What if we used my proposed concept of re-imagining regifting as a foundational component to your organizations' DNA? How would your current climate and organizational culture change if you as leader modeled regifting your first fruits, so to speak, of your talents without any expectation that you were doing your team a favor and expected something back in return?
Camden: The Long March Toward Unity
My sponsor for the weekend trip to Arkansas was the Camden Police Department. They partnered with a local community group in their town that has led efforts to bring their community together for nearly a decade. At the recommendation of Unity in the Community (UIC), the Chief of Police contacted Miller Ignites to conduct the training. Earlier this year a divisive group held a Confederate Flag rally that upset many in the community and disrupted some of the camaraderie among UIC and other groups within their small town of 12 000 residents. Of all the places in Arkansas where such a rally could've taken place, Camden was an interesting choice for a couple of reasons. 1.) The town had done serious work on improving race relations and promoting unity since 2010. 2.) Each year since 2013, Camden has hosted the biggest National Night Out celebration in the state. The event draws approximately 500 residents annually. It's a night of community celebration where people of different races, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation come together. The event is free for all to attend and local business owners, colleges, and hospitals sponsor the event. Seriously, their event is epic!
Given those factors, the flag rally, and subsequent tension in the community left in its aftermath, it was a no-brainer for me to accept the invitation to do my small part in assisting their efforts by leading the workshop. I did the half day workshop free of charge and regifted to Camden what they had unwittingly given to me previously - love, care, respect, trust, and authenticity. The irony in my leading yesterday's workshop is that for 5 straight years, from 2011 to 2016, I traveled to Camden once a month to help UIC establish itself and get its footing as a nonprofit civic group. Many of the best lessons I've learned about leadership, overcoming adversity, coalition building, organizational culture change and removing limits came from my years volunteering as a Faculty Associate on the "Camden Project." Getting into all of the details that surrounded how I was assigned to be the faculty lead on Camden on behalf of UA Little Rock's Institute on Race and Ethnicity is too complicated to address adequately in this post. Just know that the opportunity came with lots of work, not a ton of support, and in many ways the work that was done in Camden was not considered to be a priority as time went by.
I Never Said It Was Easy
Something often left unsaid in our public discourse about all things race and ethnicity - as it pertains to the complex associations among class-ism, racism, privilege, and perspective - is that this work is difficult, dynamic, and varies based on an almost endless list of variables. Much like politics, the most important discussions in this area are local. They take care, authenticity, and most importantly, time to take root and bare fruit. My suggestion for anyone looking to effectively lead conversations on this topic is that you embrace the re-imagined regifting idea suggested in this post as a primary strategy for engaging any audience with this work. Frankly, many people who seek to help are often well credentialed, but lack soft skills. In short, they come off as entitled elitists who have come to "rescue" and "fix" organizational, community, team, or family problems, instead of working to "help and assist" others solve their own identified concerns.
There is much wisdom in the adage that the journey is greater than the reward. Lessons of humility, understanding, faith, and perseverance are typically taught during the upward climb to leadership. Any truly successful person who leads large systems or small groups will tell you that the lessons they learned in pursuit of their dream is far more significant than the position they eventually claimed. I'll forever be grateful for the lessons I've
learned in my time working with the great people of Camden. I did receive one gift that I will selfishly not regift and share with anyone. That's the special coin presented to me by Camden's Chief of Police as a small token of appreciation at the conclusion of our workshop. I'll hold on to the coin, but I'll certainly regift the lessons learned along the journey with others, forever.