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Leadership Skill: Hope

Nov 11, 2007
A few months ago, the anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001 took place. That day marked the beginning of a sea change for the world. And change is hard. We've had a chance to reflect over the past six years, to become introspective on a number of fronts.

It is easy to hate those who transgressed against us, and generalize our hatred to those whom we all too easily put in the same basket as our transgressors.

We generalize because of a human trait called closure. When we don't know something, we automatically fill in the blanks with negatives of our own making, not positives. It's a protection mechanism that keeps us from getting hurt. We automatically tend to think worst case scenarios. As a result, it becomes easy for us to focus our hate on any group different from us (or similar to our attackers).

We don't know what's in the Koran or the Torah or the Bible so we automatically assume that their God is different from our God, that their God is telling them to do nasty things to those of us who don't believe as they do. It's amazing. Although the stories are overlapping but different and customized, the message in all of these texts is basically the same: love thy neighbor; respect your elders; care for the sick; fear a just and righteous God; etc. - the very same message.

Extremists in all religions use both their ignorance of others' principles and the inability of their followers to read their own texts to hold their God up as the one true God; superior to others' Gods; more legitimate. Call me naive (I've been called that before), but the way I look at it, we are all on this island earth together whether you believe God created man or vice versa. There's no other place to go. We can only get so far away from people different from us. Sooner or later we will come face to face with others - their stories, their beliefs, their variety. I'm certain that at that time, we will discover that the differences are microscopic compared to our similarities. For while variances exist, we are all human with a common set of predictable behaviors.

The languages may be different. The cultures may be different. The beliefs may be different, but people are all the same. They have the same needs (security/safety, food, shelter, prosperity, and the hope for a better life - however that's defined in the minds of the individuals).

Immediately after September 11, 2001, we became a country of re evaluators. We reevaluated our lives, our relationships. It became a wake up call of self-evaluation, both as a nation and as individuals. We decided for the moment to move closer to one another both at home and at work: more collaboration; more teamwork. In Minnesota, for example, instead of cocooning for the winter, we visited our neighbors and friends more frequently, checked on one another for well-being. As human nature unfortunately predicts, we've moved away from that closeness as time has passed. We felt vulnerable after September 11, but have reacted (some would say overreacted) to where we are feeling somewhat less vulnerable again. At work, interest in teamwork and collaboration briefly increased . . . and now, just a few years later, it has generally decreased.

We're chasing the bad guys. Not all of them, just the ones we want to get even with currently. Once this threat is vanquished, another will take its place. It's human nature for some group feeling disenfranchised to take some bites out of those they can easily target for their own misfortunes.

Currently, we're the most visible, so we're it. We will continue in this vicious cycle until the point where the people of the world, with all their variety realize that we have more to gain together than apart - by helping one another out.

Much of the world scoffs at our (the USA's) efforts as "too little or too late"; it's group think. While others want us to give more, they forget we already give more to others in need than any other country. We are collectively the most generous people on the planet. Some give out of the guilt of having, some out of the genuine desire to help others. We should be proud of what we as a nation stand for, what we have accomplished and the role we've assumed globally.

Sure, the events of 9/11 made us all more introspective. It'll pass (that, too, is human nature). But as we look inside, do not fall into the trap of self-blaming. Rather than say that we are at fault for all the world's ills, look at the hope that we bring to those who live in repression. Again, I'm not naive enough to believe that we don't all have some repression going on in our lives, self or other initiated. On balance, though, the world looks to the example set by our people in how we treat each other (capital punishment aside) and what, as a nation, we stand for.

Make no mistake about it, we are a beacon of hope for others in need of such hope. Be proud of the fact that the relative freedom and relative democracy we enjoy is a draw for much of the world. Some don't like us because of this and look for ways to hurt us or bring us down. They, too, shall pass. Please, have hope for a brighter future on this island earth for all human beings. I do.

As for business and our work, it's time to get back on the collaborative track. The more information that flows, the more effectively we listen, the fewer turf wars we fight internally - the better off we'll be over the long haul, ourselves, our companies, our nations, our world.
About the Author
A world class speaker, author, and educator, Dr. Robbins focuses on transformational leadership by providing leadership skill training, team building / team leadership training, management development training, and executive coaching. See more on http://www.harveyrobbins.com.
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