Together we rise, or together we fall. December 13, 2019 – Posted in: Advice, Confidence, Leaders and Teams, Personal Development

I was chatting with a client on Wednesday who was relaying to me how, at a recent dinner party, a woman had lambasted him because he didn’t hold the same world-view as her. From her self-appointed position of having the moral high ground (because she wasn’t a man running a business like him) she scorned and derided my client based on her narrow and completely unfounded assumptions of him.  She then used one of my least favourite words, “mansplaining,” to back him into a corner from which he couldn’t even answer her, because to do so would’ve meant he was now a man explaining (defending) himself to a woman.  Can you imagine how he felt?  He admired this woman’s work and had no idea she had such venom towards him.  He walked away.

Can you also imagine how she felt after all that?  Probably more self-righteous anger and maybe a nebulous and dissatisfied fear because to be that angry with someone who you’ve made up a story about must leave you feeling pretty wired, upset and displaced.  And yet, she’s the product of a culture that has promoted hatred, moralising and the judgement of others to the point where it almost feels like a person’s duty and honour to point out the perceived ethical and moral shortcomings of another person. The thought-police are everywhere and they will lambast anyone who has an ‘unpopular’ opinion or any kind of success.  But here’s the rub – they don’t just lambast the opinion they lambast the person having the opinion, which makes having an alternative opinion or being successful a very risky business.  Lambasting someone for their beliefs is a one-way ticket away from freedom of speech.

The moral high ground

I’ve long been worried that our culture is turning into one in which if your opinion is seen as morally or ethically trending you have the automatic right to personally attack and deride all those who don’t agree with you.  Just look at Brexit! We have fallen prey to a culture of hate.  We are all quick to call terrorism, knife crime and domestic violence out for being nonsensical acts of hatred and violence but every time we point the moral finger at another person using derision as our weapon we are also promoting hate.  Even when we have the moral high ground.

This pervasive sickness runs very deep and it seems that judging others has become a national sport. I was asked last year to appear on daytime TV to give my opinion on whether Charlotte Tilbury should have had her cleavage on show when she received her MBE from the Queen.  What bloody business is it of mine or anyone else’s what this incredibly successful and beautiful woman chooses to wear on any given day?  Why would I want to berate and drag down another woman?  Why would I want to pour scorn on a moment of celebration?   And yet, clearly, judging other people makes good TV that we choose to watch like nodding dogs drinking in the toxicity and hatred without even noticing it going down.  I didn’t take the gig.

Divisiness and derision

Now, take yesterday’s vote.  It seems to me that Mr Corbyn and Ms Swinson’s tactics were to insult, undermine and pick away at the personality of their rivals using a strategy of divisiveness and derision to do so. I have always been a left-leaning liberal but I simply could not put my trust in people to lead me if their primary tactic for votes is to undermine and bitch about another person – I was glad to leave all sh*t behind in school. It’s cheap, it’s toxic and it’s not the stuff of great leadership.   We have woken up to a clear political result and whether we agree with it or not it is now up to us all to roll up our sleeves and fix the brokenness in our society and we will not fix anything with hatred.

Of course it’s not just our MPs who are guilty of derision and divisiveness.  Social media is teeming with spite for certain politicians at the moment but we seem to forget that these are people, other human beings, who have feelings and families like we do.  And they have at least offered to take on the poisoned chalice of political leadership, which the vast bulk of the rest of us have absolutely no intention of doing.  The hashtag #getborisout is a form of bullying – pure and simple.  Can you imagine if a hashtag like that was used to campaign for the removal of a disabled or ethnic minority person from office?  There would be outrage (rightly) but it seems it’s okay to use language like that on a white, British, privately educated man. Hatred is toxic whoever it’s aimed at and however much that you disagree with that person and their ideas.

We are all connected

Every time we spitefully judge another person we increase our sense of separation and our insecurities – our sense of them and us, good cop-bad cop, left-or-right, nice or nasty.  But, here’s the thing – we are all connected and we are all interdependently reliant upon each other.  We live in an interdependent reality in which we all have a part to play and the actions of one person affect the whole.  If you imagine our culture as a soup in which we all swim then every time someone attacks another person verbally or physically they are adding poison to the soup. But, because someone has assumed a moral or ethical high ground they think it’s okay to do this and we applaud them. And yet all they are doing is adding anger, separation and accusation to the already toxic mix that should, in fact, be operating as an interdependent whole. The more hatred we pump into our world the more we all suffer.  The more we stifle genuine opinion and debate the less we all grow.  The more we judge others and put them down for their ideas the more we are adding to the problem and the higher and more distant our ivory towers become until we sit alone, disconnected and aloof tutting and shaking our heads at the state of the world we see beneath us.

For the record, I am not for one minute saying we should all agree with each other – of course not! How dull and stifling would that be?  But, there are ways in which you can disagree and debate and even engage in conflict whilst also allowing the other person to retain their sense of self and their dignity. 

Dignity and discipline

In his infamous, I Have a Dream speech, Martin Luther King Jr urged an abused and severely mistreated people not to fall into bitterness and hatred because he knew that that would only serve to cause them more suffering and prolong the very thing they were fighting against.  But, he also knew that the culture of segregation and hatred in 1960s America was causing white Americans to suffer as well as black Americans.  Because he knew that to live with hatred in your heart is to suffer.  So, he took the most powerful stance he could which was to hate the discrimination but not the discriminators.

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvellous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.”

Seeking unity

I do a huge amount of team building work in the corporate sector and the very first thing I expose and root out is divisiveness, one-upmanship and blaming because you simply cannot build a healthy team with these toxic elements at play.  The same applies to building a healthy society and the answer lies within us all.  Maybe my lambasted client could’ve parked his very natural and habitual desire to defend himself and stayed with that lady to ask why she felt the way she did, maybe he could’ve started a dialogue with her and found at least some common ground to dilute the hatred.   We are all responsible for seeking unity.

I must remember that when I point the finger there are three fingers pointing back at me.  So, this is my call, my plea to us all to get off our moral high horses and engage once more in healthy, respectful, passionate debate in which we allow people their view of the world. We need to promote unity and collaboration and we are all responsible for this – even when we feel we’ve been unfairly treated.  We are all one, we breathe the same air and we swim in the same soup.  To quote another famous American, President Obama, “We rise or fall together, as one nation and as one people.”

I overheard some young people on my walk into work this morning saying, “That’s it, I’m going to move abroad – I’m not staying in a Tory country anymore.”  They reminded me that in any situation we have three choices; accept it, change it, or walk away.  I intend to stay and I hope you do too because imagine a society in which we all encouraged each other to do our best and held one another accountable for that contribution?  A culture in which we promoted and encouraged the greatness in each other because we all knew we were responsible for the collective health of our soup.  We must hold each other to high standards of thought, word and action and encourage the inherent brilliance in everyone to tackle the issues we all face.  It is time to stop bullying & fear-mongering and start encouraging the greatness in everyone however they voted, however they grew up, whatever newspaper they read, however they look and whatever their paradigm of this ever changing world we have the privilege to inhabit.

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