This summer, traveling through a small town in Alaska that had clearly seen better days, we passed a car festooned with what we thought at the time were bumper stickers from the lunatic fringe, including one that read, “It’s too bad Hillary wasn’t married to O.J.” Turns out those opinions were more widespread than we realized. Gross economic and social disparities breed extremism in other arenas, particularly politics. The recent spike in violence, hate crimes and divisive rhetoric are all symptoms of this schism, as is the ascendency of the alt-right.
That said, I believe the vast majority of Americans, even those I have profound ideological differences with, are fundamentally good people who want the same things we all do: to have agency over the trajectory of our lives, to do work that is useful and fairly compensated, and to build a better future for ourselves and our children. Trump’s victory revealed the extent to which these basic aspirations feel out of reach for a devastatingly large percentage of the population.
Unfortunately, the president-elect’s plan to make America great again by building walls, draining swamps and bullying manufacturing companies to keep factories in the U.S. will do nothing to help their plight, and is ultimately likely to exacerbate it. I’m also deeply troubled by signs that core civil liberties that underpin our democracy, including freedom of speech and freedom from discrimination, are coming under attack.
I find taking action preferable to stewing, so I’ve done a lot of reading and strategizing over the past few weeks to identify some concrete ways I can contribute to finding a better, more inclusive path forward. In case you’re similarly inclined, I’m sharing some of the insights that have resonated most with me and are shaping my thinking about how I will get involved.
1. Get informed. To understand where people stand on political and social issues – particularly people you may not have a lot of exposure to or contact with – you need to have some context on where they sit in terms of geography, class, education and livelihood.
2. We’re all in a bubble of one kind or another. Challenging yourself to break out of yours more often will make you a more well-rounded person and a better leader, strategist and decision-maker.
3. Celebrate differences, but not at the expense of focusing on what unites us. If you lead an organization or a team (or a family!), avoid the trap of promoting tolerance and diversity on only one side of the spectrum.
4. Be kind. It’s good for the soul – and for your bottom line.
5. Think about ways you or your company can create opportunities for people to build in-demand skills or take on meaningful work. Offsetting the massive job losses caused by technological innovation will be one of the central challenges of our time.
I’ll pass along a final piece of advice I got from a wise friend (who happens to be a former client), as we were comparing notes about how to best channel our anxiety and anger. “It’s inevitable,” she said, “that we’ll find ourselves in situations where someone is being bullied – maybe subtly, maybe overtly – and we’ll have to make a call about whether and how to get involved. So we need to prepare some strategies upfront for how we can intervene effectively when the time comes.”
As Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” So whatever your chosen goals, hopes or causes, now is the time to think about the contribution you want to make to advancing them – and then go do it.