I was on a hike with my son a few weekends back and we were talking about the state of the world, the meaning of life and what the future looks like. Halfway up the hill he asked, “Dad, what’s the point? The world’s going completely mad, What’s the f-ing point of it all?” As one of the last American flip phone owners, he’s been deflecting social media’s infectious and manipulative dark side since high school and he’s always been a deep thinker. He ranted on about the prevalence of selfishness, stupidity, ignorance and the lack of respect making him sad. He threw up his anger all over me and his questions stopped me dead in my tracks. I thought long and hard about his question and I was stumped because I’d been feeling the same way.
What’s the point of it all?
Why are we here and where are we going? These are the existential questions many of us are trying to answer. And thanks to this multi-layered shit sandwich of a year they’ve been made infinitely more complex. After a long silence, I responded, “The point is to show up right now, for you, and for the person in front of you, to be the very best version of you that you can be. You don’t get yesterday back and who knows about tomorrow, but we have right now. Operate with gratitude for your health, education and whatever gifts you were given, and do your darndest to make the most of the moment.” We agreed the point is to live in the now, with values that guide us through a life where we might possibly get to pursue our purpose, but more importantly we get to make the very best of what the now has to offer.
Values shape decisions, choices, behaviors and character
Our family has a simple set of values that we shared with our kids and they’ve been non-negotiables: be honest, be kind to others, respect people’s humanity, stand up for those in harm’s way, work smart, and always do the very best you can. Don’t lie, don’t bully, don’t be a taker and don’t be disrespectful to others are common sense principles that most likely guide the vast majority of families, reminding us what it means to operate like good humans. Parents, like leaders, guide, teach, provide and protect those in our care and the job requires that we have empathy, patience, self-awareness, common sense, wisdom and unconditional love. Our kids, and those in our care, are always watching and learning, how we show up each day matters.
Our kids are watching
I’ve asked myself how we have values that our kids are supposed to follow and yet we have leaders who lie, cheat, lack empathy and don’t seem to care about anyone but themselves. Why does it feel like we’re living in a middle school lunch court where most people get along pretty well, yet the constant presence of a bully who spends most of the time picking on people, calling them names, spreading rumors, stoking fear and swaggering around with a bunch of enablers who generally make people’s lives a stressful, negative misery. How has this become acceptable and how do we explain this to our kids?
Are we going to let the despots and bots write our next chapter?
Let’s step back and take a look at how the rest of the world sees us right now: greedy, petulant, spoiled, self-centered, vitriolic, violent and unhinged. It’s like a dark episode of Black Mirror where we’re all being digitally manipulated and turned against each other while our foreign foes are stuffing their faces with popcorn and belly laughing as they write the cyber-script for the next episode—and we’re letting them do it. In 1861 Abraham Lincoln called troubled Americans to come together in unity, proclaiming that “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” This is a message for a time such as this. If we’re going to write our own turnaround chapter we need leaders who are informed authors who will serve the interests of all Americans, not just the privileged few, but all of the colors, types, sizes, shapes and ages, all of us—The Great American Common.
Here’s what I believe is important to The Great American Common:
Principles of Common Decency
If values can guide a family and a company’s choices and behaviors why not for a country? Let’s teach our leaders what behaviors are expected of them, and from each other, and remind them they work for us. Let’s define a set of universal values that are focused on defining the common good.
Belief in the Common Good
It’s time to show up and encourage each other to do more to contribute to building a better, safer, sustainable version of the world we live in and to build an America that works for everyone, not just an America that works for me or people like me. Let’s ensure our leaders understand that it’s not about them, it’s about caring for all of the people they are in service of and more responsibly stewarding the precious resources in their care.
A Common Purpose
To be United we need to be clear about what unites us versus listening to the constant efforts to divide us. With the Constitution as the foundation, we need a compelling purpose that communicates why America exists and what role it plays in the world. Let’s be clear about America’s intent, why it exists, what it actually means and how we should operate.
Common Ground for a Better Future
After decades of partisan fighting and little meaningful progress as the pendulum swings back and forth and trillions of tax dollars are flushed, we need to agree on the common ground and fix the issues that get us twisted around the axle year after year so that we can actually make progress for all Amercians. And until we do that we’re going to keep going round in circles.
Common Ground needing Common Sense:
We are all part of the American family, diverse and dependent on each other, but right now we are divided. We’ve got some massive decisions to make on November 3rd, that will determine what type of country we live in for decades to come. We can be stronger together if we consider the needs of all Americans and we choose the pursuit of the common good.
The division and divide that is now prevalent among so many families, friendships and communities—where walls of disrespect and disdain have been built—now requires us all to think about how we’re going to repair the damage and take down the walls, no matter the result on the 3rd. It is only by building bridges and working together with those of opposing opinions to find the common ground that we will move from the Divided States to the United States for All Americans.