Speaking Human-First with Mary Knox Miller
EP 1.7 Maurice Mitchell
Humility, Curiosity, and the Working Families Party
Original Air Date
August 3, 2023
If you could create an ideal world, what would it look like?
And how would you convince others to help you build it?
For Maurice Mitchell, National Director of the Working Families Party, the ideal is a world where differences make us stronger because embracing them means living in a constant state of humility.
A nationally recognized social movement strategist and community organizer for racial, social, and economic justice, Maurice Mitchell has spent a lifetime talking with people who don’t agree with him.
In our conversation today, we touch on following your personal north star in your work, acknowledging our differences when building solidarity, and why humility and curiosity are key character traits if you want to change the world.
Listen to the full episode to hear:
How coming from an immigrant family drew Maurice to community involvement and organizing
Why Maurice believes we need more labels for our differences, not less
How unacknowledged differences can actually break apart coalitions
How Maurice and the Working Families Party build solidarity across differences
How cultivating humility creates opportunity for collaboration
Why we need to approach systemic change understanding it’s humans - not natural forces - that create and perpetuate systems
The importance of speaking face-to-face in creating social change
How Maurice approaches getting beyond preaching to the choir and connecting with people who don’t already agree with him
Learn more about Maurice Mitchell:
Learn more about Mary Knox Miller:
EP 1.7 Maurice Mitchell
National Director of the Working Families Party
Mary Knox Miller:
If you could create an ideal world, what would it look like and how would you convince others to help you build it?
For Maurice Mitchell, the ideal is a world where differences make us stronger because embracing them means living in a constant state of humility. Humility that reminds us that we don't know what we don't know. Humility that fosters a healthy skepticism that the systems and structures we've built might not be working.
On today's episode of Speaking Human First, you'll meet Maurice Mitchell, a nationally recognized social movement strategist, a visionary leader in the Movement for Black Lives and a community organizer for racial, social, and economic justice, which means you'll meet a man who has spent a lifetime talking with people who don't agree with him.
Maurice currently serves as a national director of the Working Families Party, a political party that organizes outside of our nation's two party system to support candidates across the country fighting for working families. Sometimes they run candidates through Democratic Party primaries. Other times on their own, in elections ranging from city council to the United States Senate.
But you'll soon realize where Maurice works is simply a means to follow his North Star and how along the way he's discovered character traits required to changing the world.
Maurice, thank you so much for speaking with me today, for taking time out of what I know as an incredibly busy schedule to speak with me about your experiences as director of the Working Families Party. I have so many questions about equity and I just want to dive straight in if that's okay.
I'm happy to be here and let's go.
First, for those who are not aware of the Working Families Party, can you tell me a little bit about it, but more importantly, why does it need to exist? Why is it necessary?
Great question. This is our 25th year and the Working Families Party exists because we believe that working people should govern not corporations and the wealthy. We believe that in a democratic society everyday people are governing like the demos of democracy. That's what it means.
And most people would agree that we're in some form of oligarchy, not just in the United States, but around the world, where if you have a lot of money, if you're a big corporation, you have undue influence in the direction of our society. We think that not only is that ethically or morally wrong, we think that that's bad for the direction of society and creates worst outcomes for everybody, including those wealthy people. That's why we're on the verge of climate collapse because extractive corporations have undue influence on our ability to go from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy and on and on and on.
We think it's actually a critical component of creating a free society is ensuring that the people can really lead, and that's what we do every day by surfacing union organizers, surfacing teachers, surfacing educators, so that they could run and win on the local level, on the statewide level, all the way up to Congress. And we believe that their experiences actually dealing with the challenges and contradictions that everybody faces having student debt, for example, trying to support a family with a working class income. That puts them in a better position to create public policy that supports all of us.
We're building the party infrastructure of our dreams and we're trying to challenge the narrow first-pass-the-post, winner takes all, two-party electoral system to create more political voice for everyday people.
This no doubt takes immense energy and immense courage on your part day in and day out, not only for you, but everybody who is working with you on this movement. That amount of energy must come from some sort of fire in the belly, from some sort of spark that happened early on to make you dedicate your professional life to this. Can you tell me a little bit about what you would like to share in that regard?
Yeah, I feel like the spark happened even before I was born.
Both of my parents are immigrants and they both grew up in relative poverty in the '40s and '50s in the rural Caribbean. My dad grew up in a tiny, tiny island nation called Grenada. My mother grew up in South Trinidad, Trinidad and Tobago in Southern Trinidad, and my grandmother came here in the '60s as a domestic worker. She had 10 children and she left her kids behind.
This is a common story for a lot of immigrants. You leave your whole family behind. You go to this foreign country where you're at the bottom of the totem pole and you work really, really hard jobs and you're sending money back to your children and sometimes you're taking care of other people's children like that's your job. That was my grandmother's job, taking care of wealthy families in the United States on Long Island away from her kids.
Through her tenacity, she was able to slowly bring the family to the States. I was born in the context of all of these aunties and uncles and cousins and my grandmother having reunited in the United States and also witnessing the way that race, class, gender create real barriers to people experiencing joy and thriving. I saw that very early on immigration status and I wanted to do something about it very early on.
The other thing that I think really has been a through line for me was my grandmother. Her job was never organized, but she was an organizer. Once she was able to with her domestic worker income, actually own a home, which is something that you probably couldn't even imagine today, but it was possible if you were scrappy enough in the '70s. She made her home a way station for other people like her, other folks who came in from the Caribbean without any connections, without a home.
She also was like this connection to employers. She was playing this role and she didn't charge anybody. She was like a headhunter, sort of hotel/motel. I don't even know... What that did, I think, for me witnessing that, it normalized the idea that the we is bigger than our nuclear family. That family is something that is expansive and that if you have the capacity to give, that you are forthright with that capacity without any interest on somehow transactionally getting something in return, right?
That has been a bedrock of my understanding of how you're supposed to show up in this world. That has dovetailed really well with the work that I've done, which has been the work of bringing people together so that they could realize their power, so that they could across difference, do really hard things with each other.
That leads me to my next question. You've seen a lot? You've talked to a lot of people.
Because with organizing, it's a lot of one-on-one conversations. It's door to door. It's also using the internet to your advantage in terms of mass communication. But before we get there, before we talk about communication tools and tactics, I want to keep focusing on the human part of this. You've spent a lifetime motivating people to take action, which means you have had to find the common denominator amongst a sea of differences.
And as you know, people are just a little complex, so we tend to agree on fundamental rights like access to healthcare, right? Yet the labels we assign to issues, for example, Obamacare or other people, labels that you put on other people with this two political party system that we have, Republican and Democrat. All those labels can very easily close people's ears and minds.
How can we communicate without labels to disarm one another and find common purpose, but still hold that little space for our own sense of self and who we are?
Yeah, this is a wonderful question, and I think it's a question that's at the core of organizing, right? There's many different organizing traditions, but ultimately I believe what organizing is seeking to do is to identify and be curious about individuals, what motivates them, what their interests are, their stories, recognizing that each individual has a unique story.
It's two things. Each individual has a unique story, and each story has clear through lines and similarities, right? It's about doing both. I think sometimes we think about these things as almost like binary polls, right? Our similarities and our differences. Actually, I don't buy into that. I think one of the things that is the same about us is that we're all different, if that makes sense, right?
And difference creates a choice point. Difference could either lead one to other somebody because they're different, and from that otherness be fearful, or difference can lead people to be curious, right? This question of labels, to complicate your question a little bit, I don't think our job is no labels, I think our job is more labels. Right?
Oh, tell me more.
And more accurate labels and more nuanced labels.
Right now, if you were watching 24-hour news, you would think that our country is evenly divided in between two camps. And whenever there's any issue at all, if you have fealty to one of these camps, your job is to figure out what tribal position... I think it's the job of organizers to be curious about who individuals are, and what you recognize quickly is that people don't fit into conservative progressive character types and these archetypes or Democrat, Republican or Black, white or whatever.
People have many, many identities. People have different stories. And then when you listen, you could hear where the commonalities are and do both things because, I think, if all you do is seek to find commonalities and organize around commonalities, what I've found in my practice is that our differences, if they aren't surfaced and acknowledged, will break apart coalitions.
You actually have to front-load the fact that we're different. You have to say, "Yeah, we're different in real ways and we disagree in real ways on very important things." That's what makes us human. And what we're doing together is recognizing that us being these different people who may disagree on all these things as individuals is putting us as a disadvantage.
When we come together, despite our differences, including our differences, and choose to do big things together, it puts us at a great advantage. We're doing this because you might want a better education for your child. And you have similar concerns with a parent who maybe their first language is different or maybe they look different than you, or maybe they have a different religious background, or maybe they have different feelings on tax policy or whatever else. But you both agree that your schools should be adequately funded. Well, that's something that you could work together on while recognizing your differences.
You know what happens when people start working together on a project, they begin to realize like, "We're all different, but we are similarly navigating this human experience together." And we could actually build solidarity. We could actually learn to really like one another. We could actually develop real affection for one another.
These differences, if you watch 24-hour TV, these differences are supposed to tribally divide us, so that us creating a community together is impossible. Well, in reality, when you're on the ground, that's not the case. One of the things that I seek to do at the Working Families Party is to challenge the left-right progressive conservative binary and really talk about the top and the bottom and really talk about the fact that we live in a interesting arrangement, if you stop and think about it, where there's more than 3,000 billionaires globally who basically live like Gods, right? They fly around to the same destinations, because of their wealth they're almost like immune to any scrutiny.
Then we have a few million millionaires. Then there's billions of everyday people, and then less than a billion people who are living in almost abject poverty, right? When you look at the caste system that we've set up for ourselves, and you think about where you might sit in that and you recognize like, "Oh, there's a few thousand of these people on top. I probably, instead of looking up to those people for answers, I should probably look toward the people in my midst for support and solidarity. Even though we got a lot of stuff that we disagree on, we probably have a lot in common, and we have some real issues that are actually informed by and animated by those people up there."
That's the conversation I try to have with folks across racial difference, across geographic difference. You don't have to pretend that you're the same in order to be in real solidarity and to collaborate.
It's no coincidence that I'm interviewing you as the last interview of this season. I feel like everything that you have just been talking about is the culmination of this human-first perspective that I've been trying to speak about.
You're doing it through the lens of organizing and political party, but what you're saying is it's essentially our differences that make us stronger, that make us better. It's embracing those differences and not trying to hold us in a particular box despite the fact that our brains want to be organized and want to be efficient and want to have all the systems in place, that it's embracing the nuance and it's embracing these dualities that is the key, which I'm so excited about.
I also read through your Building Resilient Organizations paper, which has gotten a lot of press and a lot of people have read it. And if you haven't, please go read it.
It absolutely spoke to me because you're talking about humility to realize that the systems that we've created thus far, or the organizations structures and systems that we have in place, they might not be working. And we have to have the humility to realize that. But it's also a matter of embracing this nuance and embracing this duality and embracing that there isn't clear cut answers. And yet, that is the very reason why if we come from a human-first perspective, that's how we can advance. This is how we can lift up more people.
I love that you're giving us permission to come and say, "You know what? My life experience is different than yours. I've had privileges that you haven't had." Or, "We haven't shared the same language." Or, "We don't come from the same place. Yet still, we're both humans." Isn't that amazing? Because then ultimately we can lift everyone up. Am I on the right track?
The right track, and here's the thing, you mentioned the word humility, right? I think humility is misunderstood. It's one of the most, I think, powerful human qualities, and I think it's an excellent tool to create solidarity.
Humility is, to me, admitting that you don't know what you don't know, right? It's simply choosing to be transparent enough about that fact. I don't know what I don't know. I know something, but I don't know what I don't know. I don't believe in false humility. I think you could be really confident about what you do know. You could be really confident about who you are in the world while being very humble about the things that you don't know and about the fact that in some ways wisdom is coming to terms with and accepting the things that you don't know, right?
The more you do that, the more you're creating an opportunity for collaboration. If there's things that you don't know, then that means that there's stuff out there that you can learn and there's people that you could learn from, right?
The other thing is you said something very important about the systems that are all around. We oftentimes delude ourselves into thinking that these systems are somehow replicated and somehow are created by the laws of thermodynamics or the laws of space-time. We do, we create these things. This happened during Juneteenth. It happens every time during the holidays and Kwanzaa comes up and somebody's like, "Kwanzaa is a made up holiday." I heard some commentator say like, "Juneteenth is a made up holiday." I'm like, "Well, all holidays are made up." Right?
Yes, you're absolutely right. That's how holidays happen. People make them up. In fact, everything here is made up. We make up all these things. We make up as a society and we decide to perpetuate everything. There's something actually really exciting about that for me and really empowering, which means we can make up new things. We could reconsider the old things.
A system that has existed for hundreds of years, for example, the institution of slavery, which was so baked into the economy and society of this country, that there were people who could not imagine a America without chattel slavery.
It existed as an institution for hundreds of years, and then we abolished slavery. That's huge. Huge big systems that are integrated in every way in the life and economy of a society can be abolished if we decide or not. What does that mean for us in the present? What do we want to do? What do we want to build? What stuff do we want to make? And can we be humble enough to recognize like, "Oh, this might be operating suboptimally for me and others. We could do better."
What type of excitement and joy is available to us if we allow ourselves to do that? I think it's exciting. It opens us up for so much creativity. Instead of the way that, I think, we tend to engage these questions, which is with a lot of ranker and a lot of, "I need to prove that I'm right and you're wrong."
How about we just accept that we all could do better and there must be better than hundreds of millions of people on this planet living in abject poverty. We could do better than that, right? There must be something better than in the wealthiest country in the history of countries, people living without a home, even though there's enough housing stock. That's something we could solve, right? If we chose to.
When you prioritize humility, it creates a occasion for creativity and excitement and curiosity in those areas where we could do better, instead of an occasion for feelings of failure or feelings of personal loss because you're not nailing it. Honestly, if you have to really think about it, who's really nailing it as a person in this society? Who's nailing it? Humility is giving up the artifice and letting go of all that energy that we spend sometimes in order to demonstrate to ourselves and others that we're nailing it and invest that in the pursuit of these questions, which is I think so much more fulfilling and gratifying than going on social media and presenting.
So much of our energy in society is in presentation, is in a sort of theater and it serves several functions. Number one, "I'm okay. I'm doing all right." Things are okay, when things may not be okay. Number two, "My tribe is the best. Your tribe is bad." I think it's worth stopping for a second or slowing down and asking ourselves if investing those resources in those pursuits is actually rewarding us, right? We have eight, nine, I don't know if you're doing really well 10 decades on this planet, right? How do we want to invest that time? What are the metrics for success, if not happiness?
Ooh, you're getting into some deep territory and some good territory. The territory that I like to live in.
I love that you pointed out systems don't persist because of natural forces. They're not innately going to keep moving, but it's because we, people, perpetuate them intentionally, right? And you've been talking about people not wanting to be proved wrong or I'm right and you're wrong. I also think it's a matter of, "I don't want to have to give up anything." Resources, whatever it might be. I don't want to have to sacrifice in order for others to rise.
That's right. There's two things. There's the material benefit and then there's the psychic benefit, right?
It's cliche to talk about this reckoning around racial justice that happened in 2020. Our country's founding is just inextricably tied to these fundamental questions around race because our country was founded by the expropriation of native land and native genocide and the theft of African labor and bodies.
These racial categories, they're not biological. They are ideas. They are real. They're real because we decide they're real and they have real implications in the world. This idea in this country, that is a little vague, but it's real that there's a racial hierarchy. If you have this thing that's called whiteness that is kind of amorphous, you're somehow on the top of it and it grants you some certain privileges, and these ideas aren't explicit. You don't learn this in school explicitly, but you learn it in society and people feel real threat if they feel like something is somehow threatening that, right?
And it's a very real feeling. Then as a result, people will react to protect this thing. This thing that isn't biological or isn't the law of thermodynamics or gravity. I think we have to contend with that as a society, like the psychic value of all these different signifiers really matters to people. If we seek to do big things in a society together, we have to acknowledge and respect that as true. The other thing though is that because we made these things up, we could also create different identities for ourselves and we could prioritize different identities.
You could still hold onto your identity as a white person. I could still hold onto my identity as a Black person, but I could have a different identity that allows me to be in solidarity with you as a white person or allows you to be in solidarity with me as a Black person. The identity of being somebody that is creating a multiracial democracy is super exciting to me. To get there, that requires building a culture, and you can't do that as individuals, you have to do that collectively, which is why I organize. I think we're in an interesting time. Just to use an analogy... Do you have an iPhone?
Okay. You know the app screen on the iPhone, it's static, right? But if you press down on it, it gets jiggles. That's where we are right now on society. That means we can move things around and we could actually form deep questions about how we want to be with one another. There's a lot of reasons for that. I think after 40 years of basically consensus around neoliberalism, there's an opening where there's open conversation about what economic model do we really need to work?
Because people have seen some of the limitations, I'll say, and fallacies of neoliberalism. Living under a pandemic. Surfacing real questions about racial justice and gender justice. Surfacing real questions about identity. All of those things are happening all at once, and it's making a lot of people feel very uncomfortable, which is both an opportunity, and for me, as somebody who's progressive, I also see the risk because in that discomfort, there's people on the far right who are like, "Are you feeling uncomfortable? Are you feeling a sense of lack of safety? Are you feeling like you're not in any safe and clear category?"
Yeah, that discomfort is real and you shouldn't tolerate it? We have safe categories and a safe story to tell you about who the villain is, who the hero is, and that is a very attractive narrative in a moment where so much is changing. One of the things we have to do is suggest that in this period of change, instead of trying to go back, the safety of going back to whatever our imagined traditional reality is, even though that traditional reality maybe never existed the way we think we did. What would it mean if we took this as a opportunity to go forward and to be the authors of the new America or the new man or the new racial paradigm that isn't based on these start hierarchies? We have an opportunity for that.
All right, Maurice, you're trying to get us to this vision of this new world. You are trying to help us understand that it's in living in the discomfort, living in the dualities, living in the unanswered questions, that's where the answers lie. How are we going to get there?
I want to shift and talk about communication tools specifically. Here is this grand vision that you have of the world. You know that it's there. You can taste it, you can see it. You know that it's possible. How are you going to communicate that out across all of these decades of work that you've been doing, when have you realized the best way to communicate is one-on-one, like the power of that face-to-face conversation versus leveraging technology to the masses? What tools and techniques have you tried only to realize that they don't work for your personality or they don't help you achieve your vision?
That's a excellent question. I had the honor and privilege to, in August 2014, being on the ground and being one of a handful of people who wasn't from Ferguson or St. Louis or Missouri, to work with many of the young people and activists that responded to the death of Mike Brown and sparked a movement.
We used Twitter and other social media tools. I remember a lot of folks in the media really focused on that aspect of our communication and suggested that people were able to launch a protest with a tweet, for example. I thought that reporting was off base, that as long as there's people who are trying to change the world and communicate with other people, they will naturally use the available technology around them. And that's all we were doing.
In the civil rights movement, the ability to rapidly produce copies of flyers, that was the current technology. That didn't always exist, but the fact that they had it allowed them to be able to get the word out very quickly. That was their Twitter.
It looks like our Twitter is no longer operable, right? We had a good run, and that's fine. There's new technologies. I'm not on TikTok, for example, not because I have a problem with it as a technology, I just think I'm probably aged out of it. I don't exactly understand how to interface with that. And so for my personality, it's just not a venue that I yet have used.
There's no way to replace, as human beings, like your podcast is about being human. There's no way to replace the face-to-face interactions. There's just no way. My prediction is that as these technologies reach their natural course, as AI becomes more and more sophisticated to be able to have AI produce novel content just for us, I believe that there will be more and more of a desire, a need, because it's almost going to be impossible to be able to discern what's real or what's not, right?
I need to verify what is real by putting aside the virtual tools and being in place with people. Connection and community is a social need and the ability to bear witness to somebody's testimony. That is a social need, right? Because who are we outside of the reflection of others? Putting somebody in isolation is a form of torture. It's just a need, and it's a need on both sides. The ability to tell your story is transformative and healing and affirming, and the ability to just to bear witness and to hear somebody's story also can be transformative.
Both of those people are gaining something from that, and I think there's going to be more in the future, more of a need and desire for us to find that in place. And I don't think there's anything that could replace in person face-to-face communication because human animals, we're hundreds of thousands of years old, right?
We are operating with the same biological machinery of our ancestors in the Serengeti. That biological machinery hasn't evolved at the rate of our technology. We still have these very fundamental needs that come from our evolutionary biology that may not be met by these tools. As somebody that spends a lot of time thinking about bringing people together, I'm excited about that future when the social media experiment jumps the shark, if you will, and people are explicitly looking for opportunities to be in real space.
As you are thinking about getting this message out of this new world that you think is possible, how do you do that? What mediums are you using? What things are you finding knowing how human beings are wired, knowing how important it is to both tell and bear witness to stories. How are you doing this in a way that you've learned over the years is more effective?
Number one, I do it through story. Again, that's how we've learned for generations, through story, so I do it through story. I always place myself in my actual story in the messages that I'm trying to share, and I have a variety of ways of doing it. I don't just do it digitally, although I use the digital tools, I do it in person as well. I don't just do it on a mass scale.
The way that I do it is through variety, because I recognize that people are situated differently and I'm insistent. If I'm lazy about it, I know that I'm probably reaching people who are the most privileged, right? People who have access to the tools and know how to use them already or have the ability to engage on that level. If I'm thorough and rigorous about it, then I'm constantly curious about reaching more people and never fully satisfied and always trying to push the envelope to reach more and more.
The other thing is that if I'm lazy about it, I will probably be speaking to the quote, unquote, "Choir." Talking to people who already agree with me, and the service that they're getting is to have their position validated by me. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I think we need choir rehearsal.
My job is to engage people who don't already agree with me on top of the people who do. That requires me constantly being curious about the venues I need to go to, the towns I need to go to. I hit the road. I'm on the road a lot. My mission is to transform people's relationship with their own personal power. I'm in Chicago right now. I'm in the Chicagos and the New Yorks and the Atlantas, but I also get out to the suburbs.
I also get out to some of the smaller cities. I also talk to smaller groups. I think it's the variety, and it's the process of constantly being curious of, "Okay, great, we got to 100 people. What's the next rung above that?" How do we get to the next 25? Great, how do I get to the next 25? How do I get to the next 25? How might I have to change my approach in order to get to the next 25? Because the work and the tools that got you to the first 25 won't get you to the next, won't get you to the next, won't get you to the next.
I have to place myself in this uncomfortable place constantly pushing myself to be different in order to achieve my outcome, which is to reach people who don't already agree with me, and to reach them at a place that allows them to engage with me seriously and allows them the space where they understand that I respect them in a fundamental and authentic way.
I believe that's the job for people who are committed to changing the world. It's not about building your cult. If you're like a entrepreneur and you're trying to build an audience, that's a great way of building an audience. If you're interested in changing the world, then you have to constantly push to grow and grow and grow and grow and grow because I believe that our ideas are majoritarian. I want the majority to believe like, "Yes, we should live in a democracy. We should fight for that democracy." That democracy is not us watching talking heads on TV or voting for politicians. It's us actually being the protagonist.
I want everybody to believe that, including people who I disagree with ideologically. That means I need to talk to them.
What's incredible about everything that you just went through, I'm hearing all of these things, and I'm imagining this pyramid of some kind where it's like, "Here are all the elements. If you want your ideas to change the world. If you want to change the world, not just build an audience, not just market to people, but you authentically want to shift something." Yes, you need the ambition, and clearly you are ambitious. You have to have that drive. Yes, you want to have the skills to be able to influence and to persuade and to talk in ways that you can show up in any environment and be ready to go. But underneath all of that is two things.
We're back to humility because you're going to show up in a place where you realize you don't know everything. Those are the environments where you need to go and push yourself to.
But then also just sheer curiosity. The curiosity that you have is clearly in abundance. It's not even just tactical, how can we go from the first 25 to the next 25 to the next 25? You can hear that as ambition, but you're more seeing it as I'm genuinely curious. How do we do this? That fundamental foundation of curiosity and humility, mic drop, like, "We're done with the interview." We're not really, because I still have questions.
Yeah, overall, a lifetime of doing this. I thought very deeply about the qualities that I think are the superpowers of people who are able to make huge impact. And I do believe that curiosity and humility are on the very top, right? If you lack humility, 100 people would be enough. A big audience would be enough, because when there's a big audience, there could be a circular feedback loop between your ego and the audience, you're just like, "Great, look, I've done it. Nailed it."
If you have humility, then you say, "This is wonderful that we've created the conditions where there's 100 people who believe like I do that we should live in a democracy. I'm so excited about understanding what's on the mind of the next 100. That's just a different impulse. I think it's born out of the humility. I know some stuff, but there's a lot of stuff that I don't know, and I don't know what I don't know. And the curiosity to want to experiment in order to learn that.
Those two things really go hand in hand if it's genuine, as somebody who's seeking to influence people, but also be in relationship with people. Humility says to the other that I know some stuff, but there's some stuff I don't know. You know some stuff, but there's some stuff that you don't know. That is a wonderful reason for us to get together, because there might be some complimentary stuff there.
Let's figure that out. And when you show up in your full humility, that immediately is apparent to the other.
As a organizer, one of the things that we do is we do a lot of listening. A lot of listening. When I'm engaging people one-on-one, I'm talking a lot now because it's a podcast, and it'd be really boring if all I did was listen here, right? In my practice, it's 80% listening and 20% is me talking, and a significant percentage of that talking is asking questions, because of the genuine curiosity, I constantly learn. I constantly learn, and as much stuff as I think I know, I'm learning new things all the time, and that's really exciting.
The ability for people to teach others, that's exciting for the other. You're giving people an opportunity to teach, which is wonderful. You stave off that opportunity when you present yourself as a know-it-all, right? Which isn't as exciting, I think. Also, it isn't true. Nobody knows it all, right? That just isn't true. You know some stuff, but you don't know it all.
Thank goodness we don't know it all because then the conversations keep happening and the curiosity keeps driving us. This conversation has been phenomenal. This has gone to levels where I didn't even anticipate. I'm just so excited.
But for those who are listening, who are, again, we're hearing all of this wisdom about the elements that you need to have at your core in order to really influence and shape the world. There's another part of this though, which is stepping into the spotlight is hard. It's especially hard when you are trying to represent and advocate for things that you constantly or daily trying to process.
On this road to recognition, Maurice, what has it felt like? What have you done to make sure to take care of yourself, but also what words of wisdom can you pass along to those who are trying to walk in your footsteps?
Sure. I think public life is a real honor and a gift, but it could be really tricky. I spent a lot of time as an organizer in the background elevating the leadership of others. That's a deeply held part of me and almost part of my identity. I explicitly made the decision to be a public leader because I felt like there were messages that I needed to express uniquely as the messenger.
And what I've learned in that transition, it hasn't necessarily been an easy transition or a transition that didn't come with discomfort. I think most transitions have some discomfort, is if you aren't aware of the fact that you, like all human beings, have an ego, and that you should not allow your ego to be the driver. The ego plays a healthy and real role in your psyche, right?
My ego, I think is one of the things that got me in the shower today, told me to put on moisturizer so I could look okay for this podcast. But you want your ego to follow your North Star and assist to your North Star. You want your ego in the passenger seat and you want to drive. You should sort those things out before and regularly through your assignment in public life, because public life provides a lot of opportunities to gratify your ego, right? Because there's all these people saying different things about [inaudible 00:46:20] and for you.
The other thing is though, if you live by the compliments, you'll die by the critiques. It's also just a good practice for you to be living by the outcomes that impact that you seek in the world and understand that public life will carry compliments, will carry critiques.
Some of those compliments will be grounded, which is one of the reasons why I love organizational life. My public life is tied to an organization that has a mission and a goal, and I have guardrails. My public work and my public persona are in direct relationship and subordinate to this organizational North Star.
I'm curious when I see people in public life, "Well, who is their base? What is their organization? What are their guardrails? Who are the people that they're accountable to?" When I don't see that, I worry about them because I know it's so hard to be in public life without those things, and it's so hard not to have those guardrails. You could think that you're going in a particular direction and think that you're in the driver's seat when your ego's in the driver's seat, and it's like, "We're going to point towards more ego gratifying directions versus what your impact might be."
It's one of the reasons why I'm such a strong proponent for organization. The other thing is that for most people, the ratio of people you know and know you is one-to-one. Roughly the same amount of people you know, know you. When you're in public life or if you gain some level of fame, that ratio goes way off, right? Where you know some set of people, but a lot more people know you and a lot more people interact with you as though they know you. That could be destabilizing if you aren't clear and do the work of maintaining your intimate relationships and being clear about who those people are because they aren't all the people that might know you.
The other thing is I think there are practices to help you be aware of who you are in the midst of all of the public stuff. I have a regular awareness practice. I meditate every day. I meditate and I have a little workout that I do every day that's super helpful.
It's something I do for myself that I don't do for the public, that I do every day. I go out in the world and then I'm able to operate from a sturdy secure base. That last piece, I just think as individuals, when we are secure, we're able to operate with generosity, with humility, with compassion, with clarity.
When we feel insecure, it's really, really hard to do that. I think being clear about the things that make you insecure, coming to terms with those things, it's really, really important, especially if you're in public life.
Focusing on being in right relationship with the people that love you, your most intimate people, being in right relationship with yourself, knowing yourself, having clarity and making sure that your ego is not in the driver's seat. I think it's a pretty good crib sheet for being okay with public life because it can be a trip. Fame is so seductive. I've seen how fame could be addictive and the pursuit of fame could be an all-encompassing pursuit. I haven't seen a lot of happiness come from that pursuit.
Maurice, thank you so much for being open and honest about the experiences that you've had, the wisdom that you are now sharing with others. I'm sure that has all been gleaned from some wonderful, but also some not so wonderful experiences, so thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It has been an honor to be in conversation with you and to speak about a whole range of different topics. Is there anything that I have not asked you that you would like to include or any other comments or suggestions that you have?
Well, if anybody is interested in any of the work that I do, there's all types of ways that they could find us. I hope that following this, if you are curious that you'll find the Working Families Party on social media, on the web, any of the ways that you could find us, and if you live in America, there's probably a Working Families Party chapter or activist close to you.
Wonderful. We'll make sure to include all of the links within the show notes. Thank you for being you. Thank you for this time that you have bestowed upon all of us and this gift that you've given us. Thank you for all of your dedication and your hard work in your seemingly tireless efforts.
For a long time, I've thought that in order to create a world that sings instead of shouts, we need to start with our similarities. But after this conversation with Maurice, I'm reconsidering. If we front loaded our differences and created more labels, not less, would we have a better chance at understanding one another? If we led with humility and curiosity, navigating nuance without the need to be proven right, could we more easily see each other as equals? Lots to think about.
In the meantime, I'm going to put my ego in the passenger seat and my North Star in the driver's seat. I'm going to show up with humility and curiosity speaking up only when I feel secure so that I can reflect generosity and compassion. And like Maurice, my eyes are pointed towards the horizons of people who don't think like me.
What about you? You want to change the world with your ideas, right? What are your next steps?
Next week is the final episode of the season, and I'll be sharing lessons learned, key takeaways, and the beginnings of what I hope will become a framework to approaching communications as an impact driven leader.
I'll also be asking for your feedback on this first season. What do you want to hear more of? Did anything cause a shift in how you are showing up and sharing your ideas? Are there threads I should follow? Any gaping holes I need to fill? I've got pen and paper at the ready.
Until then, thanks for listening.
Speaking Human First is a production of Thought Leader Media, a visual communications agency, helping leaders increase their influence by connecting deeper with their audience. It's produced by the amazing team at Yellow House Media and is recorded on the ancestral lands of the Nipmuck Nation. Many Indigenous peoples continue to thrive in this place, alive and strong.