Let’s Just All Get Along!
While the outcome of the presidential impeachment process has been, relatively speaking, predictable from the onset, people’s varying reactions have fascinated me. What’s most amazing is how (seemingly) intelligent adults can observe the exact same situation and have polar-opposite opinions.
Here’s my theory. We are losing our ability (or desire) to actually try to connect with, understand and care about “our neighbor.” Social media, honest to goodness real fake news, and giant news outlets (CNN on one side of the canyon and FOX News on the other) make it easy to only consume what aligns with our particular world view. This makes life easy and peaceful, because then we only “breath the exhaust” of those we agree with.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t make us a better country or a stronger people. It actually makes us weaker, dumber, emotionally shallow and provides for a myopic world view. And our political leaders have figured this out. Many of them have lost their desire to see each other as flesh and blood human beings…and they’re okay with that. And I’m not!
When this happens, acting with empathy, fairness, kindness…just being a plain mensch just doesn’t matter (which would horrify my mother). We’ve entered a new landscape whereby getting media attention or votes now relies on how energized, fearful, or angry you can get your most radical political base to react. That’s what “sells” in the media. That’s what gets “shared, liked and forwarded” in social media, and the more outrageous…the better. In situations like this, truth doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter what the majority of people believe or know to be true. It’s about the optics. It’s about the outrageous. It’s about the emotional appeal.*
Malcolm Gladwell wrote in David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, “When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters – first and foremost – how they behave. This is called the ‘principle of legitimacy,’ and legitimacy is based on three things.
- The people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice – that if they speak up, they will be heard. (If you’re a Republican, how much did you feel heard in the first portion of the impeachment proceedings? And if you’re a Democrat, how did it go for you in the second half? Listening and fairness…yeah right!)
- The law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today.
- The authority has to be fair. It can’t treat one group differently from another.” (Is it any surprise that four respected federal prosecution attorneys removed themselves from the Roger Stone case this week? The expected rule of law got altered by a tweet.)
So, parents, leaders, bosses, (fill in the blank) how will you have influence where it really matters…like with your teenage son, or the church you lead or the people you manage? Will you follow the current path to influence? Is this the type of example you want to set for your son, your spouse, your congregation, your employees, your youth sports team?
One more part to my theory – The basic fundamental way the political world is going right now is not sustainable. Leading by “I make the rules because I can,” only produces resentment and acting out when the boss isn’t around. It produces passive aggressive “brushfire” kinds of behavior that erodes trust, motivation and just plain decent, moral behavior.
Another reason it’s not sustainable is because living and working in such a toxic culture is emotionally exhausting for everyone, except the extremely narcissistic. Fear and anger are excellent motivators…but only for a few seconds. While we are a divided people, I don’t think we’re as divided as those who control the social news media “blowtorches” would like us to think.
How will you lead? How will you live? What kind of an example do you want to set? What legacy will you leave? It matters, perhaps now more than ever.
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*Much more on this can be found on this opinion in the new 4-hour documentary, America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump.
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