We have a problem. We have a problem and the solutions we've tried haven’t worked. The problem isn’t changing. Women experience sexual aggression in the workplace, on the streets, and at home. So what can we change? We can change how we approach the problem. Do we create segregated workplaces? Do we create stricter laws? Do we castrate men? (Some of you read that and said, “maybe.”) No, I don’t think that’s the solution. Do we remove all men from roles of leadership in Hollywood, academia, and churches? No, I don’t think that’s it either. We can’t change the fact that the problem exists - what we can change is how we approach and think about the problem.
Human beings are sometimes paralyzed and confounded when a problem is too big. Think of climate change or political corruption. It seems too big of a problem to solve and we’ve tried all the most obvious solutions. So instead, we move on to things that we can solve. We go for the low hanging fruit. We take down confederate statues as if that will solve the issue of systemic racism. Don’t misunderstand, of course we should take down Confederate statues, but is that enough and does it go to the root of the cancer?
As people, we feel comforted when we’re doing “something.” It may not be a practical, proven, tested something, but at least it’s something. I’m sure you’ve heard the cliché, “work smarter, not harder.” You’ve got the energy and desire to tackle life’s biggest problems, and the one we’re talking about right now is a culture that views women as sexual objects. That’s a really big problem - but what if it wasn’t? What if it was just a collection of small solvable problems. And how do we determine what these small solvable problems are, who should work on them, and what we do if our methods fail? This is where I think Design Thinking can provide a framework.
We need a practical approach. The cancer symptoms in our society feel big and it’s easy to get emotional about them. And we should get emotional about them. But we shouldn’t let our emotions cloud us from taking actionable, reasonable, measured, observed, considered steps towards treating that cancer. After diagnosis comes treatment, and treatment is based on a method. Design Thinking is a method.
Design Thinking isn’t a framework that is usually applied to the type of problem we’re talking about. If you follow Apple, Google, or Facebook in the news, it’s more likely that you’ve encountered some aspect of Design Thinking. It’s most often used to build newer, better products and solve problems we never knew we had. Maybe you’re a parent who drives a newer minivan or crossover vehicle. You’re walking back to your car from a quick run to the grocery store. You approach your car and it detects your key nearby. Now, you wave a foot near the bumper and magically the door opens unassisted. That’s a product of design thinking. Think of what that used to look like, wrangling bags onto one arm so you could reach for the keys in your pocket, cautiously maneuvering the door handle so as not to drop and shatter the eggs.
At first, the principles of Design Thinking may seem unrelated. You might be asking yourself if this will be useful or if it will even work. Well, we won’t know unless we try and I’m telling you, what we’ve been doing so far isn’t working, so we have nothing to lose.
But here’s the added benefit to approaching the problem of sexual assault as a designer. Whether you’re Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Christian, or Atheist you believe that raping and sexually assaulting women is wrong. However, America is a pluralistic society. The way that each belief system pinpoints a root and formulates a solution isn’t the same. What design thinking introduces is an objective way we can approach the problem regardless of our faith or creed, it does not require us to look to a specific deity to provide the solution. Orthodoxy is not a barrier to solutions, it’s a supplement. We can all take our personal belief system and plug it into the design thinking grid. This can happen as individuals or within our communities of faith. Our beliefs can be a wedge, they can separate and create conflict. That’s not what we need in this conversation. Our solution can’t be, “do what my god says!” Allowing that to happen would be a grave injustice, especially at this juncture. We must not make this about defending our personal belief system. We must not cause division because we are trying to defend our god instead of defending people in need. Last time I checked, every system of faith values the dignity of human life. What if that’s what we all did? No matter the religious dogma we belong to? What if we all chose to join together under the banner of making the world a better place instead of allowing our doctrine to keep us on different playing fields? Please don’t misread this, I’m not minimizing our faith in this discussion. I’m a Christian, and my faith is integral to why I’m doing this. If it wasn’t for my belief the greatest commandment: Loving God and loving people, I would just stay in my lane and do me. But I am a Christian who actually wants to do all he can to try and be like Jesus. I am not a Christian who imposes my views on other people. My solutions are informed by my faith, but you don’t have to believe what I believe to be a part of the solution. That’s why I want to take this route. I want to make it as easy as possible for all of us to get involved. You ready?
WHAT IS DESIGN THINKING
“Design Thinking is an iterative, collaborative, and human-centered design process that develops solutions for the problems humans encounter. It can be used to solve complex problems across businesses, organizations, and society.”
Here’s how that breaks down into actionable steps.
HOW DOES IT APPLY TO #METOO
In 2009, a young girl in Richmond, CA was raped in the courtyard of her school by six men including a few fellow students. The attack happened on the night of the homecoming, steps away from where the annual dance was happening. The assailants varied in age; between 16 and 40 years old. The victim had already been drinking that night and had a few more drinks with her attackers, but during the incident, the men forced so much alcohol down her throat that when she finally received treatment, she had nearly fatal blood alcohol levels.
Dozens of people walked by, watching, some even recorded the incident on their phones. It would be over 2 1/2 hours before anyone would call 911.
It can’t be overstated: we have a problem, a problem we can no longer walk by and ignore, a problem we can’t sit around and watch happen. We must intervene. We must do something, anything, to stop the large-scale assault on women. Design thinking gives us a practical way to get involved in the solution process. We can start a blog, begin a non-profit, or raise our boys differently. We all can do something.
A close friend of mine, Dianna Bautista, is an American ex-pat living in Thailand. She lives in the small city of Pattaya, known as the sex tourism capital of Thailand. Despite prostitution being illegal in Thailand, Pattaya has a reported 27,000 prostitutes – roughly one for every five people living in the city. In the coming weeks, I plan on sharing more about Dianna and the amazing work that she does at Shear Love. For now, what you need to know is that Dianna left a life of comfort in the United States to move to a place where she did not speak the language nor understand the culture. She did this so that she could liberate people from the sex trade industry, teaching them hairstyling, a trade that did not include selling their bodies. Dianna did all this after witnessing a grandmother bartering her 3-year-old grandson to be sold for sex and as a response to sexual abuse that she had witnessed as a child. She was a bystander and she did something.
Here’s how Dianna, myself, and you might apply design thinking to the problem we’re talking about:
I have a challenge: Rape culture exists.
How do I approach it?
Johan: Reach out specifically to friends who have shared #MeToo stories, read articles from women in the #TimesUp movement. Learn how a man can be an ally of this movement without perpetuating the problems it seeks to address.
Dianna: Research organizations actively working towards ending human trafficking, listen to stories of men and women freed from trafficking, interview men and women who have dedicated their lives to sex work abolition.
I learned something: Rape culture is a cancer.
How do I interpret it?
Johan: This problem is systemic, it has been ignored, the real problems must be addressed, we have to ask the right questions.
Dianna: There are organizations all over the world that are actively involved in helping people break free from the world of trafficking. The men and women who give their lives to this cause all communicate “it’s hard work but worth it.”
I see an opportunity: If it is a cancer it has the potential of being cured.
What do I create?
Johan: Write a blog series, create dialogue, and create a workshop that teaches healthy masculinity.
Dianna: Partner with an existing organization in Cambodia. Work with an organization there that is actively serving people who have escaped or are trying to escape human trafficking.
I have an idea.
How do I build it?
Johan: Post the blog, interact with comments/responses, interviews, post workshop.
Dianna: Move to Cambodia. Find a place to live. Develop relationships with people in the world of trafficking.
I tried something.
How do I evolve it?
Johan: In Progress. =)
Dianna: Discovered differing ideologies about how to help. Move to Thailand. Begin a non-profit that teaches men and women who have been sex trafficked how to cut hair. Help them learn a trade creates a way out.
My challenge to you is to start filling in each of these design questions for yourself. We can’t all move to Thailand and start a non-profit, nor should we. We can’t all start a blog because maybe that’s not the way you communicate best. But you can use your gifts, talents, privileges, and resources to effect change. This is my challenge to you. Let’s dialogue in the comments on what you’re doing to end rape culture.
Pride is an unhealthy and unrealistic perception of ourselves. It’s an infatuation with me, mine and I. It tends to manifest in one of two ways: “I am greater than I think I am” or, “I am worse than I think I am.” Our culture has done us a disservice by denying us sacred rites that are meant to challenge our pride and humble our ego, men especially.
In the next post, we’ll talk about humility and its key to a healthy understanding of ourselves, we’ll unpack narcissistic behavior, and talk about the ways in which we can all benefit from failure.