No More Finger Pointing - It's Time to Rise Above the Negativity and Reconnect

Image via Sun Gazing

I am hopeful for our planet. I believe we have the capacity for unity and great goodness.

I am disturbed by the animosity, anxiety, and polarization surrounding the 2012 elections here in the United States.

This election is not about a cause that people care deeply about.  It’s not about great ideas to address the very real issues we are facing.

Each party has worked hard to cast the other candidate as evil, and this election is about how to keep the opposition out of office.

We have become polarized because we have focused too much on our differences and forgotten our similarities and shared concerns. We can’t come together to solve problems because we have been too busy pointing fingers and arguing.

I was encouraged when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stated that Barack Obama was “outstanding to deal with” in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Even though Governor Christie is a Republican, he didn’t play politics. I am sorry that instances like this are so rare these days.

There has been too much propaganda flying around creating a state of fear. Too many emails, postings on Facebook, news commentary… Even the debates were thinly veiled attacks, not substantive. The entire tone of these elections has been overridden with animosity, and it will be our undoing if we don’t move beyond it.

“When leaders use fear as a motivator, they shut down people’s brains and create the conditions for everyone to fail.” ~Meg Wheatley

If we are to be a United States, we need to remember our commonalities.

We need to stop feeding on fear and use our rational minds to talk about what we care about, what we want, and how we can best work together to solve the very real problems we face.

At this point, the candidates are not going to give us that. We will continue to be bombarded with fear-based messages for the days before the election.

It is up to each of us to rise above the negativity and reconnect with what we care about for our shared future. To think intelligently about the issues at hand, not reactively. And to remember that our similarities outweigh our difference.

It’s time to do it now.

… So when you walk into the voting station, you can be guided by what you believe in, not what you are afraid of.

So after the elections, we can find common ground to work together to address our concerns and move forward together in shaping our shared future.

33 comments to No More Finger Pointing – It’s Time to Rise Above the Negativity and Reconnect

  • right on, jesse! common ground is not that hard to find, but you gotta wanna! keep up the good work.

    • Good point, Jamie. Maybe that will happen when we remember who we are as a nation and what it means to be the United States. It doesn’t mean we always agree (healthy dissent and dialogue are important for a free nation), but it does mean we remember we are inter-connected and inter-dependent.

  • Common ground is the only place to go and work from there. We do not have debates…we have diatribe and people talking to themselves. We have great challenges that can be resolved through dialogue. That’s the opportunity for leaders to model the way. Thanks Jesse!

    • Well said, Stewart. People are talking to themselves and only those who already share their views. It creates a self-perpetuating echo chamber. I wish our leaders would model the way, but we don’t have to wait for them. We can decide not to pass on hate-provoking emails (even if they are funny). And we can engage in real dialogue with those who might not share our views. Dialogue depends on listening with the intent to understand another person’s views, not with the intent to convince them of yours. It opens the door to real conversation and the possibility of discovering common ground.

  • Josh Zemel

    Thanks, Jesse.

    One side note about Chris Christie is that he has strong presidential ambitions for 2016. While it might look like a genuine case of non-partisan do-gooding, my more cynical belief is that Christie saw this as a huge opportunity to demonstrate “rising above politics” on a national stage – both because it makes him look good to do so, and because the buzz surrounding his doing so (including controversy from the right) put his brand in front of the parts of the national audience that were unfamiliar with him until now.

    Christie would have run in the Republican primary (and likely won, I believe) if he thought he could beat Obama in the general election. The collaboration over the hurricane looks to me like a case of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em… then beat ‘em in four years.”

    • Sadly, I think you’re right, Josh.
      And it’s even more sad that such a minor comment, which should be considered normal, is so different it’s considered a big deal. A further testament to our polarization. Both the left and the right need to take off their boxing gloves and act like citizens.

  • Thank you Jesse. We are spiraling down to a place where this is not a country”of the people, by the people, and for the people”. Rather- it is a country of special interests. When pastors can stand at a pulpit and threaten a congregation that they will burn in hell for voting Democrat, we have sunk to a new low. When voters are intimidated from going to the polls, or asked for photo IDs where none are required, we have denigrated the very framework of our nation.

    It is time for citizenship, not partisanship. We must seek common ground, the larger interest instead of self-interest. And for once, can we demand that leaders have only one pledge: the Oath of Office.

  • Michael Crofts

    Great idea that needs more promotion and champions. We dwell too much on our differences and little things versus consideration or what is needed and where it is going as the greatest culture in the world. The world needs leadership, we need leadership and you have clearly pointed out a place to start. Thanks for the insight. Also I would add demand that leaders pledge the Oath of Office and commitment to all not just the few.

    • I’m glad this struck a chord for you, Michael. We do need leadership, and the place we can start is with ourselves. And I agree with you and Eileen that we should also demand that our leaders seek common ground.

  • Bradley Philip

    Great sentiments, Jesse, and perfect timing before the election. Our leaders seem to fan the flames of divisiveness rather than try to work together for the common good. There was a time when Republicans and Democrats could overcome their differences and seek areas of mutual engagement – sadly, no longer. Thanks for pointing us back toward what really counts: our commonalities and our shared interest in the future of our nation and the world.

  • Thanks, Michael. I’ll be writing more about this on my web site blog. What is important is that we speak up and are not silent. As a nation, we must be bigger than this.

  • Amen. No matter what happens tomorrow, we need to pull together and do the right thing to advance the future of our country. Well said.

  • Jesse,

    Thanks for taking a stand on this. No matter what the outcome tomorrow, I have faith in our society’s democracy. Like you, I’m sometimes demoralized by the polarization, but I try to remain upbeat – that as a country, we can and *will* come together.

  • Robin Petty

    Hi Jesse… I’ve heard so much about you, and so glad i read your post. I’m looking forward to voting tomorrow and excited to be guided by what i believe in…great reminder, thank you.

  • a neighbor

    Dear Jesse,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Our neighbors are Republicans (we are Democrats) and over the past years we have developed a very good friendship and a recognition that our two households have many of the same goals- opportunities for our kids, a strong school system and compassion for those that are less fortunate. We have different ideas, however, of how to achieve these goals. I think the “common ground” you mention has been very important for us. I value their friendship immensely and wish we could all continue to listen to each other.

  • True and right on! We all want a secure life for our families, good health and to enjoy the fruit of our labor.

  • jack skuatt

    Having been a judge for the debate teams in high school in our city I find it odd that most of the debates between individuals both running for office and the electorate have been so poor. Most of what I read on blogs and FB would never pass even the basic fundamental requisites of simple debate. I would score the majority with 50 points at best. There is way too much emotion and very little substance. When substance is applied instead of a logical response with data or facts it is a response with attacking the individual or the source. Hyperbole and demagogue have replaced rational thought. I think the problem originates with the dumbing down of our society. As a post graduate professor I have noted over the last couple of decades a sharp decline in linguistic ability, creative thought, respect for self and others and willingness to go the extra mile. I believe this has been an offshoot of a decline in our educational system. We could debate the etiology of this devolution, but that is not the point of this rant. Civility is a reflection of self-respect and that is the core of our problem.

  • Jack, so well stated. I am a former debater. In most cases, the questions were never answered and the common ground approach of “please tell me HOW this might work?” was never asked. In defining the “how” in conversation, we often realize that the “how” is not understood and that diverse ideas will create the best “how”. It is not ideology. Sigh, rant has replaced reason. Respect has been subjugated to rigid views. Alas, even facts has been replaced by fiction. When question, the response has been a “so what?” Sound bites and 30 second ads replace deep dive conversations. So, my question: how do we bring this back?

    • Maybe we can find our way back with a little less debate and a little more dialogue, with respect, understanding and desire for connection. When something starts to provoke a fear state, we can choose not to participate, and instead stay focused on what is important. The comment by “neighbor” provides an example of what it can look like when we connect while respecting our differences.

  • What an amazing call to action Jesse!

    Wide and effective application of dialoguing skills would really help, for the reasons you noted: “Dialogue depends on listening with the intent to understand another person’s views, not with the intent to convince them of yours. It opens the door to real conversation and the possibility of discovering common ground.”

  • Thanks for the gentle reminder, Jesse.

  • Great conversation. Dialogue– means through words. What we also need is the ability to listen deeply. Listening is a skill to be developed and taught. The saying is correct “seek first to understand rather than to be understood.”

  • Good word, Jesse,
    What I have found most disturbing about all this is the tone and intent. Not only has there been considerable demonizing on both sides, each side has its own tone. One side leans towards smugness, the other towards condescension. Smugness and condescension shut down conversation and understanding. We’ll have four more years of increasing bitterness and vitriol if our leaders don’t power down their untenable stance (and tone) and engage immediately in civility and coalition. Listening requires caring, and both sides of this divide need to care about those on the other side. Only in so doing will both sides “win.” Too much is at stake to continue a status quo.

    • That’s my concern as well, Joel. I’m hoping that within our own communities we can reach out to others to understand their concerns, without the intent of convincing them of ours, but with the intent to connect respectfully and to see if there is common ground. If enough of us begin doing this, maybe it will “trickle up.” And at the least, I will have made a difference within my own sphere of influence.

  • Kemi Tobais

    Brilliant peice that is applicable, not just in the just-concluded election but to every area of our lives. I especially love the qoute “It is up to each of us to rise above the negativity and reconnect with what we care about for our shared future. To think intelligently about the issues at hand, not reactively. And to remember that our similarities outweigh our difference”
    Well done.

  • Dave Howe

    Thanks, Jesse. Your comments are apropro for all sizes of conversations. My “thoguht for the day” for those I supervise is essentially what you said in your post. “If you speak with integrity, respect and humility, you will always have a voice on this shift.” One of the great sadnesses is that once the words come out, they are stubbornly intractable! I’m sure we have all experienced both ends of that phenomenon. Thanks again!

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