THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE & HOW TO STOP IT
I met an amazing couple, Warren & Margo, in an elevator and proceeded for 1 ½ hours to have one of the most interesting conversations I can remember, standing in front of the elevator. Near the end of our conversation, someone made the comment of how refreshing it was and that we don’t have these types of discussions anymore because when we do, we lose friends. The more I thought about it, the more this saddened and concerned me.
One of the most controversial topics we discussed was the American election and my fear for my children’s future. My American friends, and theirs, are traumatized with what is happening and too uncomfortable to discuss it. And it isn’t just America. In Canada, Germany, Britain and the entire western world it seems we’ve lost the ability to engage in healthy conflict, and we’ve given over to polarized, mutual character assassination. Our discourse focuses on personalities, mutual distrust and the fundamental, zero sum premises that one of us the right and the other is wrong. You are either with me or against me. If this is the foundation for our conversations, they will always be destructive and divisive. So where did we go wrong?
Western societies were built on the concept of healthy conflict and debate, back to the Greeks and the Socratic philosophy. The founders of America, in the constitution recognized it, and entrenched its critical role in the constitution in the fundamental right to the freedom of speech; and built the world’s greatest democracy on it (which we are now tearing apart). I’m a Canadian, and I see America like our big brother, who sets the example, and the political example I see now is this downward spiral of disrespect, mistrust and absolute polarization.
I believe that our society is in peril, therefore we need to go back to the fundamental values and principles that drove our success in the first place and with an entrepreneurial mind set, take them, adapt them to today’s harsh reality and come up with a new strategy to succeed. We must persevere and constantly change and adapt while still holding on to the common goal and worthy vision we can all agree on.
We all know that the key to solving a problem is to first recognize that we have one. I believe we can all agree that we have a problem, our political system, reflected in our social discourse, is broken.
The first step toward fixing the problem is for us to identify a common goal, a greater purpose that we all agree is worthy of debate. Every business and thought leader advises us to start with the end in mind. Focus on what we want, not on what we don’t want, because our focus becomes our reality. The most eloquent description of this that I love is by FRANK OUTLAW: “Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” The focus of our thoughts has become negative and destructive and we need to flip this focus around to positive and creative. We need to build futures for our children which are greater than the ones we started with, not lesser! I think as people, we can all agree that we owe our children a better future, regardless of race, color, creed, religion or any other artificial definition that divides us.
Agreeing to a shared vision isn’t that hard. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel. The American constitution defined the requirements and vision for what it takes to make a great society, so let’s recycle that as a starting point. What I love most is its simple, fundamental recognition of equal rights and respect for all, with no exceptions. I can think of no better starting point. In truth, I like it better than my Canadian constitution that recognizes all sorts of special interests, which entrenches arbitrary definitions that divide us.
That is the starting point. Next we need to agree that we do in fact share some common worthy goals, at a personal level, that are greater, and take precedence over the in-genuine posturing of any political propaganda.
My personal worthy goal is that I want to build a better future for all of our children, not just my own, where they are valued, respected and empowered to build a society where everyone can prosper, not just a select few; where they have the rights and responsibilities associated with freedom; and recognize our obligation as our brother’s keeper, to universally help and support each other.
I am excited about our youth. As the internet generation, they recognize better than my generation, that we are one global tribe, we share one planet, and until all of us are prosperous, we will never have peace and none of us will truly feel safe or secure. In the battle for survival as a species, we need to adopt the military philosophy of “no-one-left-behind”. If one of us fails, we all fail.
Furthermore, to achieve this worthy goal, we have to reclaim our foundation of mutual respect and our right to intelligent debate / discussions. Our discussions must happen in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and where people feel safe to share their thoughts. Therefore, we need to have ground rules, based on a shared expectation that we will respect each other’s right to an opinion, and that we will conduct ourselves in a manner that is respectful. The principals and ground rules I use for respectful behavior and healthy conflict in the teams I lead are:
We will treat each other in a respectful manner (regardless of how we feel). Physical fighters follow respectful rules of conduct, so why can’t we?
The first and foremost goal is simply to understand each other’s perspectives, not who’s right or wrong. If we just achieve mutual understanding, then everyone wins, and it is much easier to take the next step to consensus, or agreement, and ultimately to make better decisions.
PEOPLE ARE SAFE, IDEAS ARE NOT
Listen generously, first to understand, then be understood
Be bold, blunt and brief
Encourage others to contribute
Focus on ideas and issues, not people
Speak for yourself, not others
Disagree without being disagreeable
Be additive, not repetitive
Once you have been understood, enough, just move on
Be 100% present and engaged (in the here and now)
The group will not tolerate disrespectful behaviour from anyone
Keep perspective. Debates can be fun if we follow these guidelines.
So I challenge myself and every one of us, as individuals, to be leaders in our communities; all of us can support healthy, respectful dialogues by simply:
Pointing out what we are doing that isn’t working and offering a more constructive approach.
Demonstrating and facilitating a high level of respect and trust (I don’t trust what I don’t understand), to encourage passionate, emotional debate
Demonstrating genuine vulnerability first
Creating an environment that supports vulnerability
Not tolerating inappropriate behavior:
o Humour/sarcasm targeting vulnerability
o Personal attacks or criticism
Lastly, we must demand these behaviours from our leaders; if they can’t set the example in creating a constructive democratic dialogue, then they aren’t competent to lead.
All I know is that continuing to do what we are doing today will lead us to the fall of the American (western) empire and I’ll do everything in my power to prevent that. Including sharing these ideas that I hope and pray people will use to have healthy debates, to remind myself to always pursue mutual understanding, which leads to better decisions and takes us to a more respectful, prosperous future for all.
If you can share this, help in creating a healthier dialogue in our communities, then maybe we can save our civil society. Thank you for reading this and I wish you only health, happiness and prosperity.