One of my daughters asked me what I would like for a Father’s Day present, and rather than thinking of material things, it caused me to become a little “self reflective” (I’m sure that is not a surprise to many of you who know me 😉). After thinking about the question, I realized the best gift I could receive would be everyone helping each other to “Bridge the Divide.” Let me explain.

I think it is very clear to almost everyone in the U.S. and around the world that we have a serious problem that is getting worse almost every day: no one seems to listen to one another anymore. I clearly remember as recently as a few years ago that one person could have an opinion and another person have a different opinion and they still liked and respected one another. As I mention in one of my leadership classes, we seem to have moved very quickly from: “I respect and like you” to “I dislike you” to “I hate you” and in some cases to “I have to stop you!”

I have been trying to figure out how we got here. My opinion is that a big part of the problem is caused by social media. I am old enough to remember when the news was NEWS, not opinion. There were once only three television channels, and the news was a half hour. Walter Cronkite had 20 minutes to summarize the news and ended by saying, “And that’s the way it is.” He could say that because it was true. He didn’t finish by saying, “And now let’s turn to our panel of experts.” By the way, when one of the many 24-hour shows (notice I didn’t say news) states that they will now “turn to our panel of experts,” did you ever wonder, “Who are those guys?” And if I just heard Biden or Trump or whoever say something, and I speak and understand English, why do I need a “panel of experts” to explain it to me?

Unfortunately, the answer is obvious: It is not the news. I personally do not care if someone chooses to be on the far right or the far left. Feel free to believe whatever you choose to believe. The PROBLEM is many people on one side or the other side have no idea what the other side believes. Why? Because of the amazing ability of social media to feed you exactly what you want to hear. Whether you are on the far right or the far left, the “echo chambers” enable you to be completely ignorant of what other people believe and why they believe it.

Here’s an interesting thought: Think of when you are having a discussion with someone, and they say, “I don’t understand where you are coming from!” It took me a while to realize that when they say that, they don’t usually want to understand. So when someone says to me, “I don’t understand where you are coming from!” I respond in a friendly way, “Would you like to understand? If so, I am happy to explain my perspective. Feel free to disagree, but don’t say that you don’t understand!”

Okay, so being an optimist, how do we make progress from the current unhealthy and unproductive situation? Yes, part of the solution is consistent with my second principle of values-based leadership: developing a BALANCED PERSPECTIVE. That is to take the time to understand all sides of the issue. Or, as one of my very favorite quotes from St. Francis says it, “Seek to understand before you are understood.” I try to say this several times a day!

I was fortunate to hear a short talk the other day that provided a fantastic way for all of us to “Bridge the Divide.” At last week’s Kellogg graduation ceremony, Gina Fong, the Kellogg 2023 Professor of the Year, gave a short presentation with advice that I tried to scribble on a notecard as I sat on stage with my fellow Kellogg professors. She made three important points. If we could all follow Professor Fong’s advice, I am confident we could make a significant amount of progress:

  1. Boundless curiosity — I want to listen to you because I am curious and I can learn something from everyone I meet.
  2. Listen to understand — truly listen. It is hard to learn and understand if you are doing all of the talking. As one of my Kellogg professors taught me many years ago, 90% of effective communication is listening. And as a bonus, if we start to understand one another, maybe we will find that the areas of disagreement are not as large as we initially thought.
  3. Profound empathy — I truly care for you, and I am always willing to listen to your perspective even if it differs from my perspective.

Here’s a video of Professor Fong’s speech:

I hope you had a great Father’s Day!!!


Photo by Modestas Urbonas on Unsplash