There continues to be a rise in political and public rhetoric that is disappointing --- sometimes a bit scary --- and that increasingly seems more mean-spirited and at times, down right reckless. Words do matter. This is particularly true when words become a constant stream of talking points versus truth, intended to reach those looking for leadership and perspective.
Think of the powerful influence of our WORDS:
Words can excite us. Words can embolden us. They bring out our passions and also our discontent. They can hype up our anger and squelch our optimism --- the essential ingredient for making things better --- our belief that we have the power to do it. Words can distort things. They can easily tell lies and half-truths, which can spread like a wild fire when repeated over and over again (even in our own minds). History proves, "As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is." When words are multiplied by many people, times continuous repetition, words have powerful way of imprinting the TRUTH...or becoming mistaken for the truth.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, well-known 19th Century American author, affirmed the influence of our words:
Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.
One lesson I've learned as a LEADER is that our WORDS also require our BEST intentions. President John Quincy Adams affirmed this when he set the standard in his message below. His wisdom creates a "yardstick" by which you can measure your brand of leadership:
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a LEADER.”
Interestingly, in these turbulent times in which we live, perhaps we've become a bit careless --- maybe forgotten that with our freedoms come a solemn responsibility of leadership.
How can we change the dynamics we are witnessing and instead inspire and engage people in meaningful dialogue by the words we utter? How can we strengthen our relationships with one another across the wide spectrum of DIFFERENCES that we represent? How can we use our leadership to build a sense of optimism for building a better future together by our example?
Over the years, I have observed in my work, in both small and big ways, across cultures and across the world, when you bring one person together with another person --- person-to-person --- all problems drop away. Almost instantly we connect and transcend our differences if given the chance in a welcoming environment. It doesn't take long to discover, we share so much in common. The following is a story to prove my point---a personal story.
a personal wake-up call
"Let him who would move the world, first move himself." -- Socrates
Some years back, way beyond my work, I had a "critical incident" that was my personal wake-up call --- a moment-in-time when I was caught off-guard---- and forever changed. I first told this story in an earlier book (boxed set), Action Dialogues: Meaningful Conversations to Accelerate Change, I hope in the end, it will leave you thinking and questioning on your own:
I dashed out of a parking garage, mindlessly rushing down the street, acknowledging no one, only to be abruptly halted by a red light. I stood impatiently, grinding my heels into the curb, ready to leap out in front of the crowd at the first sign of green. As the light changed, an unexpected slow motion took over. My shoes tried unsuccessfully to hold me back—the heels now solidly stuck in the crevice at the edge of the curb. My body instead took over, looming forward, lifting itself through the air, then falling with a thump onto the street. The point of impact was an excruciating, jolting crash of bones as I landed on the asphalt on both knees. Next, still in slow motion, out of nowhere, came a warm hand reaching out to me. I grasped it firmly, welcoming the care and strength from this person I had not yet seen. As I lifted my head up, my eyes met the eyes of this Good Samaritan. My anguish was clearly mirrored on his brown face. “Are you all right? Let me help you,” he said without words.
My life was suddenly interrupted as I was literally “brought to my knees,” stripped of my dignity, then lifted up and mentored by a man with no place to go. He was homeless. For that moment so was I. I had passed him many times, always much too busy to notice him ― or was it just easier to look away? I never heard his voice; never wondered what he had to say or thought about what he needed. I never recognized our sameness. Amazingly, as any good neighbor would do, he had time for me when I showed up unannounced.
One seemingly unrelated event ― a few chaotic moments-in-time ― shocked me into a new level of understanding and thinking about what it means to be a good neighbor. The nameless man caused me to start asking myself some deeper questions --- and now I ask you:
– How many times have you rushed by a good neighbor in need?
How many times have your indifference and self-interest blinded you from the needs of others all around you? How has your behavior, actions or inaction contributed, directly or indirectly, to the state of the community where you live and work?
–How many meaningful conversations have you missed---dialogues with
others that might have held a new perspective, a heightened awareness,
a leadership lesson?
– How many people have you unintentionally ignored in your work and life?
– How many ideas, insights and talents have you overlooked because of your own
limited labels and biases?
– How well do your own actions and behaviors set an example for others
about being a good neighbor?
– What are you doing to challenge new thinking, understanding, and
appreciation for others?
I leave you rethinking my answers to these questions too.
founder, President and CEO
Global Dialogue Center
and Leadership Solutions Companies
Twitter @debbekennedy @onlinedialogues