The other night I turned on the news to get an update on the impeachment hearings. I deliberately watched fifteen minutes of MSNBC and fifteen minutes of Fox News. The hosts on both stations employed the same tactic: MSNBC took the weakest Republican moments from the entire day and magnified them. Fox took the weakest Democratic moments from the entire day and magnified them. If I only watched one channel and not the other, my information would have been highly skewed.
I personally do not see impeachment (or any part of America, for that matter) through Republican or Democratic eyes. I see America through human eyes. I don’t care what party the president is from when it comes to impeachment. But that’s not the point of this essay. My focus today is on how divisive the business of governance and leadership in Washington has become; what a poor example it is for those who watch it; and what we, as a nation of citizens, might do about it.
There was a recent cover story in USA TODAY titled “Divided We Fall? Americans See a Big Problem.” The feature cited a recent survey that found 83 percent of Americans say divisiveness and gridlock in politics are a big problem. But here’s the good news: In that same survey, 75 percent of Americans feel there is more common ground between us than the media and politicians would have us believe. “By overwhelming margins, those surveyed said national leaders, social media, and the news media have exacerbated and exaggerated those divisions, sometimes for their own benefit,” USA TODAY reported.
I agree. Furthermore, I believe a solution can be found in that quote. If the problems are exacerbated by national leaders, social media, and the news media, then let’s do the following:
- Let’s make fewer decisions in Washington, DC, and more at the local level.
- Let’s spend less time discussing Washington, DC, on social media.
- Let’s watch and read less national news about Washington, DC.
I have felt for a long time that the world is better “in person” than it is on a screen. All the problems of the world still exist, but in person—neighbor to neighbor, coworker to coworker, friend to friend, and stranger to stranger—the spirit of cooperation, respect, and community is better, stronger, and healthier than it appears on a screen. So let’s take less of the world from a screen. The only world any of us can influence is the one right in front of us.
I have a rare neurological disorder called spasmodic dysphonia, which affects speech. As I have come to know my condition, I have learned that it is variable. In other words, the conditions are better in some situations and worse in others, even though it’s the same condition inhabiting the same body. Having learned this, I have decided to follow my voice. I spend less time in settings where my voice functions poorly and more time in settings where my voice functions well. It’s a simple approach, and it works.
This same approach can be applied to leadership and governance. Let’s do less where we show ourselves in the poorest light as a nation, and more where we show ourselves as a nation at its best.
Our company, Hancock Lumber, does business in a number of foreign countries, including China and Pakistan. I have heard people in both countries say repeatedly that they respect and admire America and Americans—it’s just our government they don’t like. I find it very interesting that people from other countries—often ones that are seemingly at odds with the United States—see the American PEOPLE in a shining light, and the American GOVERNMENT less favorably.
There is a chapter in my upcoming book, The Seventh Power: One CEO’s Journey into the Business of Shared Leadership, that takes place at the Seeds of Peace Camp here in Maine. Seeds of Peace recognized long ago that the governments of the Middle East, alone in a vacuum, are not going to be able to fix the generational divides that plague the region. So the camp turned to teenagers. Each year more than a hundred teenagers from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other countries come to camp in Maine and live, sleep, play, dialogue, and break bread side by side. The camp pedagogy is well tested and powerful. Virtually all of the campers arrive with deep-seated beliefs and a high degree of confidence in the dogma of their side, including grievances held against the “enemy” on the other side. Upon arrival they are encouraged not to try to solve any problems or convince any other person of the errors of their ways. Instead, each camper is encouraged to just “get in the river” and float with people from the other side. Each individual is asked to revisit and transcend their own core tribal assumptions and then learn to listen without judgment to the perspectives of those across the way. The goal is the absence of shouting, demeaning, and accusing. It’s the total opposite of what happens in Washington.
America is a great country filled with great people, but our federal government does not work well, and it’s not functioning in a manner that represents the very best of who we are as a nation. The problem with MSNBC is that it needs an enemy in order to have a cause and drive ratings. The problem with Fox News is the same. I have not heard a single elected official in Washington say they feel their institution is capable of dramatic change. Democrat vs. Republican is a losing game, so let’s play less of it. Washington survives on attention; it’s like oxygen. So let’s cut back on it.
To read more about fresh collaborative leadership approaches and new leadership communities for the twenty-first century that are designed to disperse power and respect all voices, check out my upcoming book at https://kevindhancock.com/product/the-seventh-power. It’s distributed by Simon & Schuster, and available for preorder now!