by Nedra Chandler (approx 5 min read)
Photo shows a current example of trusting work relationships between tribal, federal and city government leaders at Fort Peck. This core group decided to collaborate — without over-reaching or burning out — on some redevelopment of Poplar properties. The practical choices they are making as they trust, show respect and engage with one another is making a difference.
I feel like I’m part of an anxious herd of humans right now. How are you all doing?
One thing I’m feeling in myself and sensing in others must be related to how topsy turvy our public life has been in this country since the November election.
No matter how you voted I’ll bet you share the sense that we’re collectively experiencing quite a bit of mutual mistrust in our government. Except for the few who seem to not want government to work at all, if you’re reading here you know government is us. Still, this current scene has an emergency feel, urgent, with extra drama. I’m aware that it’s a choice to view it that way, or some other way.
I write and work within this theme: trust in self and trust in government share the same root. Trust in self; trust in others; and trust in the flexible-yet- principled institutions of democratic governance are all the same element at root.
This past election brought us a significant change in the leadership in the White House and in Congress and in many states, yet it is the continuation of a long trend.
It reminds me of wise observations I heard Kettering Foundation president David Mathews deliver in a speech a few years ago:
It is no secret that the American people have been unhappy with our political system for some time, and they doubt that the system can reform itself. The public’s loss of confidence in government as well as other major institutions is well documented and widely reported. Worse still, the distrust is mutual. Under these conditions, polarization flourishes.
Here’s a little story about this week. I live in Helena where many thousands of people are coming over this Saturday, January 21, inauguration day, getting together at the Capitol. I understand the event will begin with holding hands in a circle around the entire building and grounds.
“We hope to bring people together after such a divisive election,” says one of the event organizers, “the hope is that all will agree that everyone deserves to be treated equally and with respect despite their gender, gender expression, ethnicity, religion, sexual identity, economic status, immigration status, age, or disability.”
What a great reason to meet: to bring people together, to focus on what connects us. That’s the part I look forward to most: the circle, seeing and showing respect for one another.
I’ll be with a larger than usual crew of family and friends because January 21 is also my birthday and my home is just a 5-block walk from the Capitol building.
I’ll need to confront and manage my excitement to get together right alongside my fear around showing up at the Capitol on Saturday at all.
In the interest of talking myself out of my own tree, here are some things that help me steady myself day-to-day in my life and work, and for Saturday:
- One key that underlies conflict prevention is for us each to know ourselves and manage ourselves. We can rest on that and carefully choose actions that in line with our own integrity. Practice pausing and take at least one long breath before responding to drama.
- Remember we are resourceful and we get to choose our responses. Things go better for everyone when we each know our values, beliefs and behavior strengths and are not afraid to use them.
- We are all better off too when we pay attention to the strengths and capacities of others, together. In this way we develop ourselves at the exact same time we are contributing to the development of others. That’s a swell deal.
- This managing of ourselves, trusting and respecting ourselves and others in our still-precious yet messy democratic system is all a dynamic process, It requires commitment to keep practicing all that as we change, and conditions change.
How much am I projecting my unique fears on others? Here’s a unique fear I have: as one side effect of the unusual way I make my living for the past 25+ years, I don’t have experience as an attender of marches. Almost zero. I wonder how best to manage myself, how best to remain present and not be a killjoy.
For another source of personal angst, I also fear judgement will rain down on me whether I go or don’t go. I’m worried I will judge and be judged at the march somehow. Maybe for not being correct enough or for not knowing exactly how to be there. And I can be the worst judger who judges judgers for being judgmental you’ve ever met!
When I hear me, my friends, family or acquaintances be overly-focused on judging everything that’s wrong,wrong, wrong with everything and how our species and this beautiful planet is doomed it pushes all my survival buttons. Especially if I am not well-rested when I hear it. Those darned judgers! I judge em harshly! Because I believe, like the Poplar crowd said, we’re all one anyway.
Fortunately for everyone who lives or works with me, I get professional coaching to help me manage me when I get in the grip of (righteously) judging this or that righteous judger here or there or everywhere. Still makes me crazy. But I recover faster now. And p.s. to my clients who read me, please don’t hold this confession against me. When I am under contract to be calm and fair I do that well, remember?
On Saturday, no one is paying me to be there. So if I perceive one-too-many ugly signs or expressions of outraged righteousness on the left or right, it’s possible my geeky “I love government of, for and by the people” heart will get all jumpy and resistant and judgmental and I’ll need to excuse myself and walk home early.
Back to democracy and these themes of how trust in self and trust in government are essentially the same. That trust in self and others and trust in the flexible-yet-principled institutions of democratic governance share the same root.
The fact that our system has fallible humans and special interests in it is a big part of why Thomas Jefferson and government system designers since his time know and acknowledge: democracy is an ongoing experiment. As we are alive, it’s alive, shifting and changing with the influence and participation of each individual and the whole.
One reason I’m a process geek is this: good process results in good outcomes. Unfair, unethical process results in predictably crappy outcomes. I saw that at my first real job after college working on campaign finance and model ethics legislation, I saw it even more in conflict management work, and I see it today.
When I hear President-Elect Trump is “not my president” and similar expressions, I want to ask, is there some other government waiting in the wings to step in for us this month? Seems to me only the super duper scary kind could be ready that fast — the type where people might need to be on the watch or the run from paramilitary forces acting as government, police and military all-in-one.
On more promising trains of thought, here’s the link to the remarkable 46-minute Martin Luther King speech from 1968 called Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution my friend sent us on Monday. My favorite part is where King said:
“We are challenged to develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution.”
“We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
Everything King said at the front end of that speech in 1968 perfectly underscored this modern, right-now imperative: reverse the decline of trust by fostering it in ourselves, our communities and government.
Even in the middle of what seems to be more of a polarizing trend we can look at it and find what connects us.
Thanks for reading. This got long. And I’m calmer for having expressed my current perspective. And my perspective may change, but the belief and value underneath, about how trust in self and others is the same darned thing, this is a big thing to me.
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A bit about me: I work with government clients and their partners as a professional coach or third party facilitator in navigating conflict, change and learning opportunities of all kinds. Find me at https://www.cadenceinc.us and more of my long-time work mates at http://www.triangleassociates.com.
Some of my past posts on trust and trust in government: trust is possible to operationalize and practice. Commitment trust, for one example, is especially practical in personal and workplace settings. See my friend Faith Ralston’s work on that topic here. also more on trust in government.