Today I’m sharing with you part of a chapter from a new book I’m working on. I won’t share the title with you because I haven’t quite decided on one yet and anyway, my intention today isn’t to promote the book.
I’m sharing this prematurely because this is an extremely timely topic: Respect.
In every area of our lives today Respect is being challenged. We are dealing with tremendous levels of animosity, disrespect and incivility. Instead of coming together to face today’s challenges, we are too often dividing ourselves into separate camps based on political identity, class, gender and race.
As CU leaders, it’s up to you to manage this environment both inside your organizations and facing out as you deal with an ever more diverse group of members. I’m challenging us all to not just manage this issue, but to lead the way in changing this dangerous social climate and bring people together to improve and strengthen our communities.
Here’s the excerpt from the book, then I’ll chime back in with a couple of observations and challenges:
I was asked to speak for a group of elementary school kids. This was one of my first experiences with true public speaking––and who could ask for a tougher audience?
Local teachers had noticed that the kids in my martial arts program were by and large outperforming many of their peers. Some of the kids who had struggled in school before martial arts were now exceeding expectations. Better still, my kids were respectful––most of the time! They were addressing their teachers with deference and treating other kids with compassion and empathy. So a couple of these teachers asked me to speak to their students on respect and responsibility.
I wanted to get the kids engaged quickly. Lectures don’t work well on most adults and they certainly don’t work with 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders. I opened with a simple question––and I still start with the same question today in nearly every workshop, even with C-suite level executives.
“What does the word respect mean? Give me a definition!”
After a little moment of silence, one young man stood up. His teacher had obviously prepared him to meet the Sensei because as he stood, he placed his left hand over his closed right fist, our Kenpo salute, and he bowed––most respectfully!
His next few words would redefine my life and my work…
“Sensei––respect means taking care of one another.”
Bam! I felt like I’d just been kicked in the stomach. I actually had to sit down to catch my breath and gather my thoughts.
Of course I’d prepared the standard dictionary definition to share with the kids. Now my entire presentation was derailed. If you’ve ever spoken in public, you’ll understand that while this exchange lasted probably about ten seconds, it felt like ten minutes. All I could think of to do was this…
I stood. I returned his bow and said, “Kid––you’ve got it!”
“Respect means taking care of one another.”
Have you ever heard a better definition?
Isn’t that at the heart of the CU mission? To “take care of” the people you serve? Both inside your organization and in the community at large?
Right now our entire society seems trapped in a whirlpool of blame. Each side of every divide is pointing fingers at the other. “They” do this and “they” do that. “They” did it first.
When it comes to changing things for the better–––leaders go first. It doesn’t matter who started it, particularly when it comes to this terrible environment of political vitriol. The plain simple fact is that we all work and live with people with different beliefs, opinions, feelings and convictions.
Here are some challenges we can face together:
What can each of us do to promote civility and respect within our own organizations?
What can we do to extend our culture of respect to the community around us?
How can we address and counter incivility and disrespect when we see it?
And to keep our feet on the ground…
How can this effort benefit the credit union and its members? How will this help us better serve our members and our community?
Now a word of caution: I’m not talking about stifling disagreement. The competition of ideas is vital to our progress within our organizations and in the community around us––from Main Street to Capitol Hill, from the front lines to the board room. What we need to do is disagree without retreating to separate, intractable camps that never face our conflicts in the arena of ideas. We need to discuss and debate in a productive environment of respect and civility where we can find meaningful synergy that helps us resolve our differences, solve our problems and achieve higher goals.
This is not just something nice we can do together. History is full of examples of societies collapsing under this pressure. We’re watching several societies implode before our very eyes right now.
Until and unless we start showing more respect and civility for one another, our society will continue to fracture. Ultimately this leads to dangerous levels of segregation and mistrust. In this type of environment people do not do business together. They do not engage with those larger goals that help us meet challenges and grow our communities. They do not share their resources for their common benefit as they now do through our credit unions.
We’ve got to resolve this issue and I believe the compassionate and courageous people in the credit union world are well suited to lead the charge.
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