|COVID-19 and the tragic death of George Floyd have had a major—and we hope to some degree an irreversible—impact on how Americans will be dealing with race, social justice, education, workplace dynamics, and even how we dine. The last few weeks could also be a turning point for how Americans think about politics.
Labels such as liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, socialist or nationalist have dominated the political dialogue for many years. But in today’s world, such labels are more likely to divide and obfuscate than define and illuminate. When protests and rioting erupted across the United States, many wondered who on the streets were valid protesters and who were provocateurs seeking to exploit the unrest to enrich themselves or promote their creed. Labels abounded. We were told they were anti-fascists/antifa, white nationalists, boogalooers, white supremacists, anarchists, looters, criminals, or just thugs.
In the coming weeks and months, we probably will learn a lot more about who was on the streets, how many people were involved in legitimate protest activity, who was responsible for the fires and looting, and whether any were involved in both. There is always value in acquiring such data, but we must not overlook a much more important reality.
Applying labels in an effort to place blame on the far left or the far right misses the point. It makes it easy to fall into the pernicious trap of Confirmation Bias. The boogalooers, for example, are described as supporters of “civil revolutionary war.” Some members are avid supporters of President Trump, and others want to bring his government down. But when Confirmation Bias sets in, you only notice which side of the argument supports your view.
We Need a New Lexicon
When we try to make sense of individual or group behavior in America—and even in the world—a useful first question to ask is: “When I observe protesters and others making arguments, are they at their core seeking to strengthen or erode institutions, preserve or diminish norms and standards, and preserve or challenge discrimination?” Traditional labels to describe where an individual or group stands on a particular political or social issue may not be the appropriate distinguisher. It is time to stop blaming others and focus on fixing problems and reforming institutions.
And Everyone Now Needs to Get Engaged
On the other hand, if the behavior of a person or group you observe seems intended mostly to divide people, abuse power, impose one’s views on others, and enhance one’s own pockets or standing, then the best response is probably to pay them less attention—and encourage others to do so as well. They have a right to speak but not to dominate the airwaves. Constructionists should take more initiative for setting the national agenda. Meanwhile, the destructionists can continue to live in their world, create their own comfortable narratives, many often spun from disinformation. Destructionists should not be allowed to command the spotlight if what they say does not contribute to a better America and a better world for ALL of us.
In a recent email my wife sent our company about the need to stand in solidarity against racism, inequality, and injustice, she noted how she had been inspired earlier in her career by the words of an ancient Egyptian named Ptah Hotep. He said: “If he who listens listens fully, then he who listens becomes he who understands.” A key component of being a constructionist is being able to listen and gain a deeper understanding of what is motivating those with whom we are seeking a new common ground. Now is the time to listen more, strive to understand, and seek a new common ground. We must take personal responsibility for building a better society and a more just world for everyone.
A key metric of success is whether in six months the national dialogue is dominated by reports of positive acts that are being done by eclectic groups of constructionists that never used to talk to each other. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear yourself saying: “Look at what we have accomplished. I am truly proud to be an American. I can stand tall, and I did my part!” As one of our colleagues suggested, our new mantra could be “Listen, Think, Do – Together.”