Land of the free


The internet is blowing up with Colin Kaepernick’s recent decision to remain seated during the playing of the national anthem.

What a jerk, people say. If he doesn’t like it here, he should leave, they say.

Well, my friends, that same flag you’re protecting—and the Constitution it represents—gives him the right to show his displeasure. Just as it gives you the right to protest his behavior.

I’m not saying I agree with his decision. In fact, I was sad to see it. I’ve always stood for The Star Spangled Banner, even though there are many things going on in this country that break the heart my hand is covering. Still, if I would choose to sit in quiet protest, I have a right to do that.

Both my grandfathers and my father fought for this country. They didn’t just serve, they fought. With guns and grenades and bombs. They placed themselves in mortal danger and were even wounded doing so, and I love them all the more for it. And yes, I hope all our citizens respect that kind of service and honor their commitment to perpetuating the liberties we all enjoy.

Including the liberty to express one’s opinion.

Like Colin Kaepernick.

Think about it, folks. This country was founded on the right to speak out. In fact, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights (the first amendment of which is the one we’re discussing here) represent a fundamental protest against government. Our freedom of speech exists today because a bunch of powdered-haired (white) dudes went rogue and told their rulers they didn’t like what was going on.

It’s not important whether you agree with CK. It’s not important whether he’s right or wrong or whether you think he is. What IS important is that, like it or not, our founding fathers and every soldier who followed fought for this guy’s right to sit down during the national anthem.

If we tell this guy he can’t express himself, what are people going to be able to tell YOU you can’t do or say?

Which means you can continue to protest, just like he can continue to sit. The same First Amendment supports you both. Think about it.

New clothes

new clothesAs I kid, I remember reading the story The Emperor’s New Clothes. If you don’t remember it–or even if you do–it’s worth clicking the link for a refresher. I always got a giggle from the tale as a kid, but lately I’ve been consumed by its wisdom.

Tricked by a couple of shrewd schemers, the vain emperor parades around naked, believing he is garbed in clothing so fine that only the wise and enlightened can see it. Afraid of being deemed stupid, his subjects shower him with cheers and compliments, and the farce continues.

That is, it continues until a child, uninhibited by pretext and social expectation, speaks the truth. The very plain, very apparent truth.

How often have I been in situations where people have been afraid to speak up for fear of looking stupid?

How often have I been one of those people?

It saddens me to think how much time has been squandered talking around an issue because everyone thought he was the only one who couldn’t see it. That feeling is unsettling; it erodes confidence and undermines productivity. Those things eat away at a person.

As I think about the people I respect the most, I realize they share a common trait. They have the eyes of a Hans Christian Andersen’s fabled child, who could only see things as his eyes showed them to him. They’re not afraid to call it like they see it, even if that strains against convention. They’re not afraid to ask questions to help them see something better. And they’re not afraid to speak up about it.

Be that child.

If you see someone running around naked, tell him it’s time to get new clothes.

Up the ladder

up the ladderIn my day job, all employees have to complete periodic legal compliance training. Once a quarter, I have to watch 2 or 3 online videos about selected topics relevant to the workplace and then pass a quiz on each one. It’s not really a big deal (though I do hear a lot of grousing when the reminders come out), and usually I just do them and move on.

Yesterday was the day I dug into this quarter’s modules. (Yeah, the deadline is Friday.) Partway through the first module, something caught my attention. I backtracked a few frames to make sure I had it right.

Sure enough, what I had noticed was this: the first recommended course of action when faced with this particular problem was to approach the offender and present your case reasonably and professionally. It said:

You CAN speak up and tell someone that something they are doing or saying makes you uncomfortable. It demonstrates leadership and can make all the difference in the world.

Hallelujah! A voice of reason and responsibility. I wholeheartedly support reporting procedures, and they should always be followed according to the prescribed protocol. However, the first step in any conflict should be to bring it to the attention of the person involved. Tell her you don’t like it, it makes you uncomfortable, you find it offensive, you think it’s wrong, whatever. Give the person a chance to respond; perhaps you can work out the issue right then and there.

So often these days, I feel as if the immediate reaction of many is to move directly to what I believe should be the SECOND step of the process: tell the next person up the ladder. And often that next person fails to ask the follow-up questions, “Have you talked to this person directly? Have you tried to work it out?” Certainly, the up-the-ladder process exists for a reason, but that reason is to give people redress when the last step didn’t solve the issue. We can’t jump into the middle of the process without trying the simplest, most reasonable course(s) of action first.

And I especially loved the part that stated, It demonstrates leadership. Darned straight. It says a lot about a person who is willing not only to stand up for herself, but also to (try to) handle an issue directly rather than simply handing it off to someone else.

I know there are exceptions to every rule and that occasionally, the direct approach just won’t work. I get that. But we must at least ask the question, What can I do to help this situation and then evaluate the options before pushing it up the ladder. Start on the ground floor, not the first rung.

P.S. We don’t let our kids do this; why should we?

Ask yourself

ask yourselfA wonderful thing happened in a meeting I attended last night. Someone asked a question. It wasn’t just any question either; this man admitted that he didn’t understand an issue and asked for it to be explained.

If that doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, consider this. The last time you were in a group setting and didn’t completely get it, did YOU do that? Or did you assume everyone else was on board and you didn’t want to look silly? Did you speak up and say Time out! Can we go over that again? Or did you text a trusted colleague and ask What is he talking about? Did you say This doesn’t completely make sense to me. Where did I get off track? Or did you sit quietly and make plans to do some homework after the meeting?

I know what I normally do.

The funny thing is, when the man at my meeting spoke up, “looking silly” didn’t even cross my mind. My first thought was that I was really glad he asked, because I didn’t completely understand the issue either. My next thought was that he either had a lot of guts or he was really, really comfortable with himself. Either way, I admired him for it.

And you’ll never believe what happened after that. Someone else asked a question. That lead to a really good discussion, which led to a more thorough understanding of the issue all around–and a much better final decision. I learned more in that meeting than in any of its predecessors.

All it took was one question. Don’t be afraid to ask.