Over the last few weeks, I have been reading a wonderful book called "The Boys in the Boat." It's the story of the eight-man U.S. rowing team in 1936. It is a marvelously inspiring story of a group of young men who overcame huge obstacles to win the gold medal in the Berlin Olympics.
What makes this book such a great read is not just the amazing stories of the individual rowers, or the fact that they won the gold medal. It is a must read because of the valuable lesson it teaches. It offers the key to success for any group, whether your "team" is a sports team, a business or a country.
So what does this book say the "key" is? Let me quote the author as he gives his readers a peak at the secret of this very successful team. "The challenges they had faced together had taught them humility -- the need to subsume their individual egos for the sake of the boat as a whole -- and humility was the common gateway through which they were able now to come together and begin to do what they had not been able to do before."
To say "teamwork" would have fallen short. The author suggests that there is a critical step before any group can experience a great sense of "team." So when will our politicians and citizens learn this vital lesson? It is not like we haven't had great examples from the past.
At our constitutional convention we assembled 55 of the country's elite thinkers who battled tooth and nail primarily over the rights of the states vs. the powers of the federal government. Each side had to compromise, which I'm sure required humility for these deep thinkers, to develop possibly the most important document in human history -- the United States Constitution.
Before World War II, there was real division within our country about whether we should get entangled in a European war. But after Pearl Harbor, the country came together and changed the course of history. Americans by the millions put the country first and their personal safety second. If this is not the definition of humility, I don't know what is.
Finally, after 9/11 we came together like never before, at least since 1974 when Gallup started measuring government approval ratings. People were giving money at historic levels and we were united as a nation as we began to put country first in our effort to rebuild and seek justice.
So why do we, as a country, continue to fall back into our selfish and divided mindsets between these critical events. I would suggest it is our politicians who encourage this, because they feel it is good for them.
You've probably heard that negative advertising works, and it does, but it works in several ways. It helps some politicians get elected, but it also divides the country and creates an atmosphere of dysfunction in Washington.
As our politicians try to demonize their opponents, they also demonize anyone who supports them. When you accuse people of "wanting dirty air and water" or wanting to "throw granny off the cliff," these claims are absurd but effective.
First, it causes ordinary citizens to hate entire clusters of people simply because they identify with a specific group, like Republican or Democrat or conservative or liberal. It pits people against each other. This is a far cry from the example set by the boys in the boat. They would have done anything, paid any price and suffered any discomfort to help each other. Our current negativity is symptomatic of the exact opposite. It says, "I am more important than the well-being of our country."
Next, all of this negativity makes cooperation extremely unlikely. How do you negotiate with or work with someone on Monday when that person has accused you of being a liar or a murderer on Friday. Our congressmen and women are humans and will react as such to inaccurate and hyperbolic rhetoric. Until we have robots in the House and Senate, dysfunction will be the result of this continued vilification of opposing points of view.
So what can you do? First, don't let politicians drag you down in the muck. Recognize that we are all Americans and want what's best for this great country. Put your country first and give your fellow countrymen the benefit of the doubt. Second, when you hear the blatant negativity, no matter what side it comes from, recognize it for what it is, and vote against whoever is spewing it.
Negativity needs to be term limited, and until we have a constitutional amendment to accomplish this, we need to limit our politicians through our votes.
KEVIN CANFIELD OF SPRINGDALE IS AUTHOR OF "MASTERING SALES." HE ALSO BLOGS AT KEVINCANFIELD.BLOGSPOT.COM.Commentary on 08/03/2014
Print Headline: Negativity In Politics Knows No Limits