This blog is called Everyday Leadership. Obama is Obama. Trump is Trump. And you and I can choose to be everyday leaders. 324,707,000 people reside here. It’s pretty wonderful and pretty crazy that as 1 out of 324,707,000 each of us feels entitled to have our voice matter in this representative democracy. Doesn’t it seem humbling, on the one hand, or grandiose on the other, that we should think we would get our country our way :-). It’s amazing and so cool that each of us is .0000000000324707 of the population, yet we care so deeply.
As I wrote last week on the day before the election, I believe we have an auto-immune condition. Our country is warring against itself. That is hardly any different today. (Clearly, it is different that Trump, not Obama, is soon to be the head of this body politic, but the body is no less divided.)
I offer a strategy to do your part– as that 1 out of 320,707,000 — to make both “America great again” AND show we are “stronger together.” It’s a strategy for work, family or your ongoing civic conversations:
- Throw away your boxes and listen. Silence the urge to reply and listen more. It’s a great discipline to build every relationship you are in, and it’s HARD. I’ll bet at least 90% of those reading this, are already reading to see if they agree or disagree, deciding which box to put me in — the right box or the wrong box? Indeed, you may be leaning: “I like (or hate) where Mulhern is heading.” But forget that. Try to wonder and not know just yet. Don’t need to drop me in the “true” box (i.e., “I agree with Mulhern”) or the “false” box (i.e., “I don’t agree with Mulhern!”)
- Here’s what happens when we box people: When many Republicans read me, they grossly misunderstand me, inferring things I would never imply. After a sentence, they think, I’ve heard this (a thousand times) and are ready to argue. I wish they’d just ask questions, rather than prove they are right.
- Let me HASTEN to add: I make the same mistake with them (and, news flash! with many of my liberal friends), as I quickly see their thoughts as challenges to my ideas/identity, and think I have to prove them wrong (at least in my head). Why can’t I just try to fully understand them? For what THEY think? For their views? Why? This is not rhetorical! Why do we feel we have to prove them wrong, us right? A more personal example:
- Jennifer and I had a rare and voluble and painful disagreement on our 30th anniversary trip in Venice. Why did Jennifer have to be right or wrong (i.e., agree with me or not)? Why couldn’t we just listen and understand (as we did the next day when we had cooled off). When a co-worker has a different view, why can’t you learn more about them and what they see and how they think? Why does your teenager who is pushing back have to be wrong? After all, we live in an INCREDIBLY complex, non-black-and-white outer world, and our inner worlds almost ALWAYS display mixed feelings. So, why must we straight-jacket the world into binary choices, right-wrong, smart-stupid, feminist-sexist, enlightened-ignorant, etc.? If we listen, we might hear their ambivalence, their subtlety, and we might also hear their fear or their compassion or their guilt — thus finding out that they are not terrible or cruel people, but passionate, as we are. And we might hear our own mixed feelings and subtler thoughts and be able to LEARN both about ourselves and about them.
- One more word about listening to the music, the emotions (and not just the lyrics, the words). On the level of emotions, many people were really AFRAID of what Trump was saying. AND on an emotional level many other people were really AFRAID that the left didn’t care about their struggles and pains and yes, their morals. (I know, some will put me in the box marked “false equivalency.”) But there IS an equivalency of EMOTION — of people feeling overlooked, threatened, marginalized, unprotected – whether they are white or black, gay or straight, etc.
- And maybe, just maybe if we listen so that people feel understood, we can forge out of this potential nightmare, a vision of a better America. This may seem impossible. If you voted Clinton, you may not feel like your 1 out of 324,707,000 counts. If that scares you. I’d say: Make it count! By listening, as much as by, speaking. By making your corner of America a little smarter, more tolerant, and more caring.
- If “we” had won, I think the advice would have b een the same: Listen to
Lead with your best self.
P.S. Ron Colone, a good friend, wrote a wonderfully inspiring reflection the day after the election. I recommend it.