An Apology From One Man For Us All

Hank Lihn

You’re gorgeous.

If you feel moved, beautiful, empowered, a bit tingly in area between your sternum and belly, if youโ€™re air-walking and shit talking and a little swag in your step, I applaud you. You are all these things and you and every woman deserves to know it, for you have made the world a better place, so clear within the complexity of the universe, birthed from the same matter of dying stars and hope, and born of dreams. Inherently every single woman is a princess deserving to feel this way.

But if you felt dirty or in some way diminished, I understand you, and I see you a bit better. I didn’t before, and for that you have my deepest and most abject apologies. I had not known how much we as men trivialize women with references to their beauty. I am sorry on behalf of us all, and I hope you’ll allow me to offer an insight, discovered as much in accident as in that aforementioned hope. Because I share the universal hope to be better.

A female cofounder in one of my portfolio companies asked for advice about an upcoming meeting with a major executive at a major company. The reply was from a man I know to be kind and brilliant and ostensibly enlightened, with not a bad intention in his body. He told her to โ€œbe her gorgeous self.โ€ While he meant it only in the best way, I saw the struggle women have to endure and a crime I myself am guilty of committing. For as much as he was genuine, both the founder and I felt somehow marginalized, and my apology issued on behalf of all men did not seem to cover it.

We have a real struggle for power and equality in our society which has gone unnoticed and unchecked for the last millennia, and as we achieve a greater global consciousness, we should be focused on simply being present and better. We are greatness, save for our hate, misdirected to race, creed, color, orientation, and even football-related affiliation.

What we fail to realize is that in many of our dialogues our most honest and vulnerable self does not show up. Rather, we have a representative who has layers of defense mechanisms to protect our fragile egos.

Lars Dalgaard noted that in corporate settings the interference of our egos creates a power struggle that draws us away from our humanity, away from the act of embracing each other. Imagine two people simply trying to impress each other as opposed to discussing how they will build together. It happens all the time. Rather, each interview should be the start of an emotional contract, where working together and building something bigger than ourselves is the focus.

The struggle we have is that our ego’s repertoire drives us toward behavior which in many cases is shallow, practiced, and not wholly genuine. A dear friend is one of the kindest most genuine people I know who people love to follow, whether on bike tours or third world adventures. He has mischief and a certain peace which many are drawn too, and he confided that years ago he was a student of “Game Theory” only to learn that the most difficult struggle is to simply be honest in the face of unrelenting rejection. We live with the ever-present fear of it, and whether in relationships or the workplace, it is in part our inability to be honest or vulnerable which drives this great inequality.

While I have only a limited understanding of the plight of women being marginalized in personal and professional life, I can offer a commitment to be better, and food for thought. While all my compliments may be genuine, I’ve come to understand that with obligations and room for misperception, they must be sparing. The radiant Brooklyn woman I met twice whose style, presence, bright eyes, and bearing were so awe-inspiring that it made me slightly ashamed for still being in work clothes (including backpack) deserves these characteristics acknowledged and known, but in practice, we run the risk of marginalizing each other.

Truth and perception are inexorably married. Beyond the golden rule, courtesy, and etiquette, I believe that we all need to develop better ways in which we embrace one another, and accept the fears and foibles of those who we even just meet. That you do not perceive anything other than my acceptance and inclusion, my awe and gratitude.

You may be gorgeous, but you also have been incredibly competent, valiant, and accomplished more than you thought you were capable of doing, and I see how afraid you,must have been, but never showed. Perhaps, the advice to our founder should have been “just be yourself, because that has gotten us this far.”

For every poorly used compliment, marginalization of beauty and competence, and misperceived positive statement, I am sorry, personally and on behalf of men everywhere.

The world is a mirrored vision of all of our hopes and dreams if we chose to focus the lens of our identity on it alone. You may not feel the outward ripple that your beauty causes, the joy the warmth of that light being brings, like staring down noon on a solstice bedecked in warmth and mindful of the world’s cooling change shifting around you, but I promise it’s there. I’ve seen you dancing in parks with stars in your hair, rising from sleep with dreams in your eyes, and charging the day with fear shattered in your wake. Unstoppable. But you know who you are deep down and you’ve changed everyone you’ve touched. Clean the lens of your perception and borrow my eyes for a moment. See awe. Strength. Our thanks. Remove the barriers, become more honest, present, and embrace the totality of every beautiful being around you. Lead with kindness, gratitude, and acceptance. This should not be the goal: this should simply be the world in which we live.TC mark

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