This is a difficult post to write, because the readers of Net Cotton Content were quite divided over the recent election.

People across the political spectrum feel labeled and dismissed. They are disgusted, as well as angry, sad, glad, afraid, and surprised. All of these are primal, old brain emotions. Disgust occurs when implied rules are broken. (I recently, and helpfully, learned that from Heather Anderson, a Vistage Chair and speaker.)

And this is a challenge to write because I, myself, am addressing and resolving my own conflicts, fears and relationships.

Today, I write to you, in the spirit of collaboration, healing, and respect for all. 

During this week after the Election, I have experienced dozens of deep conversations with smart, caring people from all ends of the political spectrum. After several days (including Election Day and the two days after) in Red rural Ohio, I greet you from Blue urban Yale in New Haven, Connecticut.

I have engaged deeply in the divers hearts of American perspective! I have heard people — on all sides — say that they did not hear what the other side heard. They did not disregard the other; they didn't hear it. I believe them. It is inconceivable to me! And I believe them. 

Some of the conversations have turned to political argument. In one case, someone reported back to me that he had been censored (by me) during a group conversation. His charge is accurate. In my quest to talk about this question — What Is Your Role? — I forcefully moved the conversation away from political commentary and analysis. 

Even in the writing of this post, I am pausing as I write. I don't want to write about my political assessment of the situation. (I think I did quite enough of that – you might think far too much — before the election.) 

This post isn't about the choice we faced. And it isn't about the choices we continue to face in the political arena. (You can find that in many places.)

This is about…

What Is Your Role?
I've been asking CEOs, parents, and others, "What is your role?" And I've heard a variety of answers. 

I've heard a variety of roles: from parent to neighbor, employer to teacher, and far beyond.

And, as they ask at the Gestalt Center of Cleveland

What Are The Edges And
Boundaries Of Your Role?
When engaging someone who disagrees with you:

  • Where does your obligation to speak meet your obligation to listen?
  • Is there room for there to be two people who are right?
  • Are you sure you know what happened?
  • Do you know why the other person thinks what they think?
  • Can you tolerate feeling judged while not judging the other person?

A lot of folks have not felt as judged as they feel now. 

What Is My Role?
For my family, for my Vistage members (a second family), for you, for the person I meet tomorrow…

I strive to be:

  • A loving listener, an encourager.
  • Intent on your remaining (or becoming) idealists, believing we can change the world.
  • A living version of my ethical will.  
  • A listener. Vicki Eastus taught me earlier this year, "Listen first. And when someone says they are hurt, the right thing to do is listen." This is like shiva, the Jewish tradition of mourning: visitors respect mourners by not dismissing their suffering. We meet people where they are. Arguing against someone's mourning is dismissive, an empathy blocker (as the NVC folks teach). 
  • A provider of questions, not of answers. I've surely crossed that boundary during the past several months (if not the entire first five years).
  • Patient with other's pace of change. My view of gender and my privilege has evolved during five years. I will not expect anyone on the fringes (either fringe) to come toward me overnight or during one (or 20) conversations. Of course, I think I'm a centrist. Like George Carlin taught: on the freeway, anyone driving slower than you is an idiot; anyone driving faster is a maniac.
  • A sharer of my liberal arts view — but only on request, never force fed.
  • Connected to many, separated from few.

Roles Shift In The Moment
How does my role change when I move from a CEO peer group table to the family Thanksgiving table?

Alisa asked the TSA agent, "How are you?" She cared. The reply indicated willful resilience . Today, at breakfast, I decided not to ask the same question of our server, a person we have encountered twice. I didn't ask, because I didn't want to invoke tears or the expectation of tears. (Read this on how liberals must avoid condescension.)

Listen. Feel. Think. Repeat.
Allow folks to advance through the Valley of Despair.

If you are a CEO, especially consider your role as a leader among colleagues. Here is a thoughtful approach, from a most thoughtful Vistage member, Alaina Shearer.  

What Do I Feel?
Increasingly, during the past few years, I find that I need to feel what I am writing. (Perhaps long-time readers have noticed this?)

What do I feel as I write this? I thought I would feel that I am subverting my values by moving toward conciliation with my friends, neighbors, and professional colleagues. (I don't know of any conciliation needed among family.)

In the end, this does not feel like a subversion of my values. This feels like the very expression of my values, because — as the product of a generous liberal arts education — I hold highest among my values: free exchange of ideas.