Now’s The Time
While the United States of America has long been called a “melting pot,” suggesting a population with diverse backgrounds and perspectives living together in harmony, the 2016 presidential campaign and election revealed just how divided we are – with half our country’s population seeing hope in the outcome and half feeling disgust and despair. It is an unhealthy and unsustainable reality.
By highlighting this painful, growing chasm, this election has perhaps provided the medicine we need to begin to cure our nation’s sharp divide. Many, on both sides of the political aisle, have been shaken out of their complacency to a place of action, and that involvement just may be the start of a new dawning of civility, equality and tolerance within our democracy. Or at least that’s what we have to hope, believe and act on in such a trying time.
Last month, First Lady Michelle Obama reminded us that the measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls, saying “People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together.”
The best leaders do exactly that. They lift people up and bring people together. And if our president-elect is indeed the great leader he claims to be, he will show us that he can change the tone of our national discourse, bring civility and respect to the forefront, and foster trust in each other and the institutions that underpin our democracy.
And the rest of us must give him “an open mind and a chance to lead,” as Hillary Clinton urged us this week. It’s time for all of us to take the high road.
Taking the high road is what it means to live and lead with integrity. To put what’s best for the country, organization or team ahead of our own self-interests. To be assertive and make sure our voices are heard, but never use the pulpit of leadership to behave like a bully.
We must be strong without being obnoxious … direct without being offensive. We must demonstrate that we can have discussion and debate – and even get angry – without name-calling or shaming. And we must unequivocally reject all acts of discrimination and hate. When we stand strong in the shared belief that civility, equality and respect are principal American values, we will re-shape our nation’s narrative and its future.
The complex challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution demand this from us. No single leader, party or entity can move us through this new terrain alone. We all need to truly listen to people with views different from our own, even when we can’t fully relate to their ideas and opinions. And we must collectively hold our country’s leaders accountable for putting America’s progress before partisan politics. If we want government of the people, by the people, for the people, then we have to stop accepting partisan antics from either party.
Even in our earliest days and decades as a country, there were stark disagreements among our leaders about the best policies, direction and actions to achieve a successful future. Disagreement and debate are foundational to our democracy. But, to continue to achieve our collective promise and potential, we must stop being so mean, hateful and rude. No more pointing fingers or denigrating and blaming others. Now’s the time to look in the mirror and take responsibility for our own actions and words.
Indeed, now is the ideal time to become a tireless advocate and role model for the civility, equal opportunity and respect we want America to be known for. Given the state of the electorate – and the nature of our now well-developed social media habits – this won’t be easy.
So in the spirit of unity, here are five small steps we can all take now to be the role models we want to see:
- Be curious about what others think. Expand your circle. Talk to people with views different from your own.
- Acknowledge others’ points of view and pain. Look for the humanity in everyone. Remember, acknowledgement is not agreement.
- Challenge your own prejudices, labels and entrenched views. This is the hardest part – but perhaps the most crucial. We all have built-in biases. Step away periodically to welcome fresh air.
- Slow down. Pause before responding – in real and virtual conversation. Give your head a moment to catch up with your heart.
- Go high when others go low. As Maya Angelou said, “Be somebody’s rainbow.” Our world has enough clouds.