Byron's Babbles

Eliminating Disdain & Maintaining Respect

In the leadership development work I do we always all agree that relationships are the key to everything. And, they really are. Healthy and respectful working relationships are a must if you want an effective and enjoyable workplace, organization, community, or even world. One cornerstone to healthy relationship building is intellectual humility. When practicing intellectual humility, we open our minds to learning. With intellectual humility we become wiser. It is really about realizing that we can learn from opposing views and have more constructive discussions, even when we disagree. Practicing intellectual humility allows us to be less judgmental of others.

This has actually been a topic of my blog posts many times before. I began thinking about virtue signaling, which I first blogged about in Leading Without “Virtue Signaling.” Then, this morning, when reading in Amor Towles’ incredible book The Lincoln Highway, I came across this statement about Emmett Watson, an 18-year-old Nebraskan farm kid just released from a Kansas juvenile detention center after serving 15 months for involuntary manslaughter: “Emmett was raised to hold no man in disdain. To hold another man in disdain, his father said, would presume you knew so much about his lot, so much about his intentions, about his actions, both public and private, that you could rank his character against your own without fear of misjudgment.” That’s a pretty powerful statement, don’t you think? By not judging, virtue signaling, or holding others in disdain we enable a community that values learning and where learning happens when what is not known or understood is acknowledged.

We must model this humility by admitting when we do not know or understand something. Modeling also involves recognizing the value in opinions that are different from our own. In the face of conflicting evidence, we need to be open to changing our opinions. The disdain and contempt described by Emmett’s father destroys teams, communities, and relationships. It prevents trust and respect and makes it hard for any real human warmth. It is tangibly damaging, causes stress and can harm people emotionally, mentally and ultimately physically.

Finally, I am reminded of what Carlo Strenger said: The difference between civilized disdain and political correctness is that the former allows one to feel disdain for a person’s or group’s views or beliefs while maintaining respect for the human beings that hold them.” There will be gaps in knowledge, ideological divides, differences of opinion, and cultural differences, but we must strive for fruitful cooperation and shared learning to be effective world citizens.

Every Voice

Posted in Discourse, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Ideas, Leadership, Leadership Development, Listen, Listening by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 29, 2021

I must say I am pretty impressed with the newest FBI show “FBI International.” The characters and character profiles did it for me. I was particularly drawn to the team leader, Scott Forrester played by Luke Kleintank. It was explicit in the shows script that he had picked an elite team with every person being selected for a reason and their specific strengths and skills. That got my attention – the writers want us to see him as an outstanding leader. Then, two lines in the episode I watched last night really jumped out at me and were reminders of great leader traits.

The first was early in the show after a team member had given a dissenting viewpoint to Forrester, which led to some discourse, and Forrester giving his reason for disagreeing. The dissenting team member was new and wasn’t sure how to feel about the interaction. Another member of the team pulled her aside and told her that Forrester was the type of leader that valued the team and wanted “every voice in his ear.” He wanted and needed to hear from everyone. Every voice on the team mattered. Every dissenting view mattered. Forrester was not worried about being right, he was worried about getting to right. So many poor leaders want to look smart and don’t want to hear views contrary to their own. Forrester reminded us we need every voice in our ear. BTW: it turned out the team member was right and he was wrong – so glad they wrote it that way!

In another scene, another team member brought Forrester an idea that might be a long shot to pursue. Forrester said, and I love this, “Take that wherever it goes.” Is that not just the coolest response ever? He had just given the team member full empowerment. It no longer mattered if it was a wild idea or not. The team member could fully invest. Giving team members this kind of freedom, without risking ridicule or reprisal, frees them to consider ideas and approaches that might otherwise go unexplored.

Great leaders encourage and development the ability to scrounge, forage, and rummage for ideas. We must learn to search everywhere for available ideas. Are you letting your team members follow their ideas? Or, are you letting their voices in your ear?

Declaring Beliefs & Attitudes

Posted in Civilized Disdain, core values, Democracy, Discourse, Global Leadership, Leadership, President’s Day by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on February 17, 2020

John F. Kennedy was President on the day I was born

Trying to make sense out of political trends or political culture is very tricky at best. We see trends over time, but they are not always absolute. I’m not sure there is any longer a “typical American.” There are many indicators that become tendencies, but there are probably more exceptions. The bottom line is that there are many factors that influence Americans when they cast their secret ballot. I’ve been reflecting on this on this 2020 President’s Day.

Family certainly plays a role. Think about the Kennedy’s who were staunch Democrats. Think about the Bush’s who are die hard Republicans. When I look at my own son’s political views, he certainly has not fallen far from the proverbial tree. But, you can look at other families where the children go to the complete other side of political views. One only needs to study President Ronald Reagan’s children. We do know, however, from research that parental beliefs do have great influence on children’s political beliefs.

One thing is for sure, Americans have a great deal of political power. More than most realize. As Joe Biden always says, “All politics are personal.” Therefore, since it is personal and a conversation, then every American has a voice. First of all, and most importantly, everyone needs to vote. Voting is the most fundamental form of civic engagement in a democracy. Voting is an expression of your beliefs and also has consequences based on choices.

Machiavelli taught us to “declare.” I have always practiced this – there is never a mistake where I stand on something. Others just tell others what they want to here. Beliefs are those closely held ideas that support our values and expectations about life and politics. Our attitudes are affected by our personal beliefs and represent the preferences we form based on our life experiences and values.

In a democracy we have an obligation to “declare” these beliefs and attitudes. At the same time, however, it is important to respect those with differing opinions. I did not say agree with, I said respect. I have blogged about this in Civilized Disdain Vs. Political Correctness, What Can We Create Together, and Typical Discourse. Our beliefs and attitudes over time become a set of norms and core values that solidify our political and societal views. This in turn forms how we believe should happen in our society or what the government should do in a particular situation. Remember, your views are important and valued.

Typical Discourse

Posted in Civilized Disdain, Discourse, Educational Leadership, Global Leadership, Leadership, NASBE, Typical Discourse by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on October 19, 2019

IMG_7106Earlier this week during our National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) Board of Directors meeting a comment was made during a discussion about our Public Education Position report about “typical discourse”. The comment was that we did not practice typical discourse any more. This got me thinking about what was “typical discourse”, anyway? I guess I see typical discourse as having vigorous debate about what to do with challenges and opportunities. This vigorous, honest, and transparent debate must involve all stakeholders, different political parties, and the entire political spectrum.

So, we have a complicated challenge on so many fronts. These fronts include education reform, equity issues, workforce, economy, and real human suffering just to name a few. This amounts to desperate need for a vigorous debate and our best thinking. Instead, it seems we have become a society of character assassination. In many cases we have become trivial, oriented toward turf protection, and despicable. This reminds me of what I believe the Ancient Greeks called an “ad hominem” attack. With this attack, the opponent attacks us personally, changes the subject, and uses “virtue signaling”. I blogged about virtue signaling in Leading Without “Virtue Signaling”.

Bottom line: we have strayed from civilized disdain and discourse and safe disagreement. I blogged about these in Safe Disagreement and Civilized Disdain Vs. Political Correctness. We need to find a way to turn discourse back to something substantial. Let’s work together to get to useful dialogue.