Sunday, June 20, 2010

Beyond FACTS: WALK IN MY SHOES by Andrew Young and Kabir Sehgal

I first heard about WALK IN MY SHOES via my nephew Anthony DeFeo, who works with Kabir Sehgal (author of JAZZOCRACY: JAZZ, DEMOCRACY, AND THE CREATION OF A NEW AMERICAN MYTHOLOGY and founder of at JPMorgan in New York. The godson of Andrew Young, Sehgal set out to document many of the “winding” conversations he and “Uncle Andy” have shared over the years on topics as diverse as racism, relationships, leadership, and—one of Young’s favorites topics—“compassionate capitalism.”

The former civil rights leader, Atlanta mayor, congressman, and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. insists a humanitarian capitalist revolution that not only produces goods and services people need but provides jobs to the poor is necessary and long overdue. Such efforts, he says, must start with the basics: clean water and good nutrition for all. Then jobs and training must be provided to enable even the most impoverished to generate income and support their communities.

The U.S. civil rights movement as well as the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. also “should be viewed through a macroeconomic lens,” Young states. “Remember the boycotts.” Because of their economic impact, nonviolent efforts such as boycotts provided a way for citizens to band together and effectively promote noncooperation with a system that impaired them. “The Montgomery bus boycott was noncooperation with segregation,” Young notes…noncooperation that drastically impacted bottom lines.

King’s teachings always seem near when Young, one of his widely recognized aides and friends, speaks. And they influence and fuel many of the discussions in this book. On personal development, Young states: “Martin was the ultimate seeker. He sought the opinions of others in order to learn. He struggled to find answers. He didn’t just accept what others told him. He didn’t accept his faith blindly. He struggled to figure out what to do. But it’s through the struggling and seeking that he found himself.”

While I have my reservations about some of Andrew Young’s past public statements, I’m very impressed by his continued devotion to the teachings of nonviolence. When a discussion of Indian-Pakistani relations leads to questions about U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, Young agrees such efforts are misguided. Asked if he can “forgive the suicide bombers of September 11,” he states:

“Yes, easily, and I know that sounds un-American. … By forgiving, we clear our minds. We act rationally. We can then try to understand the terrorists. By understanding them, we can defeat them.”

What impressed me most about this book were the stories of the larger-than-life characters who made the civil rights movement possible. Young’s first wife, Jean, is shown to be as strong and central to the movement as was Coretta Scott King. “Both Jean and Coretta, who also hailed from Marion, Alabama, had watched their families virtually destroyed by southern racism,” Sehgal writes. Young notes his wife understood him and kept him true to his values, adding there “would be no Martin Luther King without Coretta.” While King and Young “were intellectually committed to fighting racism” and “explored nonviolence with their minds,” Sehgal notes, “their wives were the lantern lights that helped to show them the way.”

Also instructive are discussions around the very practical, systematic steps taken by leaders of the civil rights movement. As Sehgal puts it: “Civil rights leaders took the nonviolent playbook that Gandhi had created and developed it further. … They refined the tactics so they could be put toward a movement that would work not only for blacks in the segregated South but for freedom fighters in Polish shipyards and elsewhere….”

I was intrigued as well by the continued emphasis on the potentially redeeming powers of capitalism on the rights and lives of the poor worldwide. “The tension between capitalism and democracy” are discussed, as is Young’s Wall Street perspective, which is not always rosy. As Sehgal puts it, Young blames “those on Wall Street for seeking profit without creating substantial value or productivity. Trading commercial paper, buying credit default swaps and engaging in risk arbitrage doesn’t produce food for the hungry or shelter for the homeless.”

“To make profit without creating value is a crime,” Young states. “I have a problem with capitalism that is devoid of the public good.”


Anonymous Lisa Miller said...

This was a very thought provoking book for me. At times I realized that I didn't agree with some of Mr. Young's statements, but I was actually accepting our differences and taking the time to really think about why I didn't agree. That's something I'm afraid I don't do enough of. This book also helped me to truly understand the importance of mentoring to our society as a whole. I applaud both Authors for taking the time to put these thoughtful exchanges into print for our benefit. I'm looking forward to their next collaboration!

5:34 AM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

It's definitely a unique work well worth reading, with lots of thought-provoking discussions. His perspective on the macroeconomic angle of the civil rights movement further enhanced my understanding of and respect for MLK and everyone who worked with him.

4:52 PM  

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