There’s a war in America.
No, not overseas but in our living rooms, back rooms and board rooms. In a remarkable surge of xenophobic pandering we’ve become afraid of what we don’t understand and so we stop thinking, lash out and assert anything not like us is bad because, as we all know, different is bad.
Its no secret we struggle with identity and acceptance in America. Our history dictates this. We postulate we were founded in large part on a quest for religious freedom even as we condemn any non-Christian religion. We believe a national holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr absolves our social psyche of responsibility for the hundreds of years of slavery our country was built on. We urge Mexicans to go back across the border conveniently forgetting the border used to be in the middle of the western United States until we decided we wanted the desert Southwest and the jewel of California to realize manifest destiny.
Even as Dylan acknowledged the times are changing he also urged us to not criticize what we don’t understand. Yet we insist ours is a brave new world negating the need for atonement and understanding even though William Henry Faulk outlined the very same seeds of intolerance and persecution existed decades ago in Fear on Trial.
This war is not new.
In my lifetime we’ve practiced sanctioned racism with all the way from separate schools to water fountains. Horrified by the specter of integration we’ve created in its wake isolated islands of ethnic pride from Little Havana to Detroit to the border of South Texas and Southern California where neighbors know the dream of freedom in America depends on the color of your skin and the history of your faith.
Yet W.E.B. DuBois told us decades ago that the “cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.” How can any nation be truly great when its people are subjugated in repression.
Business in general and HR in particular have long struggled with the appropriate way to manifest social mores in the workplace. Title VII helps but it gives us just a framework. Like most legislation it simply outlines what, not how, or the ends versus the means. Title VII assumes the basic rights outlined within are important enough for all Americans to help protect them. I hope that trust is well-placed.
The modern workplace has lurched from intolerance to compliance to values to diversity to inclusion yet still can’t even reconcile the persistent wage gap between men and women, much less color, sexual orientation or disability. And as if that weren’t enough we’ve been challenged by contemplating faiths where Jesus is not the fulcrum. We are reeling with change as the opportunists amongst us pronounce the evil of our world has its roots in someone else.
Someone not like us.
But greatness does not succumb to opportunism, and what’s right vs what’s wrong is not the domain of the HR police.
To be great – to realize our true manifest destiny – we must all be free and unfettered by the constraints of ignorance and the shackles of sound bites. To realize who we can be as a people and a nation we need to move beyond legislation to celebration. This is the war of our time: to decide whether or not all people have the endowed right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This war of intolerance loses its impetus and imprimatur when we open our ears and our minds and engage with one and other not only acknowledging differences but commonalities as well. This war holds life only so long as we cower in misunderstanding afraid to examine truths in the light of day. Only so long as we believe not like me is bad.