Let me be very clear about this. I voted for Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump is the antithesis of everything I believe about leadership. I am a strong believer in servant leadership. A servant leader puts the needs of others first, is inclusive, and inspires his constituents. He doesn’t lead by fear or power or revenge. He doesn’t cheat people or play zero sum games. And he doesn’t bully or talk poorly of others.
But all of that aside, how can I say that it’s my fault? Well I didn’t talk about this before the election.
I’m at a conference for work right now and this week happens to be my chance to network with other engineers from different sites, including our sites in Great Britain. And it was really surprising to them that we weren’t all talking about the election on Monday. “Oh no,” I remember thinking, “We can’t really discuss politics here. Politics and religion are off limits, especially with those you have just met. And definitely not at work.”
Why is that? And should it really be that way?
I think the why has a little bit to do with politeness and genuinely good intentions. I really believe that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and they are welcome to disagree with me. In fact, that should get us to a better answer. When we are forced to discuss and make compromises and work together, we should arrive at solutions to problems that are stronger and open our eyes to another perspective.
But in today’s world of social media and 140 character comebacks I don’t see a lot of discourse going on. Twitter is not the medium for a productive conversation. Nor is text messaging or a Facebook comment. These platforms weren’t designed for that kind of exchange of information. And what ends up happening is that we retreat to our corners of the universe. We un-friend people who post something that is offensive or we do what I’ve done and avoid Facebook altogether for the past several months because I just don’t want to see all the negativity. And in either instance we have missed the opportunity to have a real conversation with another human being. Did I call my family member when I saw them post something pro-Trump that I really disagreed with to express that I had qualms with the implications or to find out why they felt so strongly in the other direction? No, I did not.
Not to say that this is an easy thing to do. Politics and religion are big important subjects and it is natural to be passionate about these things. It’s much easier to only talk to those who agree with me about them and to write everyone else off as wrong. But isn’t this why our legislature is broken right now? When the main objective becomes keeping the other side down we don’t make much progress.
I think we have forgotten how to really have positive discourse. Sure we can do it at work, but when it comes to something like where the country is heading, forget it. On the news we only see soundbites and on social media the most clever or snarkiest is sure to get the most likes. And we don’t really listen.
So here is my challenge to you this week: have a 10 minute conversation face to face with somebody from the other side. And don’t talk through each other. 10 minutes isn’t enough to solve everything but it is short enough to stay calm. Focus on understanding why they believe what they do and if there is anything, anything at all, that you can agree on. I’m going to do this too. It’s a start. And hopefully, 4 years from now I won’t be kicking myself for not speaking up.