By Lori Russo and Peter Stanton
During the holidays, many people asked us what it is like working in Washington these days with all the hostility and acrimony. Our first impulse was to lament the current climate. While it is tempting to moan about this party and that politician and the issues of the day, especially to out-of-towners who sometimes revel in the gossip, there is little to be gained from such complaining. Our second impulse was to resolve in the new year – which also happens to be the 30th anniversary of Stanton Communications’ founding – to rise above it all.
Knowing that resolutions can be hard to maintain, we instead enter 2019 thinking of “Guiding Principles.”
These are not resolutions so much as sign posts to help us navigate our way through what already is shaping up to be an even more contentious political environment. These make sense to us:
Often discussed and easily ignored, the basics of manners, decorum and polite speech and behavior are never more needed than now. The reality, however, is no one ever gets upset by civility. This was evident during the holidays when even holding a door for another person was met with a kind thank you and, often, a smile. If such a small, simple act of civility can produce a civil response, perhaps we can all keep this principle in mind as we navigate our daily routines. It could lead to a few more genuinely nice encounters with our fellow stressed and struggling human beings.
When it comes to communication, the default these days is to send a tweet, email or text. All fine and amazing conveniences, but not the same as true personal interaction. There is no tone of voice, no chance for expressions of empathy and understanding. We are losing our ability to just…talk to one another. A Guiding Principle for 2019 should be to create more opportunities for conversation. Not yelling. Not interrupting. Not over talking without listening. Reasoned and rationale dialogue has sustained our society since the invention of language. Let’s all try a little harder to make better use of this vital human capability rather than shouting back and forth with one another as though we are talking heads on a cable news show.
A Guiding Principle for 2019 should be to create more opportunities for conversation.
The political parties appear to have adopted the position that any form of compromise is capitulation. Imagine what could be possible if on even a few occasions one or the other said…. I do not entirely agree, but let’s try it your way. Human-kind has advanced through the millennia by finding ways to get along. Sometimes that means giving a little. The ability to accept less than everything you may want is a form of courtesy which is evidence of civility. To reach compromise, there must be dialogue. One Guiding Principle makes it possible for us to practice two more. That sounds like a truly positive three-fer.
The operative word in discussions of the atmosphere in Washington is “polarizing.” It applies to language, opinion, behavior and decision-making. But on each side of an issue there are individuals with a story, a background and a record of accomplishment – no matter how small – that deserves to be honored and acknowledged. We cannot know everyone’s history or frame of reference, but at least we can accept that such exists. By doing so, we can achieve a level of respect that the other individual is not innately hostile to our own story and context and views. We could certainly do worse in the coming year than to approach difficulties with a willingness to be respectful in our interpretation ad reaction to other points of view.
On each side of an issue there are individuals with a story, a background and a record of accomplishment – no matter how small – that deserves to be honored and acknowledged.
We are all frail beings and no matter how emphatic our resolutions might be, we surely will fail to uphold them forever. But a few Guiding Principles might at least give us some parameters for thinking about the way we present ourselves to others and to the world.
We resolve to try.