My father taught me at a very early age a metaphor that has been proven over and over. As he said, "Any knucklehead can tear down a house but it takes a very smart man to build one." I am reminded of my father's saying when I think of our congressional leadership in Washington. And apparently lots of other Americans think along the same lines, as our senators and representatives boast an 18 percent approval rating.
Unless you have been completely isolated you might have noticed that our leadership in Washington is completely polarized along party lines. Maybe it started with Al Gore in "An Inconvenient Truth" calling out the elder President Bush for denying Gore's environmental concerns during his campaign. Maybe it started with George Bush becoming president after being defeated in the popular election. Maybe it began with Barack Obama's audacity of hope or election. One thing is for sure, the hostility and anger is getting worse and it is downright unproductive.
As someone who has watched American politics for over 50 years, I can honestly say I can't remember when the level of anger and hostility between the two parties was ever so intense. Unfortunately this is at a time when our leaders need to be solving problems and finding common ground to avoid further financial problems, environmental degradation and social class breakdowns that threaten our democracy. But even politicians with vastly different values and beliefs have been able to work together in the past when they have leadership abilities. Ronald Reagan and Ted Kennedy come to mind and there were others. How did they do that? They had the political intelligence to know that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. They put that knowledge to work with their actions.
What if Congress shifted from its polarizing discourse and rhetoric to finding common ground and moving forward? Wouldn't that benefit everyone? How could they find common ground and what would it look like? Madam Speaker, Mr. Speaker, ladies and gentlemen of Congress: Here are some examples of polarizing conversational behavior that we see today contrasted with common ground conversational behavior that you, dear leaders, should follow:
Converting polarizing conversation into common ground conversation
- Instead of finding differences, find common interests.
- Instead of emphasizing differences, emphasize common interests.
- Instead of narrow thinking, try lateral thinking and problem solving.
- Instead of labeling people and ideas, support people and ideas.
- Instead of criticizing differences, respect differences.
- Instead of name-calling/personal attacks, model respectful behavior.
- Instead of exploiting weaknesses, complement differences.
- Instead of denying needs for collaboration, pledge and work toward common goals.
Congress could learn from the education profession where mediation and negotiation is a daily fact of life. There are plenty of college programs
that teach mediation and negotiating skills. Maybe we should send Congress back to school to learn these skills.
Future generations will judge our civilization on its leadership skills. But finding common ground is only the beginning of successful leadership. It also involves polite negotiating, teaching, patience, trust and hard work. Lately it's hard to imagine any of these happening in Washington. We hereby demand that our congressmen show the traits of great leaders who can find common ground and negotiate agreements. It is time for the leaders we elected to grow up and show smart leadership, or get out of politics. Tell your congresspeople you expect them to be good role models and lead with dignity and integrity and the interests of all Americans! And for God's sake, find common ground! You can easily contact your congressmen here