Showing posts with label values. Show all posts
Showing posts with label values. Show all posts

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Why I Refuse to Stoop to President Trump’s Level

Biden hugs an attendee of a campaign event in Ames, Iowa (Al Drago/Getty Images)


“Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.”
-Franklin Roosevelt
 

My friends and my family don’t understand why I refuse to rage against Donald Trump and publicly denigrate him, insult and spew venom at his supporters; which is now de rigeur in all of my friend and family circles.

Many years ago, I was faced with an ugly and untenable situation at work. I had an erratic, nasty and underhand boss. He lied, actively worked to undermine me and regularly took credit for my thinking. He scheduled meetings, so I would not be able to attend. Unaware of his malicious intent, I went to him to understand how I got left out of important client meetings. He claimed the client rescheduled at the last minute and forced him to share the work and he was unable to contact me. I took him at his word because we did have a really difficult, unreasonable and demanding client.

But after this started to happen regularly, I learned from my client that my boss was telling them that I was unavailable for the meeting. Armed with this information I confronted him. First he stood firm and blamed the clients. When I divulged the information I had, he claimed that the client was lying in a bid to undermine my relationship with him.

At this point I decided it was time to go to Human Resources and file an official complaint. They showed concern and listened empathetically, and then offered a solution that amounted to shifting responsibility. They asked that I sit down with the managing director, my boss’s boss, and share my problems with him.

In good faith I went to the managing director. He too listened patiently and at the end of our session stated categorically that my boss’s behaviour was unacceptable, and that it would not be tolerated, but went on to add that the client relationship was tenuous and that rocking the boat might result in losing one of the agency’s largest accounts.

Seeing my crestfallen face, he offered to keep an eye on the situation, saying that he would ask my boss to make sure I was invited to all client meetings. Engulfed with a sense of hopelessness but not being a quitter, I decided seek my father’s professional advice.

My father was my hero and he was a man of unquestioning integrity and principles, one of the wisest people I have had the privilege of having in my orbit. I miss his counsel. He told me two things that I have never forgotten.

He said, “Son, rarely, if ever, in life will you be able to choose the people you work with or have to deal with. If you are lucky you will encounter well-meaning and decent people, but more often than not you will have to deal with liars, backstabbers and dishonest ones. We don’t get to choose who we work with, but you always have a choice about how you react and respond.”

You can sink to their level, respond in kind by undermining them and by being uncivil in return, and even convince yourself that your bad behaviour is justified by theirs. Or you can refuse to compromise on your integrity, decency and professionalism even as you stand up and face bullies like him.” 

The second thing he said is that because we are highly charged emotional beings, we should always step back and assess such situations objectively before deciding on a final course of action. By consciously detaching our emotions it is not that we ignore them, but we give our brains time and space for our rational side to weigh-in, and avoid reacting and making decisions clouded by the haze of emotion.

I took his advice and slept on it. With raw emotion no longer clouding my judgement, I found clarity. I realized that if I walked away, the amazing team of young kids reporting to me would be put in the line of fire. Plus I really enjoyed my job and was not willing to let a bully take that away from me. I had the power to take action, and now I needed a game plan. 

The managing director was well-meaning, but he could not police every meeting. So I would use him strategically for the wars, while starting to document my daily battles. I decided to make myself indispensable to my clients and internal teams, while also collecting evidence to record my boss’s erratic, unprofessional and damaging behaviour. 

My goal was not to make life easier for myself, but to ensure that this man would not be able to make anyone else’s work life miserable. I established a direct line with senior clients, careful never to bad mouth or share my internal problems with them. Most importantly, I was clear that I would never lie, be rude, undercut or undermine my boss or behave like him. I was resolved to do my job to the best of my ability, but keep my eyes open to better navigate obstacles I knew he would put in my way.

After this, my boss’s behaviour started to become even more erratic and hostile, because I refused to engage on his terms, play by his dirty rules or react to things he would do to trip me up. He started sending me late night email missives and leaving drunken voicemails and seemed completely at a loss about how to handle my refusal to take his bait. After a few months he started taking sick days, leaving early and often not showing up to work at all.

It was in that moment that I realised the wisdom of my father’s advice. Had I retaliated, based on how he had treated me, I would have placed myself outside my comfort zone and would be playing by his rules. By not doing this I had also set an example to the young people around me, who could clearly see the difference between professionalism and his unprofessional behaviour.

Had I stooped to my boss’s level, I might have made myself feel better for a few minutes, but I would have done nothing to solve the problem, would have set a poor example and would have felt shitty for betraying my professional integrity.

Six months later I was able to go back to HR with evidence in hand. They put my boss on official notice, pending a three month probation period. At the same time they found an opportunity for me on another business. It was a promotion and a better career opportunity, but I was ready to move because I had stared down a bully, on my terms, and done the hard work to ensure he would never do this to another person at my company. A month after I moved off the business, I heard they fired my boss.

So what does all this have to do with Donald Trump?

President Trump is a bully. Over the years I have dealt with many bullies; from bosses to clients to colleagues, but never once did I compromise my integrity and sense of decency in standing up to them.

There have been times when my job has been on the line, but for me it is not about the cost or the outcome, but about who I am. I would rather lose, than win by behaving in a manner that requires me to conduct myself in ways I don’t respect in others.

I will always stand and fight but never treat those who have hurt, harmed or insulted me with the same lack of dignity they have shown me. That is the difference between me and people like that and it is a line I will never cross, no matter the cost; career, family, country or life.

This is why I support Joe Biden. He has been clear that he will not play by Mr. Trump’s rules and will never stoop to the President’s level by insulting him personally or denigrating his supporters. Win or lose, Mr. Biden has a line he will not cross because if he does, he understands that he can no longer claim a difference between his and the President's behaviour.

By refusing to take the bait and attack Mr. Trump personally, unlike Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Biden has also succeeded in pushing the President outside his comfort zone. The President does not know how to respond or fight back, and we can see his desperation growing. Mr. Trump has become even more erratic and self-destructive. Whether it is begging suburban women to vote for him, or saying that he is no longer willing to negotiate a stimulus deal, something that will hurt him and cost him more votes than Mr. Biden.

For me the bottom line is this: the day we start to justify our bad behaviour and forego our sense of decency based on Mr. Trump, or anyone else's bad behaviour, is the day people like that can truly claim victory over us.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Why the Rise of Donald Trump is our Collective Failure


“There are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Religion without sacrifice; Politics without principle; Science without humanity; Business without ethics.”
Mahatma Gandhi

There is a reason why we are suddenly seeing extreme voices gain political footholds and their support grows across every western democracy. The rise of Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, to name a few, can only be explained by a failure of our societies.

I don’t just mean the politicians and captains of industry, but each one of us must accept the blame. Divisive and extreme people never rise up in a vacuum in stable democracies. They need oxygen in order to rear their ugly heads, and unless we provide this oxygen they cannot exist.

For me there is not a single moment or event that led to their rise, but a cumulative effect of years of small abdications in personal responsibility, erosion of principles, a loosening work ethic, misplaced priorities and deteriorating culture and values that have led to a social chasm that we see today.

Unlike generations before us, who were willing to roll up their sleeves and get involved when they saw something wrong in neighborhoods, childrens' schools, communities, governments and countries, I fear we have become so distracted with finding ways to personally get ahead that we have forgotten the basic social bonds and community relationships that are vital to keeping us healthy, empathetic, tolerant and happy human beings. 

I think there are big and small things that have changed, in terms of how we behave, interact and function, that have resulted in an erosion of the social glue that used to bond us more tightly together, and these have contributed to the rise of the Trumps of the world.

When America invades a sovereign nation without provocation and the media and all of us stand by watching silently even when we know it is wrong, we create room for Trump.

When kids use chalk to desecrate a public monument and we say nothing to the parents because we think it is not our place to say something, we create room for Trump.

When we are not outraged by our country ignoring the Geneva Convention and circumventing the constitution to detain enemy combatants without evidence or due process, we create room for Trump.

When we tune in to reality TV, knowing it glorifies the ills of society and turns people who contribute nothing into celebrities but excuse it as guilty pleasure, we create room for Trump.

When we sue doctors, police and our own families for accidents or well-intended mistakes, not willful negligence, and suing becomes a way to make a quick buck, we create room for Trump.

When we ignore professional courtesies, in business, like refusing to get back to people when we have bad news to share because we want to avoid confrontation, we create room for Trump.

When we stop going to Church, not for religious worship but to connect with our neighbours, get involved in their lives and in our community, and replace it with nothing, we make room for Trump.

When we become numb to the fact that there are two active wars, and we stop honoring the sacrifice of those serving, ignore rising military suicides and do nothing about the growing number of homeless vets, we create room for Trump.

When we see someone being wronged or treated unfairly and we look the other way because we do not want to get involved, we create room for Trump.

When we force people to stop saying Merry Christmas because we are worried about offending people, where no offense is meant, we create room for Trump.

When we tell curious young college-going minds that their feelings are more important than broadening their minds, by challenging their worldviews and offending them in the pursuit of knowledge and creativity, we create room for Trump.

When we desecrate works of literature and art because we deem them offensive, we do a great disservice to humanity because you cannot fix history by whitewashing it, but you do ensure that we learn nothing from our past, and we create room for Trump.

When our President draws a red line for the use of chemical weapons on civilian populations and does nothing when that line is crossed, we create room for Trump.

When we allow legislation with far-reaching consequences to be written by lobbyists and corporations and pass it without knowing what thousands of pages contain, we create room for Trump.

When politicians spew vitriol, attack each other personally, forego decorum, stop talking about the issues and we simply laugh, take sides or join in, we create room for Trump.

When we get our news from the Daily Show and 24 hour cable news that deliver information without objectivity, depth or a well-rounded perspective and we also stop doing our own research, we create room for Trump.

When we complain about the broken education system and our child’s teacher but expect that the government should fix these problems rather than that we get involved, we create room for Trump.

When educated people start to debunk sound scientific and medical evidence using unverified articles and citing dubious sources with previously discredited facts, we create room for Trump.

When we decide that the best way to compensate for the excessive discipline our parents instilled and the constant no’s we heard growing up is by over-indulging, mollycoddling and never saying no to our kids (rather than finding the balance between those two extremes), we create room for Trump.

When we start to see complex issues through a simple black and white lens like GMO’s are good or bad and paint all cops with a single brush, we lose sight of complexity and nuance and we create room for Trump.

When we rename Tug of War to “Tug of Love” and stop keeping score to portray a false sense that everyone is a winner, rather than teach our kids that hard work, participation and effort count most (not just winning) and explain that losing does not make you a loser, we create room for Trump.

When we feel like we have performed a social service and done some good in the world by simply LIKING a cause on Facebook or creating a hashtag, we create room for Trump.

When we go to the polls and vote blindly for the party we have always supported rather than research candidates, study their positions and understand their stances, we abdicate our most basic democratic duty and we create room for Trump.

When we think live and let live means we should stay silent when we see something wrong or disagree with someone, for fear of being seen to judge or hurt their feelings, we create room for Trump.

People often ask me how America got here.

How has a man like Donald Trump been able to upend a one hundred and sixty year old political party without a coup and managed to garner much popular support along the way?

My answer is that he exists only because we have given him the room to exist by retreating from our greater societal responsibility.

We live in neighborhoods with like-minded people from similar backgrounds, education levels, jobs and basic interests. In doing so, we have shrunk our world so dramatically that we no longer listen or have the ability to appreciate or understand any view that does not fit neatly into our own little worldview. Even online and in social media we retreat and find comfort only in our own echo chambers.

Think about the mix of people you grew up around, even in your own family; it was a broad swathe of lower to upper middle class, blue collar and white collar. Our neighborhoods had everyone from post office workers and handymen to mid-level executives at IBM and AT&T. This is no longer true.

Today, it has become easier for us to forget large segments of people in our society as we have become more isolated and divided based on income, education, skill level and race.

We have stopped learning and growing, and most importantly we have stopped building empathy for people and alternate views outside of our small, safe and like-minded worlds.

This has been our collective failure and until we fix our broken social divides and start to fill the local and community voids again we will continue to see men like Trump thrive in the vacuum we have created.