From the Business Perspective Newsletter
The Art of the Possible
There’s a noun exercised so little I’m concerned it may become extinct.
Civility - defined as civilized conduct, especially courtesy or politeness – or to be more accurate, the lack of civility, has been a concern for many years, especially in political arenas. But in recent years our society’s lack of civility as witnessed in the discourse of political leaders to average citizens in legislative chambers, local public hearings, social media pages and private dinner table conversation has permeated daily lives to the extent that it’s become a new normal.
But should we – must we – accept this rancor?
As leaders in the business community, it’s up to each of us to model the behavior we want to see in others. Remember the Golden Rule? Treat others the way you want to be treated? We need to model it in our homes, in the workplace, in our community interactions and with our choices at the ballotbox. While I can’t change the behavior of all the members of a governing body, I can make sure I’m informed about the character, behavior and opinions of those I vote for.
We can look inward, too, at our tolerance for others and their opinions. Do we seek information, news and research to enhance our own knowledge or to further our own bias? Perhaps we need to broaden our horizons a bit to other outlets increase understanding of the opinions of those around us.
Five years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in the Sunflower Advocacy Fellowship sponsored by the Sunflower Foundation. We spent a lot of time talking about civility, and our individual roles in promoting it. One of the take-aways I found helpful is the acronym WAIT. Before diving right into a discussion, especially one that might get heated, think: WAIT.
Am I talking to hear my own voice? Will what I have to say clarify the issue, add to the discussion or build others’ points? Am I genuinely contributing or adding a solution? Have others expressed what I’m thinking?
Ben Craig, one of the Chamber’s founders, used to bemoan the loss of civility in politics. Ever a pragmatist, Ben didn’t expect that everyone would drop their party allegiances and suddenly agree. What he regretted was the polarization that kept people from coming together to seek reasonable solutions for the community good. Ben liked to talk about the “art of the possible”. For him, this art meant that people who disagreed about party – or issues - could still agree about the city, state and country that they loved and could come together in a spirt of cooperation, collaboration and consensus building to accomplish great things.
I, too believe in the art of the possible. That’s the foundation of chambers of commerce. We accomplish our mission when many people with diverse backgrounds, opinions, interests and types of businesses come together to make our community the best place to build a business, a career and a home. As business leaders it’s important that we make it clear that civil behavior is a priority by modeling what we want to see and rewarding elected officials who can govern and collaborate while representing us. If I could paraphrase Ben’s dream of “possible” now? I think it would mean we focus on a future built upon respect for each other and solutions. With those as a foundation, it’s not impossible at all.
Tracey Osborne Oltjen, CCE, IOM
President & CEO