Whitney Hess: Putting Humanity Back Into Business

Whitney and Ivan discuss how we need to bring intimacy to work, how Buddhist principles apply to people and companies, and how dignity might be more important than empathy right now.
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Whitney Hess

Executive Coach, Writer and Designer

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If your work doesn’t acknowledge you for the whole person you are, or your values aren’t in alignment with your work, you’ll start to compartmentalize and both your energy and intelligence will become blocked.

Both Whitney and Carl Smith wonder how to scale intimacy, but she’s realized the answer might be inspiring more people to become Whitneys and Carls. She’s pleased that many of her coaching clients become coaches themselves.

We think of Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment as a personal thing, but Whitney counsels executives and companies that it’s okay to let go of business choices they made years ago that no longer serve them.

Whitney tries to coach people not to be attached to titles, but to think about how they can be of service to the problem they want to solve, the population they wish to serve or the philosophy in the missions they’re committed to.


IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business, and the humans in it. I’m your host Ivan Stegic. My guest today is Whitney Hess, coach, writer, and designer, who is on a mission to put humanity back into business. She believes that empathy builds empires. She wants to “live in a world that values collective power of a personal power where companies take care of their communities and where leaders reflect and represent all identities, cultures and needs of our society.” I want to live in that world.

Hello. Welcome to the show Whitney. It’s my pleasure to have you on.

WHITNEY HESS: Ivan, thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to get the chance to chat with you today.

IVAN: I am too, and as we get started tell us where in the world you are joining me from today.

WHITNEY: I am just outside of Portland, Maine where I currently live.

IVAN: Portland, Maine. Now, if I remember correctly, were you living on a boat?

WHITNEY: I was. [laughing]

IVAN: And are you still [laughing] living on a boat?

WHITNEY: Sadly no.

IVAN: Oh, no.

WHITNEY: We lived on a sailboat in San Diego and in 2016, we moved back to the East coast, back to New York City, and we left our sailboat docked in the marina where we lived in San Diego. And we visited it a few times, but after a few years it just became clear we weren’t going to be able to ship it to the East coast. It didn’t really make sense anymore, and so we had to say goodbye to her unfortunately, and now we’re like a normal family [laughing] living in a house on land.

IVAN: [laughing] Wait, what was her name that you left behind?


IVAN: Jenny. Oh, Jenny. [laughing]

WHITNEY: We miss the whole lifestyle so much.

IVAN: Oh dear.

WHITNEY: And we will do it again one day, I’m sure.

IVAN: You had plans to circumnavigate the globe? Am I right?

WHITNEY: That is the game plan. We have lived in many places, New York City, the Florida Keys, San Diego. We spent some time in Japan, and we always feel that there’s more to explore. So, one day when the time is right, we will get our ocean sailing vessel and perhaps a crew, [laughing] if I don’t learn enough in the meantime and make a trip around the world.

IVAN: That sounds exciting, and to me it sounds absolutely terrifying. [laughing] It’s weird, my whole ancestry is from this little island in the Adriatic Sea, off the coast of Croatia. And so I have ancestors who are fishermen and flew to the United States and fished for a living and brought all of that money home to give to their families in Croatia. And guess what? I have no sea legs whatsoever. I cannot go out on a boat, on a sailboat, even on a ferry it’s a little difficult [laughing], so it’s just really terrifying. I don’t think that’s something I could do.

WHITNEY: You know, you’re not alone in that experience. Quite a few people get seasick, especially in the open ocean where there’s really more rolling waters, very different experience than a bay. But, you know, there’s a pill for that, Bonine or Dramamine; it really works wonders.

IVAN: I might look into that then. [laughing[ Well, you recently celebrated 15 years of being in business for yourself. Congratulations.

WHITNEY: Thank you so much. It sounds pretty crazy to hear someone else say it.

IVAN: Yeah, you kind of started as a freelance web designer for small businesses. And it’s morphed over the years into other things, into user experience consulting. And now you’re executive coaching, and you’re trying to make these changes with leaders, aren’t you?

WHITNEY: That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. Good metaphor.

IVAN: [laughing] Oh, I just got that. Thanks. [laughing] I wanted to ask you, what is the common thread that’s run throughout your work since you started with design?

WHITNEY: I have always felt compelled to put humanity back into business. I had very early work experiences that indicated that there was something off in the workplace. It didn’t feel like everyone was acknowledged for the whole human being that they are. And that they had whole lives that they were living, and that work was an aspect of that, but not the totality of it. And I felt compelled to do something about it, to try to move the needle in some way or create a sea change as you say.

Initially I thought that that contribution would be in the form of user experience. So, helping technology companies make their products easier and more pleasurable for their customers to use. And I was working full-time as an interaction designer at an agency, where we were working with major brands like American Express and New York Times, Allstate. And I wanted to support small businesses as well, and I also needed the extra cash to make ends meet, being 23 years old, living on my own in New York City.

And so I thought, Okay, I’ll just start a little thing on the side, and that was where I was doing this freelancing with small businesses, mostly companies that friends or friends of friends were running, and would hire colleagues of mine at my full-time job to do the bits of the web development that I wasn’t very skilled at.

Three years into it, I decided that I was going to quit my full-time job and focus on my business full-time, and it’s been 12 years since then. So, three years on the side of a full-time job, 12 years totally independent. And I never in a million years would’ve expected that it would become what it has.

IVAN: You mentioned bringing your whole self into work, that work is just an aspect of the totality of who you are. So, I agree with you on that. I don’t think you can compartmentalize parts of yourself in your life very easily. But there are a lot of people out there, people I’ve worked with, people who I’ve seen in corporate America that would disagree with us. Why would we want to bring our whole self to work? That whole work life separation. What do you say to those people? What’s your position?

WHITNEY: I don’t know that we and they disagree as much as we think we do. First we define bringing our whole selves to our work as a way of ensuring that our work is in alignment with our deepest values. So, you mentioned compartmentalization. What often happens is that in order to get through the day in an environment where the values upheld in that company do not align with our values, we have to lock away parts of ourselves, because otherwise it’s intolerable, and we can’t get along with people. And we wonder why we keep showing up. And for many of us, myself included, security is a very high priority. And our work, our income, is one of the main ways that we get that security for ourselves and for our families. We can sometimes find ourselves compartmentalizing parts of what we value, putting them aside in order to get through the work. But what I’ve seen ends up happening, if we do that for too long, is that what we think, what we say and what we do end up being out of alignment as well.

This compartmentalization can lead to a disconnection between our mind, our cognitive intelligence, our hearts, our emotional intelligence, and our bodies, our sematic intelligence. And the work that I want to do in the world, and what I’m aiming at in my work with my clients every day, is to help restore a connection between those centers of intelligence within us. So that when we show up in every part of our lives, we’re bringing our full faculties with us; that what we think, what we feel, what we say, what we do, is all in alignment. And therefore we have our energy to back us up everywhere we go, including at work. That’s how I define bringing our whole selves to our work.

We’re not just sitting at our desks. now most of us at home, having a sense of ourselves as like disembodied heads, where all that really matters, all that we’re actually contributing to this job is what’s in our minds, our cognitive intelligence. I see us also having so much information about the world, about the job that we have to do, that lives in these other centers of intelligence. And if we are compartmentalizing ourselves too much, we’re not going to have easy access to those centers of intelligence, which means we’re not going to have all the relevant information that we need to make informed decisions day in and day out.

So, I think that even the folks who would say, “I want separation between work and the rest of my life,” or who really value privacy and that sense of choice around what aspects of themselves they bring to their workplace, I don’t think that that’s out of alignment with my definition of bringing our whole selves to our work. But even more so, if we can establish what our values really are, and we can maintain those boundaries, I think we’ll have better access to all parts of ourselves wherever we’re showing up.

IVAN: I have so many questions. How do you scale this? I know that everything you’ve described I completely understand. And, as the leader of a company I agree with and I want all of our employees and all of our team members to bring their whole self as you’ve described. But I’ve worked in a corporate environment before, and I can’t imagine it being transformative, I can’t imagine scaling such a thing. How do you have impact in a larger organization with that?

WHITNEY: Well, firstly, I think I should just be very honest in stating that I do not believe that all existing companies necessarily deserve to survive, [laughing] in this cultural transformation that I am trying to participate in bringing about in the world, and that I think is coming whether we like it or not. I mean, it’s here.

IVAN: Yeah, it is.

WHITNEY: So, you’re right. There are plenty of corporate environments where creating this kind of transformational change would be impossible, because the fertile ground for these ideas, these behaviors to take root, just doesn’t exist. And I’m okay with that. I’m very okay [laughing] with those companies eventually folding, and the folks who work there finding environments that have more fertile ground for this kind of work. So, I just want to be very honest about that. I am very picky about where I spend my time, and I try to encourage the same of my clients.

If through a series of activities and events and the responding interpretations that we could make as a result of the time that we spend inside these companies, if we conclude that we can’t make this kind of progress there, I encourage them to move on. I encourage them to be very conscious of where they are putting their energies. Because those of us who are progressive and want to create this kind of transformational change in business, have to ensure that the work is sustainable. And if we’re putting ourselves into environments where this kind of work can’t take root, eventually we’re going to burn out, because we can’t carry the torch for this single handedly. It has to be a ground swell. It has to be a collective effort.

So, if you are gathering lots of evidence that the place where you work is not going to be likely to embrace this kind of change, and participate in bringing about the change that we’re seeing happening worldwide, around a sort of new awakening of what really matters and how to come together to support one another in a power with paradigm. Rather than this power over power under paradigm that’s so prevalent in corporate America, in American society and in many other societies around the world as well. Then we need to pull up the roots that we’ve planted and bring ourselves elsewhere.

Obviously I say that with a recognition that it takes a tremendous amount of privilege to make that kind of choice. And yet I find that many of the people that I work with have the privilege to make that choice, but are often not exercising it. So, I try to encourage my clients to recognize where they do have choice, and where they can essentially vote with their feet, and put themselves in places where there is a receptivity to this kind of thinking.

How it scales is an amazing question, and it’s one that I’ve been trying to figure out myself, because even my own business is not very scalable. I work with my clients, for the most part, one on one. I have private clients who pay out of pocket. I have sponsored clients whose employer is paying for the coaching, but who I’m working with one on one, and then I have corporate clients. And even with my corporate clients where I’m coaching many senior leaders, one on one simultaneously, there’s still only so much of my time to give. And so I am right now trying to figure out how to redesign the structure of my business, so that I can scale these efforts more effectively. And it’s a really tough nut to crack and I don’t have the answers yet.

IVAN: Yeah, it reminds me of what Carl Smith from the Bureau of Digital said which is his problem with the Bureau of Digital is scaling intimacy. And he described all of the physical events that we used to have. Remember the days before the pandemic when we’d all get together and we’d have those things, he’s been trying to crack that as well. How do you scale the intimacy of those events where you’re in person, and you do that for more people, and you do that online? It feels like that’s what you’re trying to do, scaling that personal relationship with everyone.

WHITNEY: That is exactly it, and I use the work intimacy in my work a lot. Talk about scaring people off, [laughing] some people think intimacy at work? What? And I value the intimacy that I have with my clients so highly. One-on-one conversations are deeply meaningful to me. Even sitting here today and being able to have this one on one in-depth conversation with you is so meaningful to me. It’s so life giving, energy giving. I always leave one-on-one conversations more energized than when I entered them.

Group scenarios, while they have other value in my life. Yes I miss conferences. I miss hanging out with friends. I miss group experiences so much. And I wonder how we’re ever going to get back to it. Those experiences give me a tremendous amount of value and can be energizing in other ways. But quite frankly, when I come back from a conference, I have to lie down for a week I’m so tired.

IVAN: It’s immensely draining.

WHITNEY: [laughing] It is for me. Very draining.

IVAN: I’m sure.

WHITNEY: I come across as an extrovert, but I’m actually a huge introvert. I’m an only child. I’m used to spending a lot of time alone. And I need that quiet time to fill the well again before I’m able to even get back to doing what I do. But there’s a limit to how many people you can have intimate connection with when you’re operating in this one-on-one model. I’ve toyed with group offerings before. I have run group coaching programs in the past. I’ve run many workshops both at in person events and online virtually.

And I do get a lot out of it, and I do enjoy the energy of the group. And I especially love seeing the individuals of the group supporting one another and the community that gets formed. I had a group coaching program many years ago called Plot your Course, and several of the people who went through that program together are now colleagues and support one another and check in with each other. And I feel amazing that I was able to create an environment where that kind of interconnection occurred.

But it also doesn’t serve my needs in the same way that the one-on-one connection does. And there’s a degree of presence and adaptability that occurs, a sort of nuance, that occurs in a one-on-one relationship. Whereas the nature of a group program whether it’s a conference talk or a workshop or a group coaching program requires everyone to agree to be in the same place at the same time. There’s a lot less flexibility in that.

And then there’s sort of abstracting away from the specific needs of each individual to address a theme that’s occurring across the group. And while highlighting those themes and working in those themes can be very uplifting as well because it shows people that they’re not alone in what their grappling with individually, I really love to go deep with the individual. So, I don’t know, maybe Carl and I should talk and try to figure out how we scale intimacy, because it seems like there’s some tension there.

IVAN: There is. As you were discussing that, I realized that when I think of scale, I think of increasing the number of connections that you as a human have to me and to a number of different humans. And perhaps we just need more of you. We need more Whitney’s. We need more Carl’s. We need to inspire people to be like you, to be more of a leader. And in that way we could potentially scale. It’s not about one person scaling the connections, it’s maybe about one person scaling others to be inspired to do the same. That might be a way of scaling it.

WHITNEY: I love that insight, and it has been fascinating for me over the last several years to see how many of my coaching clients choose to go on to become coaches themselves.

IVAN: That’s awesome.

WHITNEY: And I think that’s exactly what you’re talking about. There has to be other definitions of scale that get us there. And putting so much pressure on each of us individually I think is sort of counter to our intention here. Also I mean, I would love to be working less to tell you the truth.

IVAN: Of course.

WHITNEY: I would love to be [laughing] working more on myself and less on my business. And even more so, I would love to be working less for my business, because I am the sole employee in my business, and so all of the service delivery I am doing. And I would love to be able to take that time and reinvest it in myself, because I noticed that every time I am working on myself intentionally, developing new skills, working on my own inner work and inner transformation, new awareness, insights, perspectives open up for me. And then that allows me to support my clients in completely new ways.

And so, I would love to see sort of a mass transformation around the way that we define work in general, away from this extrinsic work, working outside of ourselves and being motivated by these extrinsic drivers. And shifting more of our time to inner work, so that we’re developing ourselves and creating new forms of consciousness within us, so that we’re showing up differently to the work every day.

There’s a big trend that I’m seeing around designers becoming coaches, and I’m hoping that with that trend and with a trend around managers as coaches, rather than sort of the top down management that has previously become the norm, that there will be a coaching skill set that becomes relevant for everyone to learn and to adopt into their day-to-day practices, so that we’re all supporting one another all the time. And maybe eventually, we won’t even need to have this explicit thing that we call a coaching engagement, because it will be the way that we show up for one another all the time.

IVAN: All the time. Yeah, bringing that coaching experience to everyone as a human helping each other, that sounds amazing. I will say though, I love my coach. I talk to Jeff Robbins on a weekly basis, and I look forward to those sessions. And like you said, they are deeply meaningful. for myself. I do feel energized every time I leave those sessions, and I think there’s something to be said for having a partner in crime and a sounding board that’s external that can give you the kind of feedback that potentially you can’t get from your peers. But I love the idea of lifting up the people that you work with, kind of as a natural extension of being human, right?


IVAN: None of this, you know, put something in place so that it happens.

WHITNEY: I love that you are working with Jeff. He is such a lovely person, and I was so excited to see when he was shifting his practice to coaching. I think you’re the exact person in his target audience, so it’s wonderful that you found each other.

IVAN: Yeah. It was great. It happened through Yonder, the conference he had about three years ago. It’s been awhile now. I agree. Love Jeff. I wonder if his ears are burning right now. [laughing]

WHITNEY: I hope he’ll hear this.

IVAN: Hope so too.

WHITNEY: Hi Jeff. [laughing]

IVAN: [laughing] You have a post on your website that’s titled, Awakening to Buddhism. And you talk about how you identified as being a Buddhist your whole life, but you never really knew that’s what it was called. Tell me about that and tell me about Buddhism. I thought that Buddhism was a theistic religion. I guess I never really looked at it until I read your blog post. So tell me what that’s about.

WHITNEY: Wow. Well, I love that you are digging back into the archives. That’s awesome. Every now and then I hear someone say, “you have this post on your website titled x, y, z” and I’m like, “I do? Wait, what did I say? What was in it?” [laughing] So, thank you for bringing me back there.

So, I am born and raised Jewish. My whole family is Jewish, from Russia and Poland and some folks from Lithuania. And I was raised going to synagogue, and went to Hebrew school, and I was bat mitzvahed. And I went on the Birthright trip to Israel, I snuck in just before the, I aged out of it at age 26, and went for a free 10-day trip around Israel. That was my first trip there, and I’ve been back several times since for a conference, for clients. And I am very much connected with my Jewish identity.

But what happened in maybe 2012 or so is that I started reading about different philosophies that have their roots in Buddhism. So I think the first thing I read was the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and it was recommended by a friend and neighbor at the time. The concept in that book is that we are not our thoughts. We are the thinker of our thoughts. And if we can identify more with being the thinker then we identify with the thoughts themselves, we can get some distance from the thought, that will allow us to see it more clearly. Will allow us to better understand where the thought is coming from, and why we’re having it, and what it’s trying to teach us. And also whether or not we believe it.

When I really started absorbing that philosophy and that perspective, it helped me to see that that was very much the way that I had been trying to live my life for a long time. But I didn’t have the framework to see it that way, or I didn’t have the words to put to it.

So, reading Eckhart Tolle eventually lead me to Thích Nhãt Hanh and then Jack Kornfield and Sharon Salzberg, and a bit of Dalai Lama, and then to John Kabat-Zinn. And sort of it was a mix of both more traditional Buddhist voices that we have today, who are very much still in the East, as well as people who brought those philosophies to the West. It was happening generally around the 1970’s, where folks were looking for new perspectives and new ways of approaching life that were perhaps out of the mainstream of American capitalism, American patriarchy. And so these writings of all of these different voices really spoke to me.

What I took away from it is that there is a lot of conflict that we experience in our day-to-day lives, between us and other people, a lot of it happens at work, a lot of it happens in our families. And there’s also a lot of conflict that we experience within ourselves, where we have thoughts and feelings we don’t like, and they trigger us, and we’re very uncomfortable with them, and we react against them. And sometimes we run from them, and sometimes we try to ignore them, and sometimes we try to fight them, and sometimes they overtake us and we feel like we are stuck. And we can’t get out of this sort of hamster wheel of thoughts and feelings that we’re on a. And it leaves us feeling powerless in our own lives.

The teachings in Buddhism I find layer on top of every other religion. Or if you don’t connect with religion at all. It’s not a theistic religion at all, it’s much more of a philosophy or a guidance. I don’t even have the words to describe it because I don’t think that there’s much else like it in our world. Because we often look at these kinds of philosophies as being very restrictive, and we label them as religions or cults, or whatever.

For me there’s really just a set of approaches to life that I connect with. One is recognizing that so much of what we experience in life is the result of our suffering. Early childhood traumas that we carry forward in our lives, and relationships and behaviors that we perpetuate as a result. So, we’re stuck in the cycle of suffering. Just acknowledging that is a great first step.

Then once we acknowledge that, we can invite in the possibilities that that suffering can end. That it isn’t a given that we have to accept as being the only reality of life, that suffering can end. Then once we open ourselves up to that possibility, then we can start to see that we have a choice to end our own suffering. That just feels like such a more empowering position from which to live life.

So regardless of the life circumstances that I was born into or the things that have occurred in my life, that does not have to define my life, and it doesn’t have to define me. And there are many things that I can work to change in my own perspective. To change my aversions, meaning the things that I have a dislike towards, and exam why is it that I’m holding those interpretations and, and how can I transform them so that they have less charge and therefore less ownership over me.

Then also, how can I transform my attachments, the things that I hold onto? How can I also recognize how those things may not always be serving my greatest needs. And to just be in a sort of looser aversion and looser attachment to all the things in our lives.

That very much dovetails for me into the kind of work that we’re trying to do, and the kind of people that we’re trying to do it with. If I relate that directly to design, for instance, we’re trying to help companies recognize that the decisions that they made once 10 years ago don’t have to be the decisions that they still live by. That there’s actually a choice in how they make decisions. There’s a choice in who they want to be in service to. There’s a choice around how much work they do to understand what those peoples’ ever-evolving needs are. And how they can orient themselves as a business to work to meet those needs. And to simply stay curious about what is evolving in the world, what is evolving within their own companies, what is evolving within the individuals who make up those companies. And by staying curious and open we can be more adaptable, more resilient, more ready for whatever occurs in the life circumstances around us and within us, which will reduce the suffering of our businesses. So, I see it just applying to everything and it has given me a sense of self-respect and self-love and self-empowerment.

And I don’t mean to sugarcoat it and make it seem like, Oh all of my problems go away once I realize that I can release the suffering in my own life. Not at all. But it gives me a sense of having control over my own life. Yes, of course, there’s a lot of things that happen to us, and for many people those things are incredibly painful and traumatic, and damaging. And I don’t way to downplay that in any way. And yet we still have choice about what we choose to do with those life circumstances, and how we choose to respond, and how to choose to show up for ourselves.

And I see a lot of people giving that choice away, giving that power away to other people or just giving up, feeling resigned that this world is a place of suffering, and there’s nothing I can do about it so I give up.

IVAN: That it’s predestined, yup.

WHITNEY: Yes. Yes. I feel that pain, and I have those moments of course myself. I’m human. We all have those moments. But I want to support people in reducing the number of moments where they feel helpless. And instead finding that power and that energy within them to make the changes that are within their control and let go of the things that aren’t.

IVAN: After all, we’re all one human family, aren’t we? We’re all basically the same species with the same problems, with the same hurts and desires. And I say one human family, because I know that that’s something that’s part of your philosophy. A million times yes, you’ve said, I believe that separation is an illusion, and that us versus them is a construct and a fallacy. And I love that.

How do you embrace those that refuse to be embraced? How do you work with those people that actively work against you? How does one do that?

And, I just want to call out that we have such a precarious situation and predicament and awful mess in our country right now, with the virus and the political situation and everything that’s going on. And I really want us to be in a place where we can kind of not just reach across the divide or reach across the aisle, but embrace the people that are different than us and move forward. How do you do that? [laughing] How do you do that when there’s no shared reality? That’s the biggest obstacle that I see, and I wonder what you think about that?

WHITNEY: Thank you so much Ivan for naming shared reality, because we have it so much more than we realize. But, firstly, that motto, one human family, I connect with that so deeply. And I, as I mentioned, have lived in many different places, and I absorb the cultures of everywhere I go. And one human family is the motto of the city of Key West, and we lived in Key West for a while, so that is where I picked that up. The only bumper sticker on my car [laughing] says One Human Family. And I’m sure there’s people that pull up behind me at a red light and just roll their eyes and think, Oh that idealist liberal and her silly values. And that may be true.

But I think especially now, it’s really important for me to just name something, that I think a phrase like One Human Family might accidentally or unwittingly wash over, because I am a big supporter of Black Lives Matter, and one of the challenges that the movement faces is in people who have the best of intentions to agree with the statement Black Lives Matter. But who also feel that they want to value every life, and they want to make a statement that communicates that not only do they value black lives, but they value every life. And what they say is All Lives Matter. What ends up happening with a statement like that is it abstracts away from where we as a society need to be putting our attention right now.

IVAN: Totally.

WHITNEY: Yes, every house on the block matters. But when one house is on fire, we need to direct the firefighters to that house.

IVAN: Exactly.

WHITNEY: That’s what Black Lives Matter means to me.

IVAN: Yeah, I’ve heard that analogy before, it’s like, yes, we care about all of the trees, and yes, we care about the forests, but the rain forest is a problem right now, and we should care about the rainforest first.

WHITNEY: Yes, and black lives in America have not mattered for 400 year. So it’s really time we start paying attention. Now, it’s possible to hold that Black Lives Matter and that we are One Human Family at the same time. At least I do. How I’m able to hold that is in recognizing that there are universal needs. And when I say universal, I really mean every human being on Earth regardless of culture, background, language, socioeconomic status, race, or any other category that serves to divide us more than connect us. I believe that these needs are truly universal. Like security. Like safety. Like choice. Like freedom.

We all hold these needs in our lives. However, we prioritize needs differently. As individuals and as cultures we value different needs differently. So for me personally, while security is very important to me, I need to pay the bills, and I want to feel safe, and I want to have a sense of stability in my life, there are many things that I have prioritized more highly than security and stability. My autonomy for one. I have chosen to be self-employed all of these years, because I value my autonomy, my choice, my independence, more than I value my security.

At times that has meant that I have had more autonomy [laughing] than I’ve had security, and that has been difficult. But it’s a choice that I’ve made. So, similarly, if we are to hold One Human Family, I believe that what that motto and philosophy is prioritizing is interconnection. The interconnection of all beings. I would like to extend that to non-human beings as well, because I think we often forget that we are animals in an ecosystem of many other beings. And we have to uphold the needs and the values of all of those beings, not just what us humans want. Because then we create climate change for instance, because we aren’t recognizing how we’re prioritizing human needs over the needs of the greater ecosystem.

But still, that One Human Family is really about upholding interconnection, and I value interconnection incredibly highly. Black Lives Matter is about upholding inclusion. It’s about upholding dignity. And sometimes we have to de-prioritize some needs and values for the time being, in order to more highly prioritize other values. And it’s going to sound very strange coming from someone who has been espousing the value of empathy basically my entire career, at times calling myself an empathy coach and working in the space of non-violent communication which is an empathy practice, but I actually think we’re at a point in time where empathy may not even be as important of a value as dignity, or inclusion or representation.

And we need to make space for those who have never had a voice, to have a voice finally, to be heard. So, that we can make the changes to our technology, to products, to brands, to businesses, to all of the systems that we live by, so that they can equally provide opportunity, access and a reflection of what those who have not historically had a voice, they themselves value. Which is going to be very different than the priorities of those who have had the control over designing these systems have valued. That’s the distinction between the power with versus the power over paradigms that I was mentioning earlier.

So, yes, I very much believe in One Human Family. I think that a lot of what the language is that has served to separate us is designed to do that, so that the powerful can stay powerful, and make us believe that we have more in the way of differences than we have in similarities. And I do not agree that we do. I believe that we have way more in common with one another than not. But I also want to acknowledge that today, there are extreme differences in the privileges, in the opportunities, in the access, in terms of socioeconomic status, in terms of healthcare, in terms of home ownership, in terms of safety to walk down the street. Not having to worry that a cop or a neighbor is going to think you’re not belonging, and you could lose your life over it.

So, it’s important that we uphold One Human Family, but at the same time recognize that Black Lives Matter, and there are things like the dignity of black and brown lives in our country, and their right to have a black and brown body that does not attract violence and death, just for being in the skin that they’re in. That currently is going to require perhaps more attention from us than empathy for all. And that can inadvertently erase many of the differences that do very much exist in our society. I’m wondering if that’s making sense, or if I’m just droning on?

IVAN: It makes total sense. Yes. I keep seeing in my mind’s eye Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and what I think I just realized is that empathy is a little higher on that pyramid than I thought it was. And that what you’re saying is the underlying laying of where empathy is, wherever that is, is actually being threatened and that’s, I hate to use the word Trump’s empathy, but it does. [laughing] That’s the right word to use.

WHITNEY: I know, it’s like we have to get that word out of our dictation somehow and replace it with something else.

IVAN: Exactly. So, I see that pyramid in my mind, and I haven’t thought about it. I thought empathy always was around, but I think you’re right. I think that members of the human race are being threatened, and it’s time to make space, and we need to focus on that and not on what’s above it in the pyramid.

WHITNEY: Exactly. Thank you for saying that much more clearly and succinctly than I could.

IVAN: I have another question. Are you going to run for office? {laughter] Cause you should. [laughing] Have you ever thought about it?

WHITNEY: I have not thought about it. Wow. I’m not sure if I should feel like that was a compliment.

IVAN: Absolutely. 100%, 100% compliment. We need people in leadership positions in our government, speaking and believing and acting the way you do. Speaking of reason and science and all of humanity that you’ve described. I would vote for you in a second. Easily. So, think about it if you haven’t thought about it.

WHITNEY: You know, I really haven’t thought about it, but I do believe that if we want to see the kind of transformational change that we care about, and if we want to see it at the systemic level, then we need to have these folks, people like us, in every part of our society. I thought I would be a designer forever. And I thought that my role was to be on product and engineering teams, representing the needs of the customer, establishing a consistent and informed design process, and that that was where I was going to make my impact. And it surprised the heck out of me that I have an even greater impact supporting design leaders and other progressive creative leaders as their coach.

So, if it means that my role changes again, and I suspect it will change again and again and again, to further deepen this mission that I’m on and to address the need in whatever way it presents itself to me, I’m open to that. I let go of the attachment to staying a coach for the rest of my career. My commitment is to the problem that I’m trying to solve, the population that I wish to serve, the philosophy in the greater mission.

So, public office? It would surprise me. [laughing] But who knows? It could be a variety of things, and I feel like we need to encourage one another to not be so attached to the title and the role that we’ve always been in, and maybe open up more to How can I be in service to what this role is really about on a deeper level. And what might that require me to become in order to do it justice?

IVAN: Well, if you decide to run for office, please call me, I will gladly work on your campaign and help you as I can.

WHITNEY: You are so sweet. Thank you. [laughing]

IVAN: [laughing] Thank you so much for spending your time with me today. I feel like this is a nice segue to wrap things up. And I really had a good time talking with you, and I hope we can do that again soon.

WHITNEY: Thank you so much Ivan. It has been such a pleasure to chat with you. And thank you for your wonderful questions.

IVAN: You’re welcome. Whitney Hess is a coach, a writer, and a designer, and maybe a political candidate at some point, [laughing] who is on a mission to put humanity back into business. She believes that empathy builds empires, and she’s online at www.whitneyhess.com, and on Twitter @whitneyhess.

You’ve been listening to The TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thanks for listening.

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