Neil creates room for Ken Mossman to tussle with what he was seeing, what his body experienced, and the reality that a narrative around innocence was suddenly gone as we observed insurrectionists storm the US Capitol on 1/6/2021. Ken explores some big questions that may be the questions many need to hear to get their head around the feelings they’re having now. Even in the absence of clear answers, sometimes it is the right question that is most needed to determine a new way forward. Ken is a professional coach and leader who works with men. He has been doing his work for two decades with international clientele spanning corporate, academia, entrepreneurship, and arts. He is living a big broad life full of adventures. I encourage you to read Ken’s story on his website. His focus is helping men expand their emotional literacy, fluency and flexibility so they can lead with presence and empathy.
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I’m Neil Edwards. And this is The Leadership Range, where we elevate the voices of black and brown coaches, leaders, and allies. And have soulful conversations about all things at the intersections of leadership, relationships in teams, well-being and equity. Here I offer deep insights and practical tips for work and life.
(00:31) Today is the second in a series of four conversations I had with people over the alarming events in Washington, D.C. on January 6th. We are continuing to get a sense of how people experience the events in their own words. And what it means for them in the context of allyship. Everyone has something unique to offer from their own point of view, yet their experiences are all human. What I love about this conversation is the juxtaposition of clarity around what was there for all of us to see, next to the obscurity around the personal question of, what now? I believe a lot of people felt this way because there was no more denying who we are. When all of it was on display for the whole world to see. Beyond an isolated incident with, one crazy person who is not me or not us.
(01:25): So you’re going to hear from Ken Mosman. Ken specializes in working with men, which he’s been doing for almost two decades. Working internationally with clients, spanning corporate world academia, entrepreneurship and the arts. Ken has a big life, and it’s broad and full of adventure. He’s a professional coach, and leader. I encourage you to read his story on his website. His focus is in helping men expand their emotional literacy, fluency, and flexibility, so they can lead with presence and empathy.
Neil (02:05): So Ken, here we are. What an amazing and incredible week that we’ve all been a part of. The emotional field is one, and we’re all experiencing it. And we’re all experiencing it somewhat differently, because we are individual identities. What hit you the hardest this week?
Ken (02:30): Wow. A lot. I experienced this week, I love the way you talk about the field, and being being one. And the way I experienced this week metaphorically, and then I’ll get into a little bit more in terms of specifics. But the way I experienced this week was somewhat like August at the Jersey shore. And when I say August at the Jersey shore, those who have ever spent time at the Jersey shore, during hurricane season, know that the sun can be shining brilliantly. You can’t quite see what’s going on in the water until you get close to it. And there can be hurricane waves that just come one on top of the other, on top of the other. Bits and pieces of stinging jellyfish, and that’s kind of the way the week rolled out. Specifically, Wednesday, watching the election returns come in from Georgia. Feeling extraordinarily delighted, and seeing the results for Warnock come in first. And of course, Ossoff came in later on in the day. I don’t even remember what time we got the news about Ossoff now, with everything that went on. You know, August ocean, here we go. It’s all rolling up.
Neil (03:59): Layer after layer, you get lost in it.
Ken (04:01): Yes. And the temperature is perfect and there’s riptides and jellyfish. And so, specifically, what hit me the hardest in all honesty was, well, the images. The images that…
Neil (04:21): Name an image that comes to mind.
Ken (04:22): Oh man.
Neil (04:24): There’s so many, I know.
Ken (04:25): Yes. I know. There’s just so many of them, but seeing people in the halls of the Capitol with Confederate flags, that’s one image. The other image that just whacked me over the head, the subtlety of a brick to the face. Was the guy sitting at Pelosi’s desk with his feet up on it. With what I can only describe as a smug, better than any one expression on his face.
Neil (04:55): What do those two things, a Confederate flag being marched through the nations [?] of law making. This person, this man in the office of the Speaker of the House, with a smug presence and foot up on the desk. What did it mean to you in that moment, as an American white man? What meaning did you make of that?
Ken (05:37): The meaning that I made of it is nothing short of… Well, first of all, I want to say this, it didn’t surprise me. It didn’t surprise me, the meaning that I make of it, or that I made of it in the moment was, I knew we were fucked before, but I didn’t know how deeply we were. Actually, as I say that Neil, I’m not exactly sure that that’s true. Because if I dial back a little bit, and even go back. By the way, I didn’t find out that all this was going on until they had already breached. Until I had a full day of work, and I walked out of my office, I think sometime around 3:30 in the afternoon.
And I met my son who was coming out of his room at the same time. He opened up his door, and he said I can’t remember exactly what he said, but something to the effect of, they’ve occupied the Capitol. And it took me a moment or two to like, what are you talking about? But then, it hit me. And then, immediately after he described it, I got a text from my sister, because we’d been texting back and forth. We’ve been dealing with my dad and finding him a care. So there’s family emergency going on at the same time as all of this other stuff is going on.
And it just hit me in a way, and I know the comparison has been been made. But it hit me in a way that was not unlike the the response to seeing the planes hit the towers on 9/11. It was like, again, it was like a knife to the heart, a brick to the forehead. However you want to describe it. But as an adult, I like to think of myself as an adult. As an adult, grey bearded, white dude, seeing that guy sitting at Pelosi’s desk. And I don’t even have words for it.
Neil (08:03): Let me try something here.
Ken (08:03): Yes, go for it.
Neil (08:06): Because you say a knife to the heart, a brick to the head. When you said that, there’s two things, you either took my life, or you knocked me out cold. What was taken away from you in that moment? What did your body know?
Ken (08:28): My body knew that we had gone over an edge. And I say ‹we’ intentionally, that we had gone over an edge. That on the one hand was, struck me as well this is the logical next step. And the next thing that hit me, and there were lot of things coming in all at once. But what was taken? I think there was a certain level of innocence that I may have been retaining somewhere. That was stripped away. And I can look at the different parts of myself, that that’s true for. Because it’s not true for all of me, but it’s certainly true for parts of me. Probably my inner child, my inner adolescent. It was just seeing their worlds disintegrate. The house of cards that it was, all of a sudden becomes, Oh, wow, this was a house of cards. It wasn’t all that and a bag of chips.
Neil (09:40): What’s the innocence?
Ken (09:43): Yes. The innocence is a sense of, well, that doesn’t happen here. And that doesn’t happen here. And, I may be getting a little ahead of myself and slow me down if I do, and I’m writing about this. I heard over and over again, after the Capitol was cleared. And the Congress went back to the business of certifying the vote. I heard a number of speakers say, this isn’t America. This does not represent America, including Joe Biden, by the way. He said, this isn’t America, we’re better than this. And all I can think of was no, this is America. This is as American as it gets right now. And you can’t say that this isn’t America, when this is happening in America, on American soil. In the people’s house, in the place where laws are made, in that sacred space, underneath the dome. You can’t say, it’s not America. It’s fucking America.
Neil (10:45): Have you ever said, have you ever verbalized up until this week, “this is America” in the context of this type of egregious behavior?
Ken (11:01): Absolutely. It’s, funny that you asked me that, because it’s often the topic of dinner table conversation. The notion that this is what, and who we are right now. No, of course it’s not the totality of what and who we are, but to say that it’s not, is saying, well, I don’t have a left arm. I swear. In this case, it’s the right arm.
Neil (11:27): It’s saying this aspect of us doesn’t exist.
Ken (11:30): Exactly.
Neil (11:30): This is is not true.
Ken (11:32): Right.
Neil (11:34): And what’s coming up for me is that, perhaps you’ve been gracious enough in the past to call bullshit on that. It is an aspect of us.
Ken (11:46): It is absolutely an aspect of us. And whether you want to call it a shadow, whether you want to call it, I don’t know what you would. I’ve written about the underbelly of America, and this is it. This is it in vivid color. The problem is, it is no longer the underbelly. If what I’m reading and hearing is accurate, which I have no reason to believe it isn’t. Certainly, thirty per cent of voters have believed the lies, and the nonsense, and the idea that the election was stolen. And, that 30% is a big portion. I said arm before, but that’s kind of from the waist down.
Neil (12:33): In terms of your body.
Ken (12:34): Yes.
Neil (12:36): So, I’m going to talk about…
Ken (12:41): Yes, you’re going to talk about that.
Neil (12:41): Yes, it sounds to me like some truths about the United States. The us, the who we are at least an aspect of us. And what you, as a white man, if anything, is threatening about this aspect of the United States to you personally?
Ken (13:01): Oh my goodness. What is threatening about it, Neil?
Neil (13:04): Yes, to you?
Ken (13:07): All of it. There’s not a piece of it that isn’t threatening. And some background might be useful because, first of all, I’m Jewish. And there’s so much of what has gone on in the last four years that mirrors so closely, the march toward Nazi-ism. Whether it’s the way that the press has been treated, in right-wing, which is now pretty much mainstream. I think of Fox News that is mainstream news, certainly has been up until now. The treatment of the intelligentsia. The notion that there are these cabals, and I use that language very intentionally. There are these cabals of elites that need to be rooted out. And all of that is what preceded and led up to. And there’s a part of me and we could get into a whole conversation about epigenetics. Is it knowing the history or is it somewhere in my DNA that says? And I said this, and I actually said this to my wife and son, hearing the news and not knowing yet, that they were going to sweep out. Who knew where it was going to go at that point? And I said, if this succeeds we’re going. Because it’s just a matter of time. It is just a matter of time before the Jews are next, because that’s the pattern that it follows historically.
Neil (14:45): Yes, thank you for sharing that, background, Ken. I have to tell you that, I want to say, three, four or five of my conversations this week, it’s a black man in different contexts with coaches, coach groups. I have had to raise this point about being Jewish, in the context of this week. And that this isn’t about just black people.
Ken (15:14): No.
Neil (15:14): This is real. And there are people who feel this in their bodies, know this in their bodies. This is a dark and dangerous time. And people’s lives are literally at risk. When we take a look at what’s going on. That’s why I asked you the question, what is the threat to you? And we’ve seen this story before, and we’ve read this book before. People die.
Ken (15:41): People die. People did.
Neil (15:44): And people did. And this isn’t, apparently this is not over. So allyship is something that is been in the narrative a lot, for most people, for the last 12 months, at least. And it’s really picked up since George Floyd was killed. And for this conversation today, and we’re not going to spend a lot of time. I want you to contextualize allyship for us, for the listeners here, for yourself, from me. What does allyship mean to you? I know it can be complex, but what does it mean to you in a sentence or two?
Ken (16:29): In a sentence or two.
Neil (16:34): It is a tall ask.
Ken (16:35): It is a tall ask. The first thing that comes to mind is speaking truth, speaking what’s so, regardless of how comfortable or uncomfortable it is. It is willing to have a voice, and using it.
Neil (17:05): Okay. So willing to have a voice and using it. So where have you noticed you have that voice? You have that power, you have that privilege, you have that rank, that maybe others literally don’t have, or have the perception that they don’t have it? Where have you used that in the past? And how are you willing to use that now, given where we are now, going forward? And what might be different?
Ken (17:40): Yes, I think what might be different is, I’m looking at this and saying, is it different or is it actually more of the same? Of course, I have my podcasts and there’s nothing that’s off the table in terms of topics of conversation. And particularly of interest to me is the topic of responsibility, personal responsibility, responsibility for one’s world. And I know that can seem like a really big concept, but the responsibility is this is happening. This is happening in my world. Therefore, I have got to have something to say about it. Is that enough? Is being in conversation and throwing my words out into the world. And in many ways, not knowing who’s seeing it, who’s reading it, who’s listening to it. I think it raises a big question for me, about the enoughness of it. I’ll put it that way. Because I do.
Neil (18:45): I feel that myself as well, with the work I do. Which I call world work, and you may be familiar with that term. Taking responsibility for, there’s work that I do, I get paid for and this and that. And then, there are things I care about justice, which I don’t get paid for.
Ken (19:04): Nor do I.
Neil (19:05): And certain things. You say certain things and it has impact in the world and people make judgements, and so on and so forth. And that could impact your livelihood for instance. And I wonder, and I do this sometimes I may think of something I should do, but I don’t do it. Is there something in your journey as an aspiring, or presumed ally, or just a person understands marginalization as a Jewish man. Is it something you notice that you’ve thought about you ought to do? Like you should have, could have yourself, but you didn’t do it. Then you still haven’t done it.
Ken (19:52): Oh my goodness.
Neil (19:55): Give me one. The thing that’s over the edge.
Ken (19:59): Yes. I’m not sure it’s exactly over the edge, but I’ll share it. There’s a little bit of a backstory here, because I wrote to our Congress woman here, is Elise Stefanik. she’s been locked step with Trump, from the get go. And I wrote her a letter. So there’s a backstory here. I wrote her a letter years ago about the proliferation of weapons. It may have been after the, no, I don’t think she was in office after the New Town shootings. It was probably after that, but another one of our many mass shootings. But I wrote her a letter. And about three weeks later, I get a letter in the mail from the office of Elise Stefanik. And I opened up and I’m not going to say everything that it said, but the bottom line of it was, I should not worry because she’s watching out for my second amendment rights.
I was talking about getting firearms out of the hands of idiots. And she writes back and says that she’s going to make sure that nothing happens to my second amendment rights. And I don’t want to make an excuse for not writing since then. But the thing that I haven’t done is written, is pick up the phone and said, Hey, what the hell? When I was deeply offended by signs outside of her Glens Falls. Which is just a town North of us, Glens Falls office. A big banner that said fight the radical left. And as I’m driving past on the way to drop my Prius off to get serviced. Here I am in Whiteville, Mr. Privilege, I’m going past this. I’m like, she’s talking about me because I’m certainly not a backer. And yes, that’s one of the things that I have not done. And I will be doing it this week. That’s for sure.
Neil (22:02): Oh, you will be? Okay. Because I was going to ask you, okay, so now what?
Ken (22:06): Oh, now it’s yes, because she was also one of the people on the House floor who, who backed the objection to certifying the vote. And no, it’s one thing to stand with your Party. It’s another thing to stand with bat shit, crazy conspiracy theories that persists.
Neil (22:26): So it won’t be a challenge for you then? Because I was about to challenge you, to ask you if you’re committing to do that? And a good coach, you know that goes by when, and what accountability do you need around that?
Ken (22:40): Yes, I’ll be doing it by Wednesday. I’ll send you a copy, Neil.
Neil (22:45): Awesome. And I appreciate your commitment to taking action. I appreciate you being willing to just share on the fly, for Leadership Range today and, in the spirit of allyship, and the spirit of expanding leadership, enough is always enough. And we are always seeking to expand our leadership range. So give yourself, and we give ourselves grace around the connotation that not enough, is it just where we are in our range. And then the question is how do we continue to expand that range, and step over that next step? So it feels like you’re on the edge. And clearly you’re about to take another step in having a conversation, in some form, with one of your elected officials.
Ken (23:49): Thank you, Neil.
Neil (23:51): I appreciate your time today.
Ken (23:52): Yes, it’s a pleasure being with you.
(23:59): I love what I do. I just love it. As a coach, I get to talk to people about stuff they don’t typically share outside of very close relationships or, but don’t share at all. It privileges me with an ocean’s view into the uncleansed inner world of the human experience. And through this medium, this podcast, The Leadership Range, I get to draw out tiny glimpses of that human experience. So it can get out into what I call, the world channel. I really hope at least one person’s life is touched or shifted in some way with each conversation I have here. Yes. So when Ken said, my body knew that we have gone over the edge, I suspect many of our bodies knew exactly the same thing. There is this kind of collective knowing that the world we’re in is not the same one we were in a moment ago.
(24:55): It is a new reality. Of course, this is happening all the time. Yet, from time to time, the shift is profound. And we know, we just know collectively that things have changed. Ken compared it to 9/11. And I’ve heard that over the last few weeks, myself, several times. We knew the world was suddenly different all at once. Ken said something like, there was a certain level of innocence that may have been stripped away. Perhaps faults of that does not happen here, or that is not us, is gone. That innocence is just stripped away and gone. Whether or not it was an illusion, whether it was true, whether it was a held belief, or whatever it’s gone. And there’s no more hiding, or pretending, or living in various illusions of what we are. Ken said, all of it is a threat.
(25:51): Now, I didn’t dig into explore what all of it is. But the pause, and the pace of the conversation was telling. It is manifold. And as a Jewish man, Ken knew, so deeply, that he said to his family, if this succeeds we’re going. Because it is just a matter of time. Meaning time before they come for Jewish people. I don’t know a lot about this, but, I believe Jewish Americans and African-Americans have historically collaborated around mutual interests of survival. And I would say there is high value at looking at allyship across these differences. Now, when I asked Ken about allyship going forward. Like most people, I know, he not sure if what he had been doing was enough. And was unclear on what he could do going forward. Was he taking responsibility for his world? That is for Ken to answer. We all would do well to ask ourselves, how am I taking responsibility for my world?
(27:02): And like I said, at the top of the show, not only do I love what I do, I get to elevate voices of black and brown coaches and leaders. I also get to elevate voices of allies. Doing this work allows me to offer and bring more good to the world, than I can do alone. Changing lives for the better. That’s what works for me. Do what is for you to do, because the world is yours as much as it is mine. And we each have influence in the circles around us. And when we each take responsibility doing life, giving work, the world improves a little bit.
(27:41): So thank you again for listening to The Leadership Range. Join us next Monday to listen to another voice, sharing their experience of the 1/6 insurrection on the U.S. government. If you haven’t done so yet, you can find me on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/NEdwards07, or Instagram @Neil_ Edwards_Coaching. Your feedback is always welcome. If you have ideas for future topics or know a leader whose voice ought to be on this show, The Leadership Range. Send me an email at email@example.com. Until next week, this is The Leadership Range.