This is the Too Many Trees newsletter, where I share what I’ve been writing and reading in the realm of leadership and personal development. My executive coaching practice is centered around the idea that we are more effective in moving towards our goals when we become more conscious and intentional in focusing our time and attention, and learn how our unconscious patterns are holding us back. If you know somebody that could benefit from my perspective, please forward this to them or let them know they can set up a free intro chat with me.

The Sum of Us

August 20, 2023

"The plutocrats have always known that solidarity is the answer, that the sum of us can accomplish far more than just some of us."

This quote summarizes Heather C. McGhee's book The Sum of Us, which I mentioned in my previous post on the price and cost of belonging.

McGhee makes the case that racism has benefited “some of us”, while costing us the benefits of solutions that help all of us. She suggests that “the sum of us” could be far greater if we united in solidarity to work together for what all of us need: safety, belonging, education, and a living wage. Instead, corporations and capitalists have used racism to turn us against each other so that we don’t notice how they continue to enrich themselves by exploiting us.

She uses the rise and fall of American public swimming pools as a concrete story to make this pattern visible. They were built by the government in the early 20th century as delights for (white) families of all ages, with elaborate slides and diving boards. But when the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was no longer allowed in government-supported facilities, many towns closed the pools entirely and filled them in, rather than let Black families join. So everybody in the community suffered because of racism – the town’s families who had enjoyed the benefits of the pool no longer had them, and the Black families never got access.

She then traces out how this pattern has played out in situation after situation in America, where the government offered a program to support citizens, but that benefit was reduced or removed after the Civil Rights movement meant that Black people could potentially use the benefit: public schools and universities, mortgage financing, voting rights, unions, etc. I had known bits and pieces of this history, but McGhee’s book brings it all together in a powerful narrative to show the cost that racism has on all of us.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Rather than take a zero-sum mindset where more for you means less for me, we could unite and work together in solidarity to grow new possibilities and create more for everyone. McGhee writes: “Nothing about our situation is inevitable or immutable, but you can’t solve a problem with the consciousness that created it.” Rather than treat other people as competition or as resources to be exploited, recognize that "they" are "us" and work together in solidarity for what benefits all of us. By treating people as people, we become more whole ourselves, and that wholeness translates into different thinking and different results.

If you want to learn more, you can read my longer summary at but I highly recommend reading the whole book.
Updates from my world:
  • I'm in the process of copyediting my book, as we prepare to turn it from digital words into a physical object. As part of that, I'm finalizing the title and subtitle. If you want to offer thoughts or opinions, please join the discussion on this LinkedIn post.
  • In preparation for the book launch, I'm interested in raising my profile. Please let me know about podcasts where I might fit as a guest, or places where I might speak about the topics of leadership and personal development
  • I was interviewed by Kevin Ball on the Human Skills podcast on making explicit and conscious choices, rather than reacting blindly to what happens.
And now for the normal personal development content…

LinkedIn: These are ideas that have helped my clients (or myself), and that I share via LinkedIn to help a wider audience, and archive here.
  • Let's experiment with new models of work, riffing off a Raw Signal Group newsletter that makes the point that treating work as a binary choice between in-person vs. remote work is far too limiting. How might managers and leaders communicate and coordinate differently to create the benefits of in-person collaboration while preserving the flexibility of remote work? I don't know, but returning to what worked in the past isn't the answer.
  • When can success be a detriment? Being successful tends to bring you more success, as you get more opportunities for impact. But those new opportunities sometimes require you to change what you're doing. If you can't let go of the habits and mindsets that previously brought you success, you'll be stuck doing the same kind of work, repeating the pattern you already know. Further success requires letting go of what previously worked.
  • We create our experience by choosing where we focus. In our complex world, we can find evidence for anything if we try, so choosing where we focus determines our experience in the world. If you look for reasons you will fail, you will find them. If you look for reasons you will succeed, you will find them. What evidence do you choose to look for?
Life in plastic, it's fantastic!
  • I loved the Barbie movie. It was visually spectacular, it was hilarious, I loved the Indigo Girls needle drop, and it had something to say. I wish it had gone further in making Barbieland truly a place for "the sum of us" at the end with more inclusion and belonging, but that would probably have been too radical for America.
  • Interesting perspective in a Guardian article by Akin Olla: I wept for Ken; why men have the most to gain from watching Barbie, Along the theme of "The Sum of Us", "What sets Barbie apart is its introduction to the mainstream of an idea introduced by feminists like bell hooks – that men too can benefit from feminism and are actively harmed by the capitalist patriarchal systems that allow a small group of men to dominate society while individual men get to dominate their homes and workplaces, isolating themselves from their family and inner selves in the process."
  • This Ijeoma Oluo essay for International Women's Day echoes Barbie themes around the challenges and joys of being a woman in this world: "when we are most under attack, it is even more important that we recognize and live in the moments of safety and joy that we have. And on this day celebrating women, there is so much to celebrate, because no matter what everyone else is doing - some of us are doing some pretty fucking amazing things. This isn’t to say that we ignore what is happening. It’s just a reminder that the loss of hope and joy and present-ness that is caused by the rapid-fire attacks against us is yet another tool of oppression."
Thanks for reading!

For those that read to the end, I'm going on summer vacation for a couple weeks, so the next newsletter will be in mid-September after I return.
Vacation, here I come!
Email Marketing Powered by MailPoet