My husband has attempted to have a substantive political dialogue with a few colleagues on the opposite side in Tuesday’s election.
The problem is that their positions are consistently based on unsubstantiated stories that predict massive disasters for those with their views.
They use epithets like “snake,” “anti-Israel,” “like Christians rooting for the lions,” “America haters,” “apologists” and other language that seeks to cast both the opposing candidate AND my husband as malicious, evil, ignorant and hostile to the US.
It’s clear that they are very afraid which makes them angry which makes them more fearful and which in turn makes them still angrier. They aren’t interested in facts or reasonable alternative viewpoints and this has made mutual understanding and meaningful dialogue impossible.
A few weeks ago, one of the group invited us to a “debate” intended to showcase each party’s views. She neglected to tell us that the organization putting on the event was strongly affiliated with “her side.” They cheered for their representative and when the opposing debater spoke (even though he was a highly respected member of the clergy) the crowd began to boo and hiss. Even when admonished repeatedly by the moderator and host to be respectful, they still couldn’t or wouldn’t contain their disrespectful behavior.
The language being used by the debater on their side was full of extremes and violence. He described his opponents as “beating up on our values,” “throwing us under the bus,” “dangerous,” “shoving ideas down our throats,” and so on.
Meanwhile, as his opponent tried to respond with factual and reasoned arguments, the crowd increasingly shouted him down.
As the evening progressed, the angry energy in the room became more and more intense. As it became clear to those around us that we weren’t participating in the heckling, we started to feel hostile glares. Each of us had moments of wondering if we were physically safe.
It struck me that the stories being told and the language being used were intended to incite fear, anger and intense emotion. And that the more fearful and angry the people became, the less able they were to listen, think independently, or to make a rational decision.
One of the biggest problems with using fear and anger as a political tool is that after the dust settles, you’re left with people who’ve been pushed into extreme territory that is a huge challenge to address or control and that can take on a life of its own.
This experience increased my awareness of the emotional and fear-based decisions we all find ourselves faced with, not only in this election, but in our businesses and lives.
A decision made from fear is always the wrong decision. ~ Tony Robbins
We’ve seen a lot of leaders make bad business decisions in the atmosphere of fear that has dominated the past several years:
The manufacturer who stopped all marketing efforts in a panic thinking they could save their way out of financial challenges, and whose rapidly declining market share is making it clear this was an extremely costly mistake from which they may not recover.
The marketing firm that cut several star performers in the early days of the recession and who are now finding that not only have they been unable to replace them, they have to compete against them.
The medical center that for the first time in its history experienced a loss and cut off funding to key departments, creating conditions that guaranteed underperformance, which has compounded their financial problems with decreasing customer satisfaction, bad press, morale issues and turnover that will take much greater investment and time to turnaround.
But what are leaders supposed to do to manage change in these turbulent and scary times?
- Notice the emotional stories. Be vigilant! Resist the urge to get swept up in the drama. Be aware of language that triggers fear, anger and other strong emotions — whether it’s coming out of someone else’s mouth, or rattling around in your own mind!
- If you do find yourself faced with an emotional or fear-based decision, do the hard work of remaining open. Stay calm. Fact-check. Choose reality. Make sure your sources are reliable. Be curious to see if the opposite story could be just as true.
- Create a clear, specific, inclusive and positive vision for what would be better.
- Share your vision. Get excited. Get others onboard. You can’t do it alone! Give them an opportunity to get involved; to play a part in creating a better future.
- Get into action. Nothing allays fear or anger like positive forward movement.
The best thing for us all in politics, business or life, regardless of whether you lean toward conservative, independent or liberal views, is to reject fear-based thinking (which can come from either side) get the facts and make the best decisions we can, based on our values. One of the great things about our amazing United States is the built-in respect for competing views, which provides checks and balances that over time keep us moving forward on sane middle ground.
Let’s never forget that. And don’t forget to vote on Tuesday!