Reflecting on the Law of Two Feet

Footprints in the sand

I was attending yesterday’s talk on the Agile Virtual Summit. Diana Larsen  was the first speaker, and right of the bat, she informed everyone that she was pivoting her talk. She addressed head-on the current events of the riots in the US resulting from the George Floyd killing. 

Yes, she went there. And I applaud her.

As she started going deeper into her talk, the chat room started filling up with activity. And – no surprise to me, since I was expecting it – I started hearing people say that this wasn’t the talk they had signed up to attend. They were here for her original talk (which she said she would be posting a video later, along with her new topic).

I chimed in the chat and pointed out that not wanting to hear this talk is why this talk is precisely needed at this moment. I immediately got blowback from others, that I shouldn’t be patronizing with such a comment. Again, no surprise to me. Why? Because that response has been the consistent behavior I have received throughout, since my college days. As a gay person of color, I’m frankly quite tired already having to justify myself and my actions all these years whenever I call out bias – conscious or unconscious – that I see.

Other people started saying – well, if you don’t like the topic, you can always invoke the law of two feet. Use your feet and leave – go to another topic. And here lies the crux of this post – why are people quick to invoke the Law of Two Feet, especially for a topic that is timely and affects all of us?

Whenever I have brought up unconscious bias (and politely, I must add), people say I’m being too sensitive or reading more into the situation. All of a sudden, my thoughts and expressions are discounted. They are viewed as incorrect.

Let me give a piece of advice: If a POC (person of color), woman, gay man, someone older, or any marginalized person tells you your bias is showing, you have no right to throw it back at them. Please listen. Your refusal to hear will not help you realize and grow. Yes, it’s a hard topic to discuss. But you have no context to disregard anyone’s experiences, and much less belittle what they say by telling them they are patronizing, mistaken, or too sensitive. Probe more so that you can see through the lens they are seeing.

Colin Kaepernick took a knee in the NFL games to silently protest the inequality in the league. People were poohpooh-ing his action, saying he should just stick to the game. He shouldn’t be bringing his politics into the NFL. His action cost him his dream and livelihood  in the end. People refused to discuss the problem he was trying to bring up.

And here we are with the events today. George Floyd is dead.

Your invoking the Law of Two Feet is the same kind of behavior that people dished out to Colin Kaepernick. Yes, you may have signed up for the Agile Virtual Summit, just as other folks bought tickets to the NFL games. Invoking the Law of Two Feet so quickly shows reinforces your dismissal of a major problem that all of us face in the workplace and at home in our neighborhoods.

Diana Larsen as a speaker has every right to choose what talk she gives. Like me, you came to this conference to hear her because of who she is in the community. And now she’s giving you an opportunity to discuss a hard topic. Would you have done the same if you were in her shoes? She has a voice that can affect change. She definitely nailed the topic and delivered it with grace, mindful presence, and equanimity.

Though you may want to invoke the Law of Two Feet and say this isn’t the topic you signed up for – let me pose this question: Why are you invoking the Law of Two Feet so quickly? Think really long and hard about it. Don’t just give me a superficial answer, like “Oh, I was really interested in her topic” or “This isn’t the forum to discuss this.” What makes you uncomfortable hearing a topic being brought up by one of the revered and influential Agile luminaries?

Making you uncomfortable is what Agile is precisely all about. That’s why Diana is right to bring the topic she chose up. You’re constantly being asked to change for the better by Agile. And if you invoke the Law of Two Feet because “it’s not the talk I signed up for” then I want to ask you: when exactly are you going to address the uncomfortable topic? When are you going to change for the better? Why are you so quick to dismiss what other people are saying? For far too long, we have pushed the conversation of racial inequality here in the US, and yet the body count for innocent black men and women being killed for living life has grown considerably. Enough!

I am writing this post not to point my finger at people. My intent is to make you think. What’s the real, underlying reason why you’re quick to invoke the Law of Two Feet? The fire is burning and has been burning for our black brethren. If we don’t tackle this issue now (see Jim Benson’s We Need to Talk column in his presentation on Monday’s Agile Virtual Summit), how will we ever solve our problems as a community?

As Jim Benson said in his talk, all you’re doing is building more debt if you delay the discussion to later. It’s time we really tackled this issue because the results and the continued build of debt have already amounted to a devastating loss of lives.

George Floyd Art