In September 2016, I ate dinner with a colleague, Michael, who is from the US. I distinctly remember a part of the conversation when we strayed into talking about the 2016 Presidential election. Michael told me how he believed Trump would become the next President. Michael went on to say he believed Trump would indeed Make America Great Again, but not in the way Trump thought he would. (You can imagine my skepticism at this point)
Michael explained how he believed the culture Trump would create will bring all the ugly parts of US culture to the surface. Racism, sexism, privilege, guns, economics, and more would all be front and centre. Once those realities are on the surface, it’s then up to the people to decide if and what they would do about it.
Well, Michael, in my opinion, you called it perfectly. All of those ugly things, and more, are clearly at the forefront of people’s minds. Some people continue to deny these truths, but it seems that far more people are talking about them than ever before.
Now, the question becomes, what are the people of the US willing to do about it. It’s going to take confronting some uncomfortable truths if there is any hope of creating a better future.
What the conversation with Michael highlights for me is that there’s no going back. The parameters have changed, including the visibility into some of the ugly parts of humanity. We can deny their existence or blame others for the ugly parts, but that doesn’t mean they’re going away. We can try to ignore the problems and hope our politicians will fix them (how’s that working out so far?)
The fact is, the ugly parts will continue to exist if we try to deny their existence or hope someone else will fix them. In other words, if we ignore our problems, they will come back to bite us.
By now, you might be wondering why a Canadian is voicing an opinion about the US. Simply put, this isn’t just a US problem. We’re all in this together, and it would be naive to think one country’s problems don’t have an impact elsewhere in the world.
All of the human-made constructs such as borders, economies, and trade make it easy to deny the impact. These constructs allow people in other countries, like Canada, to think problems don’t impact them. However, four years since having dinner with Michael and humanity face global problems, unlike anything we’ve seen before. The human-made constructs won’t exclude any of us from the effects of these problems.
The people of the US are now confronting problems that exist in Canada as well. You might be thinking, yes, but they’re not as bad in Canada. Perhaps the problems aren’t as bad, but it also might be the ‘not-as-bad’ belief comes from our good nature, current leadership, or a collective case of denial.
In Canada, some political leaders such as Erin O’Toole seem more interested in looking good and winning the next election than doing the right thing for the people. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think the other political party has it all figured out either. All I know is that by focusing on looking good and winning the next election, they’re compounding the problem.
In Canada, ugly bits of racism, sexism, and other ‘ism’s are visible, yet we try to deny and hide them behind our nice Canadian demeanour. Our problems with our trading partners are alive and well. We, too, have people denying the science of this pandemic or climate change.
The problems we face are indeed on a global scale. What we do next will define the future of humanity.
Confronting without divisiveness
The challenge in all of this is how to confront such uncomfortable topics when we don’t all hold the same beliefs about our problems. I want to put aside the chaos created by conspiracy theorists, extremists, and others regarding our differences of opinion.
Unfortunately, the extremists get the most press, as their stories sell more news than people confronting the problems in a civil, professional, and connected manner. Thankfully, though, I believe the vast majority of people are in the mainstream, rather than the extremist side of this equation.
Now, more than ever, the mainstream needs to come together to work through our problems. Coming together starts with each of us activating our leadership in a world that expects us to conform and follow.
There might be some who read this and think, “but, I’m not a leader.” This belief is only true if that’s the story you want to tell yourself. You are a leader when you choose to respond to what’s happening in the world around you. In other words, you are a leader because you decide to take action and make the world a better place.
Now, I feel compelled to come back to the extremists for a moment. I know some people believe attempting to overturn a fair election will make their world better. Others will believe that we’re better off by blaming China for Covid or that it’s best to ignore the science. Worse yet, some people believe things can be better by discriminating against, harming, or willfully lying to others. Not one of these things is leadership, as they do nothing to improve the world.
We’ll get through our problems by doing it together. Doing it together starts with having meaningful conversations and being willing to stay with the inevitable messiness and discomfort. Without being willing to be in the discomfort, there’s little hope of doing anything other than adding window dressings to the problems. When we’re unwilling to talk about uncomfortable topics, it’s like closing your curtains so no one can see how messy your house is. You are still living in a messy house, but you can give the illusion of something else.
Meaningful conversations start with listening to each other. The saying, “don’t listen to respond, listen to understand,” is perfect in this context. If you’re listening to respond, you’re more likely to be looking for evidence that you’re right. People who focus on proving their right are more likely to create divisiveness than understanding, which will only make the problems worse.
If you’re listening to understand, though, you’re more likely to find the similarities and complementary parts to your beliefs. Better yet, when you listen to understand, you are more likely to learn from and build on each other’s beliefs. Imagine how much more we will know by talking about and merging our beliefs to create something better.
Only once we have meaningful conversations will we start to find meaningful solutions to our problems and create a better future for humanity. I’ll go one step further to say if we’re not willing to work together, there will be NO future for humanity. Without working together, we will fail to create the conditions needed for success and survival.
Activate the leadership in you
Given the magnitude of our problems, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and stuck in knowing what to do. For example, I know I sometimes feel overwhelmed with climate change when I questioning how I fix climate change. I become fixated on questions like, “what difference can one person make in the bigger picture of climate change?”
You don’t need to solve all of humanity’s problems. You only need to make your part of the world a little better. What’s one small thing you can do to make your world a better place? There’s plenty of things you can do today:
- Don’t walk around a piece of garbage; pick it up
- Don’t avoid their neighbour who has a different political view; sit down to explore and understand each other’s perspectives
- Don’t drive to the store; take advantage of the day and walk there
- Let your voice be heard by voting in the next election (in every level of government)
- Take part in a debate or conversation about a topic that matters to you
- Talk with your family (including your kids) about your beliefs and the problems in the world around you
My wish for humanity is that the pain we’re enduring becomes a wake-up call for all of us. I would love for this wake-up call to connect, align, and bring us together to create a future in which humanity is thriving rather than just surviving.
Just imagine, for a moment, if every human stepped into their leadership and did small things every day that will improve the world around them.
Where would we be then?