Nan Russell | Growing differences

More than likely, by the time you read this message, the decision will have been rendered. After months of posturing, positioning and speculating, the question will have an answer. Voters will have voted, nasty ads will have subsided, and nightly news will be filled with something other than the latest political nuance or candidate slipup or pundit pontification. We’ll be back to normal perhaps, as we await the next four years of new leadership.

Of course, I’m not too sure what “normal” means when everyone with a blog is an expert and anyone with an opinion a commentator. The rancor escalates beyond point-counter-point to personal attacks and toxic tirades. It saddens me to see the growing divide within this amazing country. It discourages me to listen to robotic rhetoric that regurgitates a “party-line.” And it gives me pause to watch our political system devalue differing insights, opinions, and perspectives as if there is an absolute “wrong” or “right” to the complex issues that plague our times.

I believe it’s time, once again, to recognize that differences make us stronger; time to celebrate not only diversity of race, gender, religion and nationality, but of thought and beliefs and values. It’s time to realize that the freedoms we cherish are enhanced, not diminished, by differing perspectives. And I think it’s time to realize that no matter our differences, we’re better together. It’s with that spirit that I offer these thoughts of an election long ago that shaped more than my childhood:

The lesson stuck like gum to a sneaker’s sole. Not comfortable to walk on, and annoying to have stepped in. But step in it, I did. It started simply enough as a civics lesson on the democratic process. We lined up, waiting our turn to enter the voting booth to mark our sample presidential ballots. Unlike a nation waiting late into the evening to discover if Nixon or Kennedy would be the next White House resident, we knew after lunch how the fifth grade at Liberty School voted.

And then it happened. The person I voted for narrowly lost. How could that be? These were my friends and classmates. I knew them. How was it they didn’t think like me? Or rather, how was it that their parents didn’t think like my parents? By afternoon recess, the sides were drawn. Debater in my blood, I led arguments over whose vote was right. I redefined friends as the ones who thought like me. The normal walk-home-together crowd was split into two groups, one trailing behind the other on the dusty trek across the playground. That election changed me. Now, I saw our differences.

Of course, not for long. It was fifth grade. I didn’t understand or care about politics at 10. But like hardened gum molded to my sneaker’s sole, its residue remained. More differences emerged as we passed from grade to grade. Differences divided us – the jocks and eggheads, the partiers and the pollyannas, the debate team and the car club. Today, adult-size issues divide a class that started kindergarten together. Issues like the environment, guns, abortion, religion, politics, war.

In fact, one close friend and I are so different in how we orient to the world, we stopped discussing politics and religion altogether. Yet, we are similar souls. We want a better life for our children. We want a safer, peaceful, prosperous world for our grandchildren. We want the same things; we just see how to get them differently.

It’s funny. Now all grown up, the differences don’t matter as much. I have Democrat and Republican friends; friends who carry guns and friends who find them abhorrent; friends who have fought in war and friends who marched against it. I don’t pick my friends anymore for thinking like me. I pick them for their hearts.

I can see philosophical differences between us. I can also see and feel our similarities. For me, in the scheme of things, your good heart will trump our thought differences any day. Kind. Loving. Giving. Honorable. It’s your actions that speak to my heart.

So as we approach this November of significant change, my wish is this: no matter our joy or disappointment over election results, may we find that spirit of heart once again.

Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008), and host of “Work Matters with Nan Russell” weekly on www.webtalkradio.net. Nan Russell has spent over 20 years in management, most recently with QVC as a vice president. Sign up to receive Nan’s “Winning at Working” tips and insights at http://www.nanrussell.com.

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