In his book How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi advances the empirical argument that we should evaluate racism through the lens of outcomes, not intentions: people with antiracist beliefs and intentions can still produce racist outcomes and racist policies. Ultimately, it is the outcomes from our actions and our policies that tell us if we have been racist or not. For those of us who care deeply about shared values, alignment, and integrity of process, it’s both a startling and refreshing viewpoint that basically says: “yeah, yeah, yeah, but show me the outcomes.” It might be tempting to focus on shared values and common beliefs as being sufficient to guarantee a good outcome, but often the path to something becoming mainstream is more a function of uncommon execution than it is merely a function of common beliefs. For example, racist ideas didn’t predate racist policies or actions. The execution and perpetuation of an economic system of oppression and enslavement required the subsequent formation of racist ideas, values, and the invented concept of "race" for the system to be justified. As Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me, “Race is the child of racism, not the father.” To use a different (and positive) example of where execution expands the popularity of a belief or value, emerging workplace policies like working remotely, the 4-day workweek, and the growing momentum for a $15 minimum wage have all been powerful forces to socialize workplace values that embrace a human-first, parent-flexible, livable, and dignified relationship between work and life.
Maybe we have the order wrong: it is not ideas and values that spark action as much as it is actions and precedents that spark latent ideas and values. Maybe we’re spending too much time getting extra precise on our shared values, and we’re not spending enough time on the uncommon, radical execution of those values. Perhaps it’s time to invert our order of operations and let our actions help us understand what we believe.