One of the good outcomes of the assassination attempt in Tucson last week is that people seem to be seriously questioning how the hostile social environment we’ve created is impacting our society. Words create our thoughts and thoughts direct our actions. As people feel free to state inflammatory and hateful rhetoric without fear of retribution a climate of extremism is created. Extreme words breed extreme behavior.

In our School Program we hope to teach second graders that you can disagree with a person’s ideas without considering them your “enemy”. Yet when you look around, it’s hard to support that concept. The idea that if someone isn’t “for” you they’re against you is communicated everywhere. Reality shows, political shows, general talk radio—it’s us against them…and “them” is the enemy no matter what the actual person is like. If they disagree with your position, they’re to be reviled. It’s very difficult to reduce corporate suffering when the predominant message you’re receiving is that others are out to get you.

The transparency and speed of communication has allowed us to learn of problems much earlier than ever before. We then demand—and expect immediate answers—it almost doesn’t matter if it’s the best answer as long as someone is taking action, any action. When a leader wants time to consider how to best address an issue, questions start being raised about their ability to lead whether they’re within a corporation or on a broader media stage. To keep their jobs they often feel pressed to choose between an immediate action or a considered decision. Is this in our best interests?

Unfortunately, some profit from fanning the flames and encouraging a negative social or work environment. It’s time to thoughtfully consider the agendas of those we’re listening to and understand what they stand to gain through encouraging divisiveness. By exposing their agendas we can reduce their influence and normalize our environment. Only then can we truly concentrate on doing the real work of making our society better.

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