We say…”Don’t judge a book by its cover.” And yet….we do. Why?

We claim, most especially in this nation, to value the diversity of people and the uniqueness of each individual. On a personal level, I think most people do this but as we raise higher and higher in vantage point, we begin to blur those lines of distinction until people are no longer seen as unique and varied humans but rather as belonging to one group or another.

Today, we see this rather starkly in politics. Those “republicans” – The “democrats” – who are these people? When I see on social media someone refer to a party name, I often wonder, to whom are they specifically referring? Do they mean the leader of the party? The leader in the house or senate? The leader in their hometown? Do they mean the loudest person on social media or in the news that claims to be from that party? Do they mean the farthest left- or farthest right-winged archetype they can imagine? To whom is it exactly that they are referring?

Because the answer to this question matters…considerably. The country is divided into roughly a 50/50 split and so for a nation that values diversity of beliefs and positions, it is difficult to see how either side is valuing members of either party as unique people who have similar or opposing views – who perhaps agree with a position such as believing all people should have access to healthcare but who may disagree with the design of the system to provide that access. And as we insult an entire party as a whole – are we really saying we hate half of the nation? Have we really become this angry at our own national family? It’s a dangerous thing to create an us-and-them mentality….and I would argue, it undermines the entire foundation of our country which was built on the belief that having diversity of thoughts, ideas, and experiences makes us a stronger nation.

Sometimes I wonder how many people have read the DNC and GOP platforms. Do they know that there is a 76% overlap of goals? The two parties differ in the details sure but at the highest level – we all want a safe and prosperous nation. The platforms deviate in only a few areas: voters’ rights and family structure/personal choice. Beyond on those two points, the platforms line up and there is much agreement. Further, the executive branch is non-partisan with 2.4 million workers and 2.1 million active or reserve duty military personnel while the legislative branch boasts only 535 members. Yet…it is the smaller of the two branches on which we focus. Why? This is a question I think much of the nation is asking because so many are tired. We are tired of the fighting, we are tired of the insults, we are tired of being accused of things we haven’t done.

Ironically, the “we” is all of us – from both parties, third parties, and no parties. We, the people of the United States – need to come together, connect, respect, appreciate, and recognize – that people don’t always agree in our country and that this the very reality we wish to have. We just need to have it without anger attached but rather, appreciation.  

Christmas spirit…

In an effort to be inclusive of all our people and various religious beliefs, we have changed many terms across our nation from exclusively saying Merry Christmas to instead we say Happy Holidays. In many ways, I embrace this change….we are, after all, a country literally founded based on the belief that people should be free to practice any religion they wish. Naturally, it seems reasonable to acknowledge all religions and also respect those that don’t follow any particular religion. But we also see on social media many people saying that they feel like they can’t say Merry Christmas anymore.

I think that as a diverse nation we can find a way to both honor the personal beliefs of each American and recognize with respect the differences we have. Diversity is a hallmark and one of the biggest strengths of our country. To be offended that with that mix comes a need to be generic in public settings feels misplaced. I say Merry Christmas to all my Christian friends today but on other days, I say Happy Hanukkah (Dec 2-10), Happy Zwanzaa (Dec 26-Jan1), and at work, I say, Happy Holidays! If the biggest problem we have is that we have many happy events and celebrations that bring families together and children to smile – then I think we can weather these differences with grace.

May the happiness of today and the spirit that comes with whatever you celebrate carry you through the year!

Much love,

Coordinate – Collaborate – Co-create

The power of our nation lies in our people, not our politicians.

In my last post, I talk about the power of volunteering and how it not only helps others but it has intrinsic personal health benefits as well. It also connects us across communities, systems,beliefs, backgrounds, and circumstances. Everyone has something to gain when we work as a team helping others and helping ourselves because we learn every day,from everyone and everything. The challenge is to incorporate what we learn into what we do next. It requires us to listen, really attend to what those around us are saying and doing and connect their ideas, experiences, and beliefs with ours and others to create synergistic outcomes.

When we expand this idea to the national scale, it can be naturally overwhelming. Partly, there is the fact that the number of people in our country is so high that no single human could possibly incorporate all their ideas. Further, we have a political system that necessarily requires our politicians to acquire and in some cases, maintain votes in order to keep their jobs. It is not surprising then that they spend inordinate amounts of time and money to spread their message and do so in a way that just enough people will vote for them. If they are not provocative, attention wains. Effectiveness is rarely measured and so the cycle continues.

But I would argue there is an opportunity in this chaos to press forward and find a lighted pathway to supporting our nation – even at the highest level of scale. When my daughter was in the hospital for months, I used to say to the doctor – you are an expert in medicine but I am an expert in my child; if we work together, we’ll make far better decisions than if either of us works independently. I believe this is true too for our nation.

I am frequently asked – what is the formula for national-level success? How do we change the narrative in our country from one of animosity to one of, not just co-existence, but of connected readiness – readiness for life, for work, for family, for military, for our adversaries? We have become focused on winners and losers and the collective frustrations that are being vented fuel our energy, provide group-catharsis, but fall short of resulting in positive movement toward our collective goal. Why?

Several reasons come to mind but I believe it boils down to people wanting to feel valued – they want to be heard, supported, and involved. There is oftentimes a mis-assumption that if we listen to or follow one, we must necessarily exclude others but the greatest strength of our nation is our diversity and creativity. It is the very act of disagreement that allows the best answer to rise to the top and it is the gestalt of the system that optimizes that solution.  So what are the steps we need to take to steer this ship in a new direction?

1. Coordinate– we need to define the vision for our country for 20 years from now when our newest citizens will be adults and we need to architect the connections across our people – to include experts in all areas by formal education,informal education, and experience.  When we coordinate our efforts, we have not only power in collective numbers but we have the greatest level of diversity in background, ideas, experiences, and knowledge present.

2. Collaborate– we need to work together to understand how our individual abilities,experiences, and knowledge can complement the work of others. We need to respect and value these individual differences but more importantly, recognize we are part of a team with the ultimate goal of joining our collective capabilities.

3. Co-create– we need to work together to inspire,create, and disseminate ideas. The greatest opportunities for success require both the input of multiple communities to co-create methodologies and interventions but also the sharing of that information with others as a collective – a distributed set of multi-influencers.

When we, as a nation, can clarify a vision for 2040, architect the pathways of information across and between our citizens, work together to capitalize on the brilliance diversity brings, and design solutions together – we will transform our nation from one focused on intra-fighting to one inspired to collective success!

National Volunteering

If I watch the news, I see a never-ending stream of negativity, hyperbole, and political arguing. When I talk to people, I hear how tired they are of all the fighting…and yet, the question inevitably comes, “What can we do about it? Where do we even start?”

I think the American people are fed up – perhaps not everyone – but a large majority have had enough of all the intra-fighting but at the same time just can’t seem to find a foothold of where to start improving.

As a scientist, I look at the goals and then the data and from my perspective, the goal is to improve the overall mental health of the country. If we drill that down, then we start asking how can one create widespread improved mental health across such a diverse population? What are some of the most impactful ways we can improve mental health individually.

As a psychologist, I can name a few key goals that have the biggest impact on individuals. As a strategic psychologist, I think about the large impact tasks that can create significant outcomes across a large number of people – and ones that promote not only personal mental health improvement but also cross-human mental health improvement. When we begin to redefine the goal, we improve our chances of hitting the target.

For many, marching was seen as a great way to bring people together. In a way, it is. It provides energy, activity, a joint experience, and a platform to be heard. Strength in numbers is felt in a moment like that. But through my eyes, I have a few concerns – 1) it creates an us-them situation, 2) it is a great start for creating energy but it is not directive or actionable in and of itself, and 3) commonly, marches are a form of protest – yes, they often too support a movement but at the least, also imply a rejection, reaction, or protest of something else. So the question is – what can we do either in addition or instead?

My recommendation is to think holistically.

In other words, we should consider multiple activities that promote personal, cross-person, cross-community, cross-beliefs AND that also contain directionality (an actionable outcome that supports the nation). Volunteering has been proven to promote mental health, physical health, and happiness while lowering depression, psychological distress, and mortality. Volunteering not only helps the individual serving, it helps the person receiving – but it also helps people connect across communities, age, beliefs, backgrounds, and more. I don’t just believe volunteering is good for the soul – the data says it’s good for the nation.

Now the question is….can we quantify and convert the impact to our country if we more effectively and intentionally promoted volunteering efforts? Can we create a national volunteering strategic plan with the goal of promoting connectivity across diversity? More ideas to consider….

Photo by Perry Grone  rawpixel  Robert Baker  Vlad Tchompalov  Vlad Tchompalov

International Relations

What is the purpose of global relations? What is it that the U.S. is trying to achieve? Are we trying to create a peaceful world? Are we trying to support other nations? Are we trying to protect our financial assets? protect the environment? Resist revisionist regimes?

Well, as I’m sure readers will assume, we are trying to achieve them all. The issue I have is that we often try to achieve them separately. We have one department that deals with political connections and another that deals in humanitarian issues and another that deals in defense and yet another that deals in education. But the best solutions typically involve looking at the gestalt – the whole, over-arching goal, rather than a set of sub-goals. Further, we often make the myopic mistake of assuming we can, and should, operate alone – as a single nation.

If we define ‘mission success’ as keeping our people safe, growing our financial assets, and helping the world interests – to include human and environmental safety, then one of the most important aspects of the leadership within our country is to convey to the world that we are partners in innovation, defense capabilities and strategy, in protecting the environment, and reacting to humanitarian issues. We would have a strategic message that tells the world in word and deed, that we are part of the global team and can be trusted to be involved, supportive, and inclusive.

The best teams create scenarios and opportunities for all entities to operate at their best and the same is true at the international level. When we work together most effectively, all nations are optimally empowered to be self-sufficient, unique in their contributions to the world efforts, and respected and appreciated for the value each of us can provide to the global scene.

But what would this look like in the United States?

It would be a synergistic strategy across our nation that would cross the civilian-military divide and bring us together to act as a cohesive unit. We would optimize our capabilities and financial strategies so that we could also share knowledge with others and in turn, learn from them. Many of our citizens worry that sharing resources, information, or capabilities with others is a one-way or unfair situation. Rather, what we share is returned in many different ways – whether that be through shared defense capabilities, environmental impacts, or technology innovations. I think in some ways, we may be hindered by our lack of world exposure and involvement. With only about 20% of our nation traveling abroad, the size of our nation, and the geographic disconnect we have from others, it is easy to slip into being inward focused. But it can bias us to look only at what we give and undervalue what others share. Moreover, is not a sustainable position economically, defensively, or environmentally.

Rather, a true global partner-nation operates with respect and cooperation in a manner that recognizes our world and the human race as an interconnected planet where we can all learn something from others and where we can also share something for the greater good.

Photo by TK Hammonds on Unsplash Photo by NASA on Unsplash