Is silence an option?
In 1990 I was a young man. I was touring Europe. One of the stops in that journey was Mauthausen in Austria. The WWII concentration camp in that town shocked me into a reality that changed me for life. The awareness of how people were marched to the pinnacle of a rock quarry and then pushed off, how people were treated while alive, the ovens, and significantly, disturbing questions. What would I have done during such a time? Would I have stood for humanity? If I could not stand tall in the face of small injustices, could I stand tall in the face of horrific ones? What kind of a backbone did I have — the kind of question that is a semi-obsession for many young men; what kind of a man am I?; what kind of a man do I want to be?
Life is not all cheese and wine. There are ups and downs. There is unbelievable beauty, and unimaginable horror.
These questions combined with my idealistic nature, some cultural cringes, and family experiences, may lead to me over-reacting, by some judgments, to things others see as trivial and unimportant. However, I do view every human as the voice of the universe, and therefore, a voice that should be used and heard. How and when to use that voice, is perhaps the tricky issue.
As I have written, one of the more interesting controversies in 2020 was the article penned by Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, where he outlined his intent to focus Coinbase on the business mission, and not broader social missions. There is both a human and business dimension to this debate.
Previously I have said that I am much more comfortable in an environment where politics, especially partisan politics, is not injected into the work environment. Either explicitly or implicitly. Once again, my idealism. Humans being human, they like to socialize about the issues important to them. They also like to be surrounded by people who are like them. However, I have seen boundaries crossed in ways I view as concerning.
In general, I don’t feel that people should spend a great deal of energy and time injecting politics into the work environment. Talented people want environments where they can do something great, that is their main interest. If the focus of a company detours too much from that, talented people will walk. Business, by its nature, is a facilitator of voluntary transactions, often having beneficial results for all of society; externalities notwithstanding. That’s a big deal, just by itself.
However, if someone has a following, has a voice that people listen to, then I do feel they should use that voice outside of work contexts to move the ball forward. Traditionally it was considered risky for CEOs and other executives to do this. Upside was small, downside was large. In today’s world, that calculus may be flipped. Any writing must still be done with care, inspiring more often than inflaming.
As a registered independent, I would further assert that people have an obligation to speak holistically, and not just amplify partisan bile. Clearly not everyone agrees. The majority of social media comments on social/political issues are interpreted by me, through again, an idealistic lens, as being partisan, and to some extent not constructive. This is true regardless of whether the comments are from Democrats or Republicans. I hesitate to say liberals or conservatives, because I remain hopeful that liberals and conservatives retain some values-based framing for their beliefs.
When we don’t speak holistically, objectively, and in a non-partisan way, we pave the way for horrors. When we speak is partisan ways, we accelerate our journey towards horrors. Team sports can be fun. American politics no longer is; a big change from when I first came to America.
In the light of horrors we have seen in America, in both 2020 and 2021, perpetrated by Democrats and Republicans, in words and actions, I call upon all people, to put down their my team vs your team mindset, focus on the issues, and point the finger of judgment, experience, learning, and change, across the entire political spectrum, across all parties; because all parties have contributed to where we are.
This is a time to speak out. It is a time to say enough is enough. The rise of independent voters should have been signal enough. The violence in America over the last year should be signal enough. Unfortunately, the partisan responses continue, and as a result, the role for independents is more important than ever. If you are an independent, or if you are simply horrified with the direction American is “trending” in, then it is time to use your voice. You have an obligation to speak. I first learned that in 1990. Nothing has changed since then. I didn’t need the sight of a “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt in the nation’s capital to be reminded off that, but it certainly didn’t hurt.