We’re not getting along.
Whether it’s politics, race, religion, culture, immigration, gay marriage, current events, BLM, or just about any other topic you can name, we all have a differing opinion.
Our opinions are based on what we know (or what we think we know) and what we believe. Those beliefs are formed over a lifetime of experiences (we explored our complicated selves in a couple of recent blogs — click here to see "I Am My Life - Part 1") and delivered in a way that reflects our personality, some softly with others being very loud about their opinions.
We’re often letting those opinions be known in pubic spaces, on TV and radio, at church, and during family gatherings. Probably the largest platform for airing our viewpoints is social media including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, which can be over the top with emotional and often ugly comments.
Those over-the-top social media comments are just a small part of the incivility we’re seeing today. In fact, most people would agree that incivility has never been higher.
I don’t mean the rioting that plagued many cities in 2020 although that is certainly a reflection of our disagreements.
I’m talking about the inability to engage in meaningful dialogue about the issues we’re facing as a nation. We simply can’t seem to have real, honest, uncomfortable conversations that can either help change someone’s mind or at least help people gain an understanding of others and grow in empathy for people who are different.
So how do we overcome this standoff? How do we stop yelling at each other and start talking to each other? When will we stop calling each other names and start calling each other brother and sister and friend?
I think we’ll do this when business starts facilitating those difficult conversations.
We tend to hang with “people like us.” That’s certainly true with family. Yes, today’s political climate has driven a wedge between some family members. For the most part, though, family sticks together.
Our friends tend to look and think like us as well. That describes my friends. I have a close group of six or seven guys that I hang with, drink bourbon with, and generally do life with. Our wives are all friends so we also do things as couples.
Many churches look the same as well. I live in Lewisville, Texas, a North Dallas suburb and while my church is open to anyone and proactively reaches out to the Hispanic community, it’s still a predominately white church.
Then there’s business. Business is different. While our family and social groups are often a reflection of ourselves, business usually has a different look and feel.
Business is comprised of people from all walks of life. In addition to different genders and generations, employees also represent different ethnicities, different sexual preferences, different educations, different backgrounds, different political beliefs, and different thinking styles. The differences go on and on and on and . . .
Yes, families, friends, and social groups can be a melting pot of different people, but it’s business that truly brings dissimilar people together.
It’s Too Hot
So business has the opportunity — some would say responsibility — to help lower the temperature of our personal interactions and, ultimately, our society.
“Lower the temperature.” That’s a great term, isn’t it? I wish I had come up with that but I must give credit to a fantastic professional speaker, Michael Hoffman (click here to learn more about Michael). Michael expertly applies that term to organizations that want to deliver great customer service.
I don’t think Michael would mind if I adopted that term to describe our current culture, which is red hot, and how companies can cool things down a bit by helping employees understand each other and talk — calmly — to one another.
I’m not the only person who proposes business take the lead here. At a Ken Blanchard conference in 2018, I heard author Brené Brown urge companies to facilitate those uncomfortable conversations within the workforce in order to attract and keep the best employees. So business has a vested interest in facilitating those challenging conversations; it’s a real business advantage!
That’s my goal with this blog and with everything I do; my raison d’être. I want to help people find success and gratification in their daily activities by helping employees understand each other and get along. I want to “lower the temperature” in corporate cultures.
So "Getting Along" will be my theme for the rest of 2021. Throughout the year, we’ll explore Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion. We’ll dive into one of my keynote presentations about Building a Value-Others Culture. We’ll touch on civility, challenging conversations, and how to interact with people who are different than ourselves.
I hope you’ll follow along throughout the year. And I really hope you’ll interact, provide comments, ask questions, push back (just a little), and challenge me.
And hopefully, with each blog, comment, and story, the pebbles we throw into the “pond of life” will create ripples that benefit others, ultimately making our businesses more engaging and satisfying.
And making life just a little bit easier.
When do we start hating each other?
We come into this world with a natural bent for connection to each other, caring for each other, and loving each other.
Sadly, for many people, at some point in life, that connection turns into defriending on Facebook. Caring for a neighbor turns into yelling at the neighbor. And love turns into a cold shoulder or perhaps even into hatred.
When does that happen?
As mentioned above, we start life by seeing everyone as a friend. We don’t care what you look like, the color of your skin, if you’re a boy or girl, or how you talk. We’re simply born to care and connect.
We get a little older, we start school, we begin playing sports. Still friends? Of course! We may play on different Little League or soccer teams, and for a couple of hours we’re “enemies” on the diamond or pitch, but after the game, we’re back to hanging out with each other.
As we pass through middle school, high school, and into college, we may start separating based on our personalities and life plans, but we can still be friends. Yes, we begin hanging out with “people like us”, but no one really hates each other. “Jocks”, “theater” kids, “bandies” (I played percussion in the marching band), or college rivals — we have our differences but we certainly don’t hate one another.
Then we’re adults! We have jobs. We have kids. Eventually grandkids. Retirement. We (hopefully) have a long, full life!
Elephants and Donkeys
So what gets in the way? I mean, we all have likes and dislikes. But do we really need to yell at each other or defriend our BFFs?
Seems like we've been drifting apart for the last 10 or 15 years, maybe more. Religion. Gay marriage. International conflicts. But it's politics that has really divided us, and one person in particular.
We’re in such a bad place, even family members are separated! In fact, the day after last year’s election, I read a Twitter comment that said, "I can’t believe my mom voted for Trump. I’m sorry but she’s now dead to me.”
Seriously? Because you disagree with how dear ol’ mom voted, she’s now dead to you?
And I’ve seen numerous tweets stating how much people hate President Trump. Oh yeah, they hate me also because I voted for him. Really? You hate me? But you don’t even know me.
Politically, we’re more divided than ever. But it may be religion, race, gender, generation, or any other issue that gets in the way of a relationship. Regardless, how do we heal as a country? How can we stop yelling at each other and get back to our “days of youth” when we just enjoyed being together?
I think two simple steps will help us come together as individuals and as a nation.
Step 1: View people as unique and special
It truly starts with a choice. What do you think of others?
This is particularly true with people who are different than you and was clearly seen during last year’s election. If you voted for Trump, you were a racist. You were homophobic. You were anti-immigration and anti-science.
There was no room for policy debate — you were simply a bad person. In fact it was so bad, one person tweeted that all Trump supporters were “pollution.”
Is it possible that people who voted for Trump are actually good people, they simply have a different idea of how to run the government?
So it’s a choice you make, to look at people either suspiciously or as a person who has wants, desires, career aspirations, a family, and is making their way through this challenging world. Each person you encounter is unique. There is no one exactly like that person anywhere in the world.
Choosing to see that person as an individual and valuing them simply for their uniqueness is a choice. Your connection or relationship to that person starts with that decision.
Step 2: Listen and Be Open
When you encounter that person, listen.
I’m not talking about listening with your ears and practicing “active listening.” Yes, this is important. Asking clarifying questions, and giving “body language” feedback through eye contact and head nods lets your discussion partner know you’re engaged in the conversation.
Listening with your ears is important. Listening with your heart is critical. Seek to understand how the other person is feeling. Seek to truly understand how life experiences have led this person to this place.
In other words, show empathy. Many people describe empathy as “walking in someone else’s shoes.” Not a bad description but let’s face it, there’s no way we can actually do that. We can’t “re-live” someone else’s life. We can’t experience their situations and their feelings.
But we can work really hard at understanding their life journey. I recently heard Erin O’Malley talk about this on a LI post. She said it’s not walking in someone else’s shoes, but it is finding out where those shoes have been!
And that takes a willingness to invest the energy into that relationship and a willingness to perhaps change your mind a bit. We live in such a polarized world these days and think “the other side” just doesn’t get it. But the willingness to deeply understand someone else’s view and acknowledge that not only is it okay for them to feel and think that way but maybe their perspective is right!
Or, at the very least, find the common ground that you can both stand on.
Once you’re on that common ground, leave the differences behind, even if momentarily. Build on that common ground through “life” conversations about families, favorite movies, vacation spots, and food.
You’ll soon recognize that you aren’t enemies. While the differences are still there and may always remain, you’ll recognize that you don’t have to yell at each other.
By the way, if you’ll have those conversations over coffee or maybe a sweet dessert, you may hang out on that common ground just a little bit longer!
Is there someone in your life who thinks differently than you do? Invite that person to share over coffee or something sweet — and find that common ground!
Welcome back! After giving you insight to my life with "I Am My Life (Part 1") a few weeks ago, it’s time to look at who I am today and who I hope to be tomorrow.
If you haven’t read Part 1, please click here and take a few minutes to get to know me. Reading about my past will put context to the following words and to the rest of my 2021 writings.
These blog entries could be titled, “I’m Complicated.” There is so much that makes me me (and you you). My Part 1 blog is just a small list of “inputs” to my life. There are so many more experiences that have shaped me:
Add everything up, and the result is a complicated person with much of my worldview set from an early age. I was born with a certain personality that has guided my entire life. I was blessed with two loving parents who nurtured and guided me until I became an adult. While I’m certainly not perfect and don’t always reflect my belief in God, my faith, which I’ve had for as long as I remember, guides my thinking and actions.
But here’s the key point: I’m open to change. I’m constantly growing, constantly learning, and constantly trying to be a better person. While I have two or three core beliefs that I won’t alter, everything else is open for discussion and subject to change.
The Right Kind of Uncomfortable
One of the true highlights for me in 2020 was a conversation I had with Elena Gerstmann.
The roots of our conversation — some would call it a debate — come from a tweet I made. Up to that comment, I had never tweeted (or blogged) about anything personal. Nothing about religion, politics, or my favorite Mexican restaurant.
But after reading one particular tweet regarding President Trump that elicited a number of harsh replies, I just couldn’t keep quiet. I didn’t defend President Trump but I did respectfully push back on all of the previous statements, making a point that the harshness of the comments simply did nothing to add to the political dialogue. I then blogged about that Tweet “conversation.”
Shortly after that blog, Dr. James Pogue asked if I would be interested in having The Right Kind of Uncomfortable conversation with Elena, someone who sees life much differently than I do.
James did a fantastic job of moderating our hour-long conversation. In the end, neither Elena nor I changed our position on any issues. We did, though, agree to talk more which we’ve done several times.
After watching the debate, my dad said, “Son, it was interesting but you didn’t solve anything.” I replied saying we weren’t really trying to solve a specific problem, rather we tried to model the ability to have a deep discussion between two people who see life differently. I think we were successful in that effort.
Thanks to Elena and James, a few D&I professionals and a few dear friends, I expanded my view of people in 2020. No, I didn’t change my conservative, Bible-based worldview. But I did grow in empathy for people, specifically black people and gay people. Through many discussions, I can better relate to the struggles some people face and have a better understanding of their worldview.
Most of all, I grew in commitment to helping people connect and helping people get along with each other. I’m committed to doing this on a small, one-to-one scale as well as a larger organizational scale, building workplaces where all people are welcome and feel included, heard, and safe.
So this will be the theme for the remainder of 2021 — how organizations can build high-performing workforces by connecting employees who are different. Different ethnicities, different political viewpoints, different ways of thinking, and different genders and generations.
Will you join me?
If we all commit to these actions, we can make 2021 a year that reverses course, turning away from the yelling, name-calling, incivility, and hurt we’ve seen grow the last several years and begin building better, stronger workplaces, communities, and, ultimately, a better world.
I’m a hater.
Never really thought of myself like this but after responding, “I hate that,” to a number of family members and friends in recent days, I just need to admit — I’m a hater.
I embarrassed to admit but I’ve always harbored a little hate. I hate mushrooms. I hate moving my clocks forward to Daylight Savings Time every spring and then back to Standard Time ever fall. And I hate being late, especially to a movie and missing the previews.
Lately, though, I’ve been feeling a little more hateful than usual:
Of all my hatred, here are the three things I hate the most these days.
#3. I hate that we’re having crucial discussions in 280 characters.
We must have deep dialogue about racism in America. We need to discuss immigration, gay marriage, and free speech.
But we can’t do that through tweets and blogs. At least we can’t do it well.
And yes, I hate that I’m adding to these “shallow” conversations through my own blogs and tweets. My hope is these written words lead to spoken dialogue for many people.
We must push through the uncomfortableness of these discussions and start talking to people different than us. That’s what I did last year a couple of times with Elena Gerstmann. Elena and I are very different yet we were able to have a civil conversation about my political choices. Was it difficult? Yes. Was it uncomfortable at times? Absolutely!
Did we change each other's mind? Yes! We both realized that the other person is likable! We may not have changed our political stripes but we did enjoy the opportunity to learn from one another.
When was the last time you calmly had a discussion with someone who thinks differently than you?
#2. I hate the dishonest conversations we’re having.
As I continue my own journey into Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, I follow and learn from some great people on LinkedIn. Lenora Billings-Harris. Dr. Shirley Davis. Tara Jaye Frank. And many more.
I’m grateful for their DEI leadership and truly thankful for the opportunities they have given me to ask real, sensitive, and truth-seeking questions.
There are many times, though, when I’m silent, when I don’t seek the truth. While I’ve replied to many stories and posts on LinkedIn, there are many more comments I could make but don’t. I hesitate because my comments will be taken out of context, someone will read in a tone that isn’t there, or someone will accuse me of being defensive (which actually happened just recently!).
I’m extremely thankful for my conversations with Dr. James Pogue. We’ve had some wonderful discussions when I’ve asked him some very pointed questions from an old, white, male perspective. Questions that were not easy to ask with answers that were not always easy to hear. Some answers I readily accepted. Other answers I have to wrestle with some more. And a few answers I totally disagreed with.
But they were honest conversations.
Conversations that were enabled because we thought the best of each other. I didn’t have to hide or soften my comments and questions because James believed my heart was in the right place. And most of all, because James showed me grace when I said something wrong, pushed back on a statement, or admitted that I simply didn’t understand.
That’s where we must go as a society:
#1. I hate that some people reading this post will get the wrong idea about me.
That’s especially true if they stopped reading early in this post after they learned I voted for President Trump.
Over the last year or two, I’ve been called pollution and a terrorist. I’ve been compared to Hitler. I’ve collected so many verbatim quotes and tweets that I no longer collect them. I don’t think there’s an adjective or word combination that can be used to describe me that hasn’t been used already (on a positive note, there are some very creative writers out there!).
Sadly, the people labeling me with these names or making these comparisons don’t even know me. They simply call me these names based on one action — the little circle I colored in next to Donald Trump’s name.
These people don’t know what went into that vote. They don’t know how I think. They don’t know the struggle I had matching my civics worldview and my faith with a Presidential candidate that I sometimes disagreed with and often winced at when hearing or reading one of his bombastic comments.
These people who judge me for how I voted or a comment I make on LinkedIn also don’t know how hard I work to bring people together. That's the entire goal of my speaking and consulting business.
They also don’t know that I spent four years in Bulgaria leading a small English-speaking school so other Americans could work in the country. They don’t know that I paid for groceries for the person in front of me at Target recently. They don’t know how I recently donated blood, donated a Saturday to hand out Christmas gifts to those less fortunate, and donated a Sunday afternoon to sort food for a local food pantry. Would a terrorist do these things?
Bonus hate: I hate that we’re letting so many things divide us while ignoring all of the things that bind us.
Here is a partial list of things I love:
Finally, one of the things I love the most?
Writing about and delivering keynote presentations about the uniqueness of people and how we have so much more that connects us than separates us.
We need to talk about our differences. We need to talk about race, religion, gender, sexual preference, and politics. We need to explore and understand white privilege and unconscious bias. I want to understand a black man's or woman’s life and their perspective on racism. And I want to explain my life, my experiences and my feelings about white privilege without being called a racist just because it doesn’t match your definition of white privilege or because I have questions.
I’m working hard to do my part. I’m reading. I’m studying. I’m engaging in conversations with my black, Hispanic, Asian, gay, liberal, and Millennial friends.
I’m showing grace to people who yell at me, curse at me, and turn their back on me because of how I vote or how I think. And I’m asking for grace in return when I say something off the mark.
We are all together in this thing called life. How much better it is if we show each other love and offer a helping hand instead of shouting hate and shaking our fist.
Will you join me in this quest for civility and unity? Leave a comment with your thoughts about my thoughts. And if you’re in the Lewisville, TX, area, let me know and we’ll have one of those deep, meaningful conversations over a taco and margarita — my treat!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.