The Stuff We Can’t Talk About
A case for different perspectives and uncomfortable conversations.
by Daniel Brockley, Axon Director of Brand Creative
I grew up talking politics with my dad. Sometimes more yelling than talking, as my mom would be quick to point out. There was a lot my dad and I didn’t agree on, and there still is. But we love and respect each other, and we relished the exercise of poking holes in each other’s positions and having to defend our own. His perspective helped give me a more nuanced understanding on a whole slew of issues.
We didn’t always change our positions at the end of these conversations, but sometimes we did. At least a little. I’m a strong believer that it’s a sign of strength to change your mind about something when the evidence tells you to.
When I first came to Axon a few months ago, I knew I’d get sideways looks from a few friends. I was joining a company that makes products for police. And police have been a hotbed of controversy in the past few years. But some of the conversations I’ve had—with people who come from a whole variety of perspectives—have been surprising to me. Not because of the positions people have taken, but because of how entrenched and unwavering they were in those positions.
That’s why we need to talk.
Even about that stuff that’s hard to talk about. Especially about the stuff that’s hard to talk about. And we need to do it in a spirit of openness rather than one of fear and hate. And not just talk. Listen.
That’s really hard sometimes. Our blood pressure may suffer a little in the short term.
But empathy isn’t just a life philosophy. It’s a business philosophy. Products that are created in a vacuum, without thinking of the customer, are crappy products. Today, bathrooms have automated water faucets that don’t work well for people of color because different skin tones weren’t considered during engineering. And voice-activated A.I. is still playing catchup with the speech patterns of minority groups.
Understanding different perspectives makes us smarter and kinder. And it makes our products better. At Amazon, they have a policy of “disagree and commit.” Meaning, they encourage disagreement because it helps make the products stronger. It’s a place where debate thrives, and that debate is backed up by data, not just feelings. After there’s been a healthy debate on a subject, even if there is not universal consensus (because there rarely is) they commit to a direction as a group. It’s a process that makes their products better. Disagree, commit, test, make it better. The process does that for people, too, I think.
There’s been a trend in the past few decades of people of similar political beliefs moving geographically closer. We are surrounding ourselves by folks who think just like us. We do it in real life and we do it online as well. My own Facebook feed is an echo chamber of people espousing the same beliefs back and forth to one another. If someone dissents, god help them. It gets nasty. With the world conspiring like this to wall us off from one another, talking honestly and openly is an act of bravery. And it’s never been more important.
One of the reasons I was attracted to Axon is that I think its products promote the kind of empathy that can make the world a better place. Body cameras make communities safer and protect police against unwarranted accusations, but they do something else, too. They put you in the officer’s shoes. They place you directly into the situation. People need to see that.
It’s easy to break down incidents between cops and the community academically on paper, but when you look and listen to the body camera footage, you get a new perspective. These are charged situations. Often frightening situations. Suspects are scared. Officers are scared. Adrenaline is high.
I hope that the transparency of body camera footage allows us to get a more complete picture of what’s going on with police and communities. I hope that it will help improve training and bring communities and their police forces closer together.
We recently launched a Facebook page to help spark real conversations about policing, using body camera footage and expert commentary as the catalyst. It’s an experiment. It could devolve into everyone calling each other creative and overly-descriptive names, but my hope is that it provides a window into what it’s really like out there, giving insight into what’s going right and what needs to be improved.
Whether you’re a police officer or an interested citizen, I hope you’ll visit the page and add your viewpoint. I hope you’ll talk—and listen—in a spirit of openness and the desire to make our communities safer, happier and healthier.
As for my dad and I, we still disagree on all sorts of things. But even when we do come with different perspectives, the conversation brings us closer. I respect him. And respect goes a long way.