Wake Up America! A powerful piece which was read by nearly 120,000 viewers. [VIDEO of exchange included]
Better listening, a willingness to truly want to understand, and a focus on communicative civility. Collectively this triad is the proverbial ‘golden spike of the engagement rail’. The connection is no longer between trains and rails from different parts of the country, but opinions and views from different sides of our society.
Since that momentous occasion of human achievement and common purpose in 1869, we’ve seen tremendous growth and expansion of people, business, and economy in America. Yet nearly 150 years later, we find ourselves often running smack into the limitations of our own ability to engage others who don’t share in our same opinions and views.
The statistics are more than clear – 95% of all Americans believe that lack of civility is a problem. It happens throughout homes, schools, communities, online postings, in texts & emails, as well as within company walls. One need only scratch the surface of recent studies on civility to see its impact. Though far more common than harassment, its often overlooked, often under-managed, and often results in lower job productivity, decreased employee engagement, and less willingness to want to be at work and contribute positively.
In my prior article, I pointed out how large parts of our American society have changed. Since the 1960’s, people have transitioned to think of themselves more individualistically as consumers, rather than collectively as citizens. Moreover, technology and the segregated delivery of opinionated news & media have increasingly (and profitably) served to help catalyze our often inflexible tribes of opinion.
In January of this year, my wonderful wife and I recently co-founded a growing movement of practicing better listening and civility called Walk The Ridge. We believe that people must lead the civility initiative from the bottom-up, as our leaders are no longer able to demonstrate by example.
If each of us can learn how to figuratively come up from our valleys of often inflexible opinions, if only to listen and learn about other beliefs and views. Civility grows from within AND between individuals engaged for the purpose of wanting to listen, understand and grow.
Recently, I found some added inspiration from a YouTube interview I watched. In January of this year, transgender commentator Blaire White invited conservative political commentator and talk show host Ben Shapiro to engage in a conversation on the hot topic of using gender-based pronouns.
NOTE: In no way am I supporting either the views of Shapiro or White – nor what they may have said controversially or otherwise, outside of this video. However, this 14 minutes of back-and-forth serve as a terrific example of how listening and civil discourse in just a single conversation, can lead to positive outcomes – EVEN IF the entering and exiting opinions of engaging parties remain the same.
Watch and listen for yourself by clicking the above image or this link. Some takeaways are included in several portions of transcript below:
SHAPIRO: “Pronouns are designed to differentiate between men and women. Anything that attempts to overcome that argument is obfuscation rather than clarification. There is a big difference between a transgender woman and a biological woman. If we are supposed to use these generic pronouns to refer to men and women, then we should be using them at their root level, which relates to their biological differences.”
WHITE: “Just getting offended and throwing out expletives [is not the best tactic for debate]. The conversation goes nowhere when that happens. For me, I’d rather have a conversation about the logic behind YOUR stance…”
SHAPIRO: “I feel like a lot of the pronoun discussion is just a way to guilt people into taking particular stances on particular issues. I’m actually libertarian, so I’m all for whatever makes you as an adult, happier and healthier. But there’s this idea that if we can just batter people with the pronoun discussion, and make them seem as though they are evil, mean and nasty, then we will somehow win the day.”
WHITE: “Yeah, the point about guilt is what a lot of these conversations are. When[people] say, ‘well can’t you just be nice?’…yes, there’s room to be nice. But when parameters are set up for conversations where the definition of ‘being nice’ must fit the parameters (filters) they’ve set up [in their minds], then they can start coming up with all sorts of unreasonable things…which is what people often do.”
After Shapiro fully explained his views on the use of pronouns, Blaire White responded with…
“We’ve had a conversation about [the use of pronouns], and it makes a whole lot more sense than people screaming out. What I learned is that context matters with you [Ben], and I had not really seen that. I thought that your stance was for every single situation…so talking matters…and that’s the takeaway here.”
The takeaway here is not about how you or I feel about the use of pronouns. Nor the level of passion or conviction we have in our opinions on this matter. So if your comments on this article involve arguing about pronouns, I would politely suggest that you’ve missed a far larger and more meaningful point.
Any live or online engagement where you disagree with another offers a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate and increase leadership, growth, patience, and listening. Civility is a cumulative soft skill that will serve so many so well in life.
Last night I watched the Netflix documentary Seeing Allred. This is a 2-year project in the making, which dives deep into the life and times of American Women’s Rights attorney Gloria Allred.
Whether I agree with her beliefs, actions, or style is not nearly as important to me as the growth I gained from watching this. Many lessons can be learned, and some positively applied when gaining the gift of perspective through looking at life lived by others.
Could it have been a little more of this and a little less of that?Sure…but that’s not the takeaway I found most helpful to me.
At 49, at least I’m still learning. The biggest lessons now coming from the simple things in life that when learned, applied and truly embraced – can be taught to and scaled upon with and within others.
Guns, kneeling for the national anthem, pronouns, President Trump, Hillary Clinton, Fox, CNN, company leadership decisions, selling tactics, best investments, what TV shows to watch, the best way to cook steak.
You pick the topic and there will always be another strong opinion. The question is whether we want to fight, remain close-minded in learning and understanding, while using anger, hate, shaming and name-calling to belittle those who disagree with us.
Or… will we value knowing the WHAT and WHY behind different views – and HOW we may use the perspective to not necessary change our views, but in adding improvement to our own lives.
One month in, and we’ve seen 2018 become a surging year for Walking The Ridge, or in practicing civility with others. Grow it in your life, teach it to your kids, allow it to strengthen your relationships, and inject it into (and for the benefit of) your company’s culture. Let it wisely guide you in your choice on response the next time your read or hear something online, which you vehemently disagree with.
Over time, civility will grow from our individual conversations into our relationships, communities, companies, and will eventually reach and teach our leaders. Embracing the practice of civility means we recognize the importance our engagement and actions carry – not only in our own lives, but in inspiring others as well.