If you are like me, you have friends and acquaintances from all over the social and political spectrum. I have varying levels of feelings and respect toward each and every one of them. So, in the current environment where change is swift and misinformation is swifter, I’ve challenged myself to live by a couple of principles.
Take the long view
Most of us are lucky to remember a few presidential terms. When we actually take the time to look up what was happening and what laws were passed during their terms, we find more than a few facts we forgot. America has been doing its thing since 1776. And other countries have been doing their thing for much, much longer. And nature has been doing its thing for wayyyyy longer than humans have been around. None of it has been smooth and without conflict. This “moment in time” is just that – a moment in time. Be passionate but take the long view.
I believe one item that we struggle to get our heads around is the population explosion of the last 50 years. With over 318 million people in this country, there’s a LOT of diversity: of origin, of culture, of age, of skin color, of education, of hopes, of dreams, of fears. So, when someone says “3 million people are afflicted by…” or “3 million people agree that…” our conscious minds hear 3 MILLION and think that’s a big number – and it is. However, it’s less than 1% of the population. When 1 million people demonstrate/march, there will always be at least 1% who are on the fringe. That’s 10,000 people who are participating who are going to do something that makes the “whole” look bad. Context matters – don’t just fall for the number, understand the context.
The 1% is what sells – don’t fall for it
No, not that 1%. The 10,000 people from my example above are the ones who end up on the news, or in memes – passed around as the example of what’s wrong with the “cause”. So we have LOTs of fodder for both sides. A million women march in peace and all of them have a story to tell. But all we see is the nut job 1% who end up in a facebook live feed or a meme. A million people peacefully march to protest police brutality but the 1% do something stupid like burn police cars or loot, and, you guessed it, they end up as memes. For that matter, a million police officers do their job with professionalism and dignity, but that one racist, asshat cop is the one video that gets passed around. Don’t fall for it. Focus on the 99% who are trying to do the right thing in every circumstance.
Life is right in front of me
Yes, it is important who is president, and who is my senator/congressman(person), and who is my county commissioner, and who is my mayor, and who is on my school board, and….you get the picture. And it’s important what they’re doing at Amazon and Google and Microsoft and Apple and ….you get the picture. But life is right in front of me. What did my kids learn in school today? Which one of my friends is hurting? Am I happy? How am I making my world a better place? Social media makes it easy to feel like we need to get involved in EVERYTHING. But we make a thousand choices every day. And those choices really do affect the people connected to us. Don’t lose sight of what’s right in front of you.
I truly enjoy engaging in spirited discourse (just ask my family). I don’t mind conflict if it’s purpose is to lead to greater understanding or growth. But it feels like we’re living out a big game of “gotcha”. I appreciate my friends who are willing to look past the silly stuff, embrace our differences, and explain their personal philosophy of life. I appreciate my friends who are willing to argue for the purpose of greater understanding. And I appreciate my friends who disagree with me and love me anyway.
We need more of that.
Scott Alexander is a published author, a coach to entrepreneurs and senior executives, an accomplished speaker, and a strategy/leadership consultant.