What Do You Stand For?©

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to tour the home of James Monroe (5th President of the United States) at Ash Lawn Highland near Charlottesville, VA (www.ashlawnhighland.org). Frankly, I didn’t know much about James Monroe before the tour, and I was fascinated by some of the key elements of his legacy. One interesting fact: James Monroe died on July 4,, 1831, exactly five years after the simultaneous deaths of Thomas Jefferson (a close friend of his) and John Adams, who both died on July 4, 1826. But this article is not about presidential trivia; it’s about the way things used to be in politics (and business), and it’s an invitation to re-embrace a way of believing, communicating and relating that previously served us well.

The main thing I learned about James Monroe is that he often differed in politics and opinions with his fellow statesmen such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. They often engaged in lively and spirited debates and discussions based upon what they believed and were willing to stand for. Yet they always remained friends and, more important, they continued to work together toward common goals, even if sometimes from different perspectives. We might call this civility (which often seems to be absent from our political and daily discussions today), but it’s more than being civilized. It’s about respect, relationship and understanding that differing opinions can and should be welcomed as part of collaborative learning, creating and deciding.

From a political perspective, this shift away from open and non-judgmental discussions seems to me to have been lost around the time of the Presidential election of 2000 (Bush vs. Gore). I vividly remember talking to an acquaintance at a networking event, and he asked me how I intended to vote in the election. When I told him, he responded, “Are you f***ing insane?” I was shocked and frankly appalled at this response from someone that I considered thoughtful. It was not thoughtful. It was not helpful. It was not in the spirit of a debate of differing perspectives. It was a personal attack and a condemnation of me, not even of my opinion. Ever since then, it seems to me that our political, business and life discussions have become less robust, less principled and more personal (and not about the issue).

The outcome of this loss of healthy debate is not only the loss of opportunities for collaboration, learning and creativity, but also the loss of principled stands. So often I see and hear people who are not only unwilling to share their opinions but don’t even seem to have opinions (presumably because it’s easier). How often do we ask people personally and professionally “What do you think?”, but they don’t really have an opinion? It’s so much easier (and safer) to defer or to stand for nothing, but we lose the richness of spirited debate and discussion of fervently held positions, ideas, perspectives and values. As the old saying goes, “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.”

Imagine how things would change for the better in our families, businesses, communities and governments if we were willing to stand for something and then stick with it. As I work with businesses and their teams on building a culture of accountability, people constantly comment on how politics and government would be enhanced if those in office stood for something and stuck with it. We see what is not working, but we are expecting others to change things for us. The world doesn’t work that way. If we want to create a culture of people taking principled stands and openly debating our stands and perspectives, that change begins with you and me.

Take some time to think about these fundamental questions:

  • What do you stand for?
  • What do you believe in?
  • Are you willing to speak honestly about both?

The opportunity to create this change is in front of us every day. Only you can choose to be a spark for this change by getting clear on what you stand for, speaking up about it and being willing to hear another person’s perspectives without judgment or condemnation.

In a world of lots of talk, non-judgmental listeners who stand for something and are prepared to engage in collaborative discussions about things that matter will give us the opportunity to return to a way of living, thinking and relating that will serve us all and serve the greater good – in business, in government, in families, in relationships and in communities.

Speak Your Mind