Obviously, the vast majority of the time I have utilized my blog has been to help share and promote thoughts about teaching, coaching, motivation and team development among other things. But I find myself needing to share some thoughts as to where I believe we are as a nation as well as where I believe we are heading. There is so much going on in the world these days, particularly in our own country. Now I tend to look at everything as a coach. I realize this may not be the best way -- you know, if you are a hammer, you look at everything as if it were a nail. But I do like imagining the United States of America as a team.
It seems that everyone has an opinion these days -- actually many opinions -- and I'm not sure what difference mine will make but I do know that Coach Dale Brown often talked to us about the sin of silence in matters of urgency and importance. He often shared with us this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
"Our lives begin to end the day we
become silent about things that matter."
There was a nice little video floating around on Facebook this week titled "We are not labels." And while that is certainly the ideal, a noble goal to strive for, I believe it is the furthest thing from the truth today. I believe we are all labels. Some of those labels are given out to us from others -- earned or not, true or false. Some are self-proclaimed that we have pinned on ourselves.
We are no longer Americans. We are Democrats or Republicans...we are African-American, Caucasian, Mexican...we are male or female...straight or gay...we are Christians, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim...we are gun-owners or for gun control...rich or poor...the list is endless. And in our world these days -- there are no gray lines. You are either for us or against us!
And we are in the business of persecuting anyone that doesn't believe exactly what we believe. We are about finger-pointing. It is never our fault -- it is always the other guy -- the other label.
By far, my biggest concern is that we try to create levels for our labels. The value of one label is more than that of another. We use that mindset to justify our language and our actions. And we not only damaging our futures and those of the next generation but it's led to the senseless loss of human life far too many times.
Everyone that knows me would label me as optimistic. Having said that, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to remain that way -- it's a battle these days. The thing that scares me the most is the further down this road we head, the more difficult it will be to reverse direction or chart a new course that can unite us all.
Webster’s Dictionary defines “accountability” as “the quality or state of being accountable; an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions.”
Please understand that acknowledgment does not equate to accountability. It is not enough to simply point out what we have said or done. As Webster points out, we must have a "willingness to accept responsibility." Nor should we view accountability as punitive. The bottom line is we live in a society now that rarely holds themselves and their own organizations accountable though we are quick to try and help and hold the other side accountable.
And yes, I said "the other side." We are a community of sides. Because we hide behind our labels and transfer blame as much as possible, we are longer a nation of accountability. We live in the land of "gotcha." We sit in wait for someone on the other side to make a mistake and yell "I told you so!" These actions are so disappointing but more importantly don't allow us an opportunity to find solutions. As Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”
Nowhere is this more prevalent then in social media. We fill our Facebook page and spew out tweets about "the other side." We copy and past any article or video that can lay blame to "the other side." And we do this with vengeance! WE TYPE IN BOLD...ALL CAPS FOLLOWED BY NUMEROUS EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!! My side is right -- your side is wrong.
We are no longer seekers of truth but searchers of verification. We will copy and past or repeat anything from anyone that shares our same opinion as if that will tell the world, "See, I told you -- I am right!" It doesn't matter if the material is falsely fabricated. There is far more incorrect information on our social media pages than the truth. So much that it is hard to know when we have stumbled upon the truth. It's reminiscent of the State Farm commercial about the young lady who just knew her blind date was an attractive French model simply because it said so on the Internet -- "bonjour."
It is magnified these days through our political beliefs. Politicians spend the large majority of their speeches and commercials tearing down their opponent both personally and professionally as opposed to giving us detailed, well-orchestrated solutions to areas of importance to us. And the tone is frightening. It actually starts in the primaries with a canabalistic approach where each party attacks their own until they can come up with one gladiator to go destroy the other side. And these are leaders! So what do we do as followers? We throw gas on these fires and fan the flames further.
It went along with open mindedness. Down the drain with cooperation. Out the door with common ground solutions. We'd rather let the house burn down than help the other side put out the fire. We'd rather die in the blaze then allow the other side to help. We will not even acknowledge that the other side has a good idea because we think it shows a sign of weakness. We have become unable to take a hard look in the mirror and realize that the Pogo cartoon from the 70's is even more true today.
We as a people have painted ourselves into a corner to promote our labels in such a way that we cannot abandon our comfort zone and try to meet in the middle to work towards solutions.
Accountability requires responsibility, but when achieved by teams (groups) it can create something special. It's critical however, that we know that all must be held accountable. Citizens, police officers, politicians, coaches -- all of us! The position we hold, no matter how it is viewed in importance, cannot be given immunity to doing the right thing for the right reason.
And that's regardless of intent. Certainly, intentional actions by people must have accountability. But people that accidentally make mistakes must also be held accountable -- how else can mistakes be corrected.
The following comes from "The Wisdom of Teams" by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith:
"Most of us enter a potential team situation cautious; ingrained individualism discourages us from putting our fates in the hands of others. Teams do not succeed by ignoring or wishing away such behavior. Mutual promises and accountability cannot be coerced any more than people can be made to trust one another. Nevertheless, mutual accountability does tend to grow as a natural counterpart to the development of team purpose, performance goals, and approach."
We cannot move in a positive direction as a society without accountability. This is a non-negotiable.
The problem is what do. And it has become a huge problem for me. I don't like feeling helpless. The other night well after midnight I was speaking with Temeka Johnson who was in Israel doing clinics for the NBA. It was morning over there and we were both airing out our frustrations as to what we can do to make a difference -- enact change. For me it goes back to my days of working for Dale Brown who would tell us "don't come in here and complain about a problem unless you have a solution." And he's absolutely right.
As Edmund Burke wrote: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
I once read that hypocrisy exists in the space between language and action. And we have a lot of us -- if not all of us, sitting around and complaining about issues that will seriously effect so many for so long and yet do nothing.
I do believe that it starts within the heart of each of us. As my friend and mentor Don Meyer would say, "Each player has to be his own captain." And I honestly believe we want change. No one can be happy about the senseless violence that fills our streets. The loss of life of so many innocent people -- in schools, movie theaters, clubs, and neighborhoods. Certainly we want that to change. We want to be safe when we leave our homes. We want our loved ones to be safe.
But the major problem is no one is willing to come together and find solutions. Practically no one is willing to even consider leaving their comfort zone to explore an idea other than their own -- especially one from that other side. The cartoon below states our biggest problem -- we all want change but we ourselves are not willing to change.
I have a sneaking suspicion that if the Framers of the Constitution could return today -- and see all of the advancements and complexities of our world they'd say, "We're going to need to make a few adjustments!"
It must, without question, start with each of us looking inside. I understand that can be frightening. Self-accountability takes courage. We're worried what we might find. As Theodore Roosevelt said, "If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't be able to sit for a month."
So I find myself looking for a path to take that can make a difference. I realize it probably won't be a big difference but if the vast majority of us committed to looking deep inside and admitting that just maybe there is a better way that we should at least try what we can to start towards a better life.
And the first thing I want to change is my ability to listen.
Stephen Covey says that "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." I firmly believe this but I also think we often listen to hear only what we want to hear. Again, we want to hear verification to what we already believe to be true. And of course, anything from the "other side" surely must be wrong.
Covey distinguishes between five types of listening:
Ignoring: not really listening at all.
Pretending: humming along while not really following.
Selective listening: hearing what you want to hear.
Attentive listening: paying attention to the words.
Empathic listening: intending to understand what the other is trying to
My goal from this point on is to work hard to concentrate on empathic listening. To try and not judge what others are saying but to attempt to understand why they may feel the way they feel in communicating the message. It doesn't mean that I have to agree but maybe listening at this level I can at times see things differently -- even be persuaded that another way may be better than my own.
Listening -- empathic listening promotes the highest form of communication. And as Covey said, "Communication is the most important skill in life." He's not referring to someone constantly talking either. And communication -- as it is meant to be in its purest form -- is almost non-existent today.
It doesn't seem like a lot but it's a start. Sometimes when there are big problems we want big, quick solutions. There are no short-term fixes for where we find our nation. I continue to be worried that leadership is becoming less effective because of "sides." I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican but an Independent. In my lifetime I have voted equally for Presidents from both parties. It is my opinion that each one that's held office has tried to make a positive difference in our nation. I haven't always agreed with the stances they have held but have always respected their positions and unbelievable responsibility they have before them. It is amazing that a man can hold office in the White House and be considered one of the greatest President's of our time by one side and the absolute worse by the other side (and that's not just with our current President). We should think about that for a minute. And unfortunately that will be true with the next person to lead our nation...and the next...and the next.
Certainly we need to agree to some standards and values. This doesn't need to be a long, laundry list but some basic core principles. And there should be nothing more important than the way we treat each other. We should be striving for an environment of equality. We should fight for the rights of all to have the same opportunities. And we should vow to do this even if others don't. "Why should I if they don't" is not a viable argument. We must become the solution and not part of the problem.
"If you change the way you look at things,
the things you look at change."
Dr. Wayne Dyer
And step one is to first admit that a lack of equality does indeed exist -- on so many levels. We must work hard on a personal level to make sure we "do unto others as we'd have them do unto us." And we must not stand by idly while others don't live by the Golden Rule.
I'm looking for others way to try and make a difference and possibly will keep you posted. It needs to be a daily objective. Again with wisdom for us all from Coach Meyer, "Do the next right thing right." But understand this -- the next right thing might not be something from your side -- it may be from the other side.
Until we can truly open our eyes and see beyond are own wants and needs, we are going to continue in this direction. And make no mistake -- it is a direction. I often tell our players that their skill set is a directional and measurable. They are either getting better or getting worse based on their commitment and effort. As a player, you never remain the same. The same can be said of our nation.
With that all said, we better understand this:
"We cannot solve our problems with the same
thinking we used when we created them."