First of all, I pray that you are safe and healthy during the global pandemic and significant social unrest. It has clearly been a remarkable year in many dimensions.
As may be the case with many of you, I am constantly asked, “How are you doing?” For over a month now I have been responding to this question by saying, “Thanks for asking. ….given that more than 180,000 people around the world have died as a result of the virus and more than 25 million Americans are unemployed, I have absolutely nothing to complain about. All I have are very minor inconveniences like not being able to go to the movies. That is, I have no real problems. My main focus is helping others less fortune and teaching current and future leaders how to lead in times of crisis.”
(On that note, here’s a link to my article and video on leading in a crisis both personally and professionally: Principles for Leading in Crisis)
One of the things that has made our current lives significantly more difficult (whether it relates to politics and the upcoming election, COVID, or social unrest) is our inability to truly listen to one another, understand one another, and respect one another. In my classes and talks I refer to this as the need to develop a BALANCED PERSPECTIVE, the ability to take the time to understand all sides of the issue, or to quote St. Francis: “To seek to understand before I am understood.”
The best summary of this issue (and the beginning of a possible solution) was an opinion piece from last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal entitled, “A First Step Toward Loving Our Enemies,” written by John Danforth, an Episcopal Priest and Matt Malone, a Jesuit Priest.
Rather than treating people with different views and beliefs the way we would like to be treated, there is a growing tendency to treat them as the enemy, shutting down all dialogue and making the gulf wider and wider. Danforth and Malone reminded me of Pope Francis’ speech to the U.S. Congress in 2015 when he warned of the incredible divisiveness in American politics, “the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.”
Danforth and Malone build a strong case for truly respecting everyone and not treating people with different views and beliefs as the enemy. Many of us in a religious or spiritual sense greet one another by saying “Peace be with you.” They suggest starting the conversation with your political opponents by simply saying, ”I am your friend.”
Taking Danforth and Malone’s advice can sometimes be difficult, particularly when we have strong feelings on a topic. I will admit that I have some very strong personal views on many topics (I will refrain right now from sharing them). However, I really do try to take the time to truly understand the views and perspectives of people that differ significantly from mine. I do this for three reasons:
- It seems like the right values-driven thing to do
- I can learn a lot by simply listening that may result in my changing my views and opinions (which I am open to doing since I am not focused on the need to be right, but rather trying to do the right thing)
- If I listen intently, seek to understand, and still hold my view, I believe the other person may be willing to take the time to listen to my view and possibly be open to changing their view.
By the way, this does NOT mean that we should not challenge one another and debate the issues that we feel strongly about. Great teams challenge one another directly, but do it in a respectful way. Usually it is not what we say but how we say it that impacts relationships. We need to remind ourselves that as Americans, we are on the same team.
It definitely looks like the next year will continue to be very challenging. My simple request is for each of us to treat one another respectfully, give one another the benefit of the doubt, and try to find some common ground. Operating and living in a representative democracy is not easy, but I believe it is the best system anyone has come up with in the last 20,000 years. We need to find a way to preserve it!!!
So, whatever your views and beliefs…..“peace be with you!!!”