We live in a world filled with differing and often very divergent opinions. This is as they say “what makes the world go round”. When taken as a whole, these varied views of life can offer us a buffet of choices, a myriad of options and even a plethora of vistas from which to view and experience life. However, if such diversity of opinion or difference in viewpoints is limited or becomes a standard by which we judge, incriminate, and dismiss, we have lost the very gift that separates us from other forms of life in this world we call home. We lose the opportunity to THINK, DISCUSS, celebrate the texture we call life, and LEARN from the journey of others. We lose the ability to HOPE for better days, seek better opportunities, and create more innovative ways of doing things.
We find ourselves at a time in history where we have more information available than ever before. We have a buffet of choices with limitless options for discovery and debate. We can vote with our wallets, approve with the click of a button, or reject with the change of a channel. And yet, with so much at stake we find ourselves increasingly shackled by those who would limit this choice, dismiss the dialogue or simply control the possibilities. Under the guise of political correctness or moral high ground, we are increasingly being told to limit debate, control the message, or dismiss the messenger. Seeking more is greed and innovation is arrogance. And with any challenge to this position comes a blanket indictment of “ignorance” or “naivety”.
It was on a business trip to China I saw first hand the limiting affects such controlled debate has on the power to innovate, create and expand the possibilities. I had been invited to spend three days with a group of highly skilled managers, responsible for building their business in their respective regions. I started the event out with a challenge to elevate their thinking. I encouraged them to open the discussion and dialogue by thinking more broadly about the cause and effect of certain economic conditions. I encouraged them to challenge conventional thinking, discuss what we can learn from the past, and work to align with others in the room to build a better future.
Surprisingly, as our discussion shifted to the marketplace and how we can become more competitive, build our businesses and go to the next level, one participant began to speak out consistently. She challenged the concept of profit making, wealth creation, and spoke of corporate governance as a duty best managed by governments and politicians. Her comments, while welcomed in the spirit of adding to a dialogue, tended to be naturally off topic, consistently gravitating toward political banter and full of venom for certain politicians and political parties. Other contributions she often dismissed as “ignorant,” “naïve” or “stupid”. Little rationale was offered for her position but contrary challenges were quickly dismissed and labeled as “right wing” or wrong. Truly surprised by this shift, I pressed forward using only economic principles and laws as the foundation for discussion. Time and again, when she discovered that the economic principles did not support her agenda, she aimed her comments at the person rather than the principle. The room quieted, the discussion became more muted and the three days felt like a single item menu than a buffet.
Lost was the opportunity to seek a better understanding of how the markets work. Mired in the dogma of one way of thinking, true innovation was limited, and the final result was an email condemning every person who sees the world through a different lens. She went so far as to suggest, “I find it difficult to credit that any follower (referring to those who think differently than she does) can actually read or think past a third-grade level.” The attack on the person rather than the principle is tragically characteristic of those who cannot embrace the full thinking process or simply prefer to be told what to do. Such a response from someone culturally encouraged only to think one way or to limit dialogue might be understood or excused. But that was not the case. For this woman did not come from the host country. She did not come from nor represent a nation with a history of limiting debate, quashing hope and controlling possibilities. She was one of us, the product of a market economy. She came from the breadbasket of America. She was the beneficiary of all the wealth created by market systems. She was a product of U.S. schools and a recipient of free market opportunities. Yet somewhere along the way, she had been told that HOPE can only be achieved by giving up choice and limiting debate.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Hope comes from knowing what is TRUE, seeking what is POSSIBLE, discussing and debating what is OPTIMAL, and celebrating what is ACHIEVABLE.
In a world where hope is left on the doorstep of political correctness, and dogmatic criticism, we must now more than ever stand up for a more vibrant debate, a more innovative discussion, and more thoughtful action. The deep deficits, decline in output, and suffocating debt we are witnessing around the globe can only be remedied with better ideas, more innovation and increased engagement. Anything or anyone that limits that process, fights the very HOPE we seek and eliminates the possibility that we can navigate our way out of the problems we face.
August 26, 2010