Build bridges not chasms – a revisit

I wrote this seven years ago, but it seems to resonate even more today. The title is a quote I heard from a hero of mine, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She was being interviewed on PBS Newshour about her book “My Beloved World.” She said we should “build bridges not chasms” which is a tremendous life lesson. This one resonates with me and echoes my admiration for the “dot connectors” in the world. It is also the serum for the toxic fever of tribal-like chasm building we seem to be infected with.

Well, how do we go about living this lesson? How do we build bridges and not chasms?

– First, we should look for ways we are similar. While we remain diverse, as humans there our similarities that cross all faiths, ethnic groups and countries. We want a safe and secure future for ourselves, but especially for our children. When I look at various religions, I am not surprised by the common thread of the Golden Rule which permeates them.

– Second, find these common threads. When I walk into someone’s office or home, I search for common experiences. I look at pictures of children, diplomas displaying education, trophies or pictures of sports or activities, etc. What can I talk about that will connect us better? Also, I take delight in finding out a similar passion or story. The other day I learned of a similar passion to help the homeless people among us from an unexpected source. We are now sharing information, books, etc.

– Third, an old boss said, “you have two ears and one mouth” use them in that proportion. We cannot listen if we don’t hear. We need to know what people’s concerns are before we can begin to help them. We have far too many people who like to hear themselves talk. My wife is the best of listeners. As a result, people flock to her as she will listen to their issues, interests, aspirations and problems.

– Fourth, look for the opportunity to compliment someone or reinforce an action. I am not advocating false praise, but I am advocating a supportive word or gesture. When you step up to the counter to be served by the exhausted clerk who is doing the best he or she can when the boss understaffed a shift, you can make a world of difference by some acknowledgement of their tribulations.

– Fifth, along this same line, you can never thank people enough. We tell our kids “people don’t have to do anything for you.” So, when they do, you should thank them for it. And, mean it. Even in this Twitter, text, Facebook and email world, a call or handwritten note speaks volumes. Yet, use whatever media you prefer to say thanks.

– Sixth, an old colleague used to say “you can never have enough cups of coffee with people.” Remember that and reach out. It is a low-key investment of time as it is not as intrusive as a meal. And, conversation will occur.

– Seventh, never hesitate to include others in meals or outings. Especially meals. If a friend of your child is over, ask them to stay. My wife and I made a conscious decision to have a house the kids like to come over to. Our kids love this. Their friends do as well as we make them feel welcome. Trust me on this. There is no greater sound on earth than hearing your children laughing.

– Eighth, laugh at yourself. Let me say this loud and clear, “you are not perfect.” Neither am I. So, be prepared to laugh at your mistakes and don’t be afraid to tell the stories. It will truly endear you. I found that my kids like me telling about the times I screwed up. We sometimes are in stitches. Why? Because they see it is OK to screw up. The world will not end. And, the old line is true, “laugh and the world laughs with you.”

– Ninth, LTFU. This is a pre-Twitter acronym. It stands for “Lighten the Eff Up.” We take ourselves too seriously. We make mountains out of very small mole hills. Many of the things we fret over are not that important. Trust me. Those folks that are reading texts and emails at stop lights (and God forbid in traffic), I can tell you right now, that text is not that important, even without reading it. I told a colleague one day, “I am going to take your I-Phone and throw it in the ocean.” He was constantly reacting to the messenger and not the message. So, issues got blown out of proportion.

– Tenth, help people in need. You both benefit from the transaction. Those in need benefit if you are helping them climb a ladder. You benefit from the psychic income of helping someone. It is a powerful elixir.

– Eleventh and last, getting back to the Golden Rule, treat others like you want to be treated. That is by far the best lesson in the bible and the ones some religious leaders tend to forget. If we do only this, the world will be a better place.

These are a few thoughts on how to build bridges. I am sure I have left off several good ones, so please feel free to share. We are a planet of fixer uppers. We should give each other a break as we need a break from them. Justice Sotomayor has it right – let’s build bridges.

Do yourself a favor and try this

A few weeks ago I wrote about the need to connect more with people, highlighting the role of dot connectors. I value the effort and talent of those who reach out to people to find common ground. We need more of this in the world.

If you are not inclined to do this, I want you to try something for a few days or even a week. As you pay for services or ask for help in any retail store, coffee shop, or supermarket, make a nice comment to the cashier or associate. It can be very simple such as “I hope you are having a good day,” or it could be something related to that person. Often, I find myself commenting on interesting names, tattoos, or just because the person had an effervescent smile.

Life is too short not to make conversation. And, you just might be making someone’s day who has been on his or her feet for several hours. I am reminded of the true story about the manager of a grocery store rushing out of his office to see all the paying customers in one line. He encouraged them to go to another line, but they wanted to stay in that one.

Why would they do that? The bagger for the line was an autistic teenager, but that is not the whole story. The teen was so moved by a speech the president of the company had made to all store staff when he dropped in the previous week, the teen had taken action. The president said “You are the company. You represent us to our customers. How they are treated is important.”

The young man went home and he worked with his mother to prepared little sayings on cut up index cards. His well wishes ranged from “Thank you for coming here” toHave a great day” to “Your business is important to us.” He would place these little well wishes in each shopper’s bag. So, the shoppers would flock to him each time they and he was in the store. They felt good about receiving his well wishes and wanted him to know it.

It only takes a few words to make a difference. After your trial period, take a pulse and see if this impacted others as well as you. It makes me feel good to touch someone like that. It is not uncommon for me to learn something new through conversation. Thanks for spending some time with me today.

 

Breaking down barriers

We seemed to have lost our compass these days. We have far too many people looking for ways to divide or differentiate, and are far too few who are having success in breaking down barriers. Or, maybe it is our so-called leaders or “wanna-be leaders,” who are not showing much leadership. While we should value diversity, in many respects, the more we learn about one another, the more we seem to be the same.

At the end of the day, people want opportunity. They want their families to be safe, secure and nourished. They want to find a loved one or a group that can become their family or kinship. They want to be dealt with fairly and want to do the same with others. They expect our leaders to promote social welfare and security, not be the reason it does not exist.

Poor leaders sell fear. They demonize and differentiate. They fall short of the aspirations of their religious texts. Poor leaders take too much credit, patting themselves on the back too much “saying look how great I am.” Better leaders do the opposite or less of the former. They are inclusive and want people to prosper. In the words of FDR, “we do well, when we all do well.”

Yet, this cannot fall to our leaders alone. We need to celebrate our dot connectors. These are the folks who connect people in a variety of ways. These are the folks who seek common ground, not looking to divide. These are the folks who see first hand how similar we are. These informal leaders are as or even more important than our formal ones. They are more trusted and advocate for people. They are our compasses.

As we interact in our daily lives, I want you to recognize the dot connectors you know. They may be someone in your religious group. They may be an ardent volunteer who helps people in need. They may be a colleague who is always creating employee interactions. They may be someone online, who people gravitate toward, as the dot connector can find some good in others or some form of connection. Emulate these compasses. They break down barriers.

As for the fear sellers and mongers, reduce your exposure to these folks. Do not vote for them either, as they are the exact opposite of good leadership. Just because someone has success, does not necessarily make them a good leader. Businesses make this mistake all the time, promoting a successful seller to a leadership role only to see them fail.

Let’s find our compasses and appreciate what they do. And, let’s be like them and not the fear sellers.