Skip to content

Take the Stairs

A CEO carrying a leather briefcase and dressed in a cashmere overcoat hurries through the glass doors and into the marble-floored lobby of his office building. He pushes the elevator button as he’s done every week day for the past thirty years. He waits, but the elevator doors fail to open. He pushes the “up” button again. Nothing. Perplexed, he gives it another try, but still, nothing happens. He impatiently checks his watch and then pushes the button three more times. Still, the elevator doors refuse to budge. A scowl crosses his cleanly shaven face as he leans forward to attack the button. He stabs the circle with such intensity and for so long that his index finger throbs for days afterward. And yet, even this fails to achieve his desired result. He glares at the panel above the elevator door, but the digital display remains dark. His jaw and the grip on his briefcase tighten as he swivels his head left, and then right, searching for the door to the stairs. He has no idea where to look because he’s never had to take them. Until now. Seeing the “exit” sign, he storms off.

The rich and powerful in America have been going about their business for years, confident in their success—smug, even. They’ve been doing their thing, day in and out, secure in their daily customs of capitalism, comfortable in the rituals of business and politics as usual. Until now. Perhaps it’s time for them to make a change?

The past few years have challenged the notion of “business as usual” in every facet of our society, accelerated by civil unrest, domestic terrorism and an international pandemic resulting in devastating economic hardship. And of course, during the past four years we’ve witnessed a president who seemed intent on ignoring (at best) or destroying (at worst) every democratic norm we’ve ever held.

And while events of the recent past have been the lighter fluid on the embers of our current roaring fires, if we’re being honest, we’d have to admit that these fires have been burning for a long, long time—even if some of us couldn’t smell the smoke.

The other night, on a Zoom call with friends, we discussed the recent insurrection on our nation’s Capitol. The rioting, the violence, the bloodshed, shook all of us. It was shocking, unnatural, wrong—and so out of the ordinary. But was it?

“What about the lynching of Black Americans?” my husband asked. Wasn’t that as shocking, as unnatural, as wrong? White people hanging Black people for sport, taking pictures turned into postcards sent to friends and relatives as if describing a recent vacation: “Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.”

The injustices suffered by minority Americans, starting with slavery, continuing with Jim Crow laws, unspeakable prejudice, demonization, and murder at the hands of majority Americans have been going on for centuries. Are some of us so mortified at what happened in DC because it was mostly white people doing the damage, and mostly to other white people? Did it take the desecration of our hallowed halls in Washington for us to wake up and see what people who deny change, who refuse to cede their power and acknowledge their privilege of whiteness, are willing to do to keep it? Unfortunately, Black and brown America have seen this movie before, too many times. The question for the rest of us is, how will it end?

It’s predicted that America will become a minority majority country by 2045. The demographics of the constituents, customers, employees and audiences of the rich and powerful are changing and will continue to change, along with their wants and needs. Will the rich and powerful respond accordingly?

Some will, but far too many won’t. They’ll stick to their routines, stand their ground, continue to poke at the button in the hopes that the elevator will finally show up like it always has. Some will grow impatient and angry, and they’ll fight with everything they have to keep things the way they are. But at some point, they’ll have to acknowledge reality. They’ll have to accept the fact that, unlike change, the elevator is not going to show up. And they’ll be forced to look for the stairs.

But make no mistake—some of them are not going down without a fight. They’re going to punch at that button until their fingers bleed. How do those of us who embrace the long-overdue change our country needs to survive respond to those who refuse to give up their status and power? How do we help them to understand that embracing this change will not only keep us alive, it can help us to thrive in ways we’ve only just begun to imagine?

How can we help those who refuse to change take the stairs—and sooner rather than later?

Photo by henry perks @hjkp at


  1. I love this analogy so much and the questions you pose. I think a lot of it centers around fear and the unknown along with never having to struggle to find a different solution or perform the same activity ~ limited exposure to the world outside of their routines and space.

    • I agree that fear has a lot to do with it. And while I didn’t think about the comfort of not having to struggle, I think you’ve got that right as well. It’s interesting to me COVID has only accelerated the necessity to change–we’re not going back to “normal,” whatever that was. It’s going to be a whole new ballgame, for good or for bad, so we best get on with making it better, especially for our kids, right?

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *