It’s been fascinating, particularly lately, watching how Americans react to legislation and policies enacted on behalf of groups who want to protect their right to not be bothered, insulted, ridiculed or otherwise treated poorly.
We want the right to deny service to someone if we don’t agree with their life choices. We want the right to demand services from people even if it makes them uncomfortable. We want the right to keep someone out of a public restroom if we don’t trust them. We demand the right to share public restrooms with people even if it makes them uncomfortable. We want to deny people the right to say or write bad things about us. And we want the right to say or write anything we want about those we don’t like.
It seems to me, at the end of the day, we’re fighting for the right to be treated with kindness, dignity and respect, but only if it’s not mandated that we must do the same for others.
Just today I read an article that was going viral on social media. A gentleman was making a case that certain legislation was necessary because he and people like himself were being ridiculed for their life choices. He was absolutely right that the way he and others had been treated was horrible. What he was really wanting was kindness, and he deserves it, as we all do. The problem is no government or business can mandate kindness, short of rescinding most of our human rights.
To make the idea of a kindness mandate more absurd, many people are responding to one group or another’s unkind words and actions with hate mail and death threats. Just read the comments section at the end of most online news articles today. And even more absurd still, who are we demanding mandates for kind behavior from? Politicians! Not exactly known as beacons of dignity and respect (though I know many who are).
Friends, character cannot be mandated, but it can be taught. But it is taught by modeling it for others. In fact, the only way cultures of dignity, kindness and respect are going to be cultivated around us is if leaders model it for others.
If we expect to be treated with dignity, kindness and respect in our culture, here are some things we must NOT do:
We must not refuse to serve people just because we disagree with them. Why? Because that’s unkind.
We must not demand that people serve us if it makes them uncomfortable. Why? Because that’s unkind too.
We must not write slanderous or condescending things about people on the Internet. Why? Because that’s unkind.
We must not demand that people give in to our every whim for convenience, in the name of defending our rights. Why? Because that would be unkind.
We must not boycott or picket places that don’t share our values. Why? Because it’s unkind.
We must not respond to cruelty with cruelty, insult with insult. Guess why.
If you’re doing those things, thankfully you still have every right to. But the truth is, you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, regardless of your religion, race, or orientation.
I’m not saying we should not stand up for our rights. I am saying we don’t need to hurt others or sacrifice character to do it. Remember, leaders create culture. So if we want to create a culture of dignity, kindness and respect, we’re first going to have to learn to turn the other cheek, repaying rudeness with kindness. There are always going to be cruel people on the Internet, in public restrooms, and in picket lines. Just don’t be one of them. Let’s be leaders who are kinder than that. Let’s stop demanding character from people who don’t have it to give. Just demonstrate character every day, and eventually we’ll find it drawn to us.
Jay Pullins is the founder and owner of Anchorage-based Catapult Leadership Solutions, providing expertise in developing the character and competency of leaders in all sectors. He is also a leadership course facilitator for Academy Leadership, LLC.