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Renewing My Commitment to Drive Change without Provoking Defensive Behavior

This morning, I watched a 12-year-old girl tell the world that thanks to Kamala Harris, she now believes that she can grow up to become President. As I watched this and saw the renewed optimism that has been sparked in so many Americans, I felt a new sense of hope for our country. I am celebrating this victory, but I want to keep reminding myself that nearly 50 percent of my fellow Americans desired a different outcome for this election. This is not because I want to curb my optimism. It is because in politics, business, and life, I believe that understanding and collaborating with your adversaries is the key to driving change. 

Inspired by my five-year journey convincing my mother to cross party lines, I recently made the commitment to learn how to better resolve conflicts and drive change without evoking hatred and defensive behavior from the other side. As I watched the results of our election decided by a nearly 70 percent voter turnout rate, it became increasingly clear that our country was even more divided than I realized and that this commitment would be more important than ever. Sadly, I failed miserably at upholding my commitment. 

As we waited for election results, I started getting down-with-Trump texts from my friends with language that would clearly provoke defensive behavior from the other side. Each time, I was either too afraid or too tired to do anything but reply with a smiley face. The more certain I became that Biden would win, the more my desire to understand and reach out to the other side waned. I’ve had hundreds of na-nana-boo-boo thoughts. I’ve done nothing to extend an olive branch to the people in my life who are upset with the election outcome. 

It’s time to get back on the horse. I’d like to publicly renew my commitment and pledge to do the following: 

Remember the lessons this election taught me. I’ve put a reminder in my calendar to read the lessons I learned from this election at the start of each quarter. 

Make space for diverse viewpoints. I think I and many others in our industry often assume that everyone in our startup community leans Democratic. As we’ve seen from this election, it is nearly statistically impossible for that to be true. I am going to try to remember that every time I speak to our startup community and do my best to invite all opinions to be heard. 

Invite open conversations with my adversaries. I am going to invite uncomfortable conversations and do my best to reject the idea that dinner table political discussions among adversaries are taboo. 

Curb my self-righteousness. I am going to do my best to stay humble, open, and curious. 

State and restate my commitment. Scariest of all, I am going to respond to every polarizing message I receive with the simple statement: “I have made a commitment to avoid anything that is likely to provoke defensive behavior from the other side, so I am going to decline to comment.”

In the words of our new president, “We may be opponents, but we are not enemies.” I am going to try my best to remember that. 

Thank you for keeping me honest.

Listen of the Week: SuperSoul Conversations | Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela explains what he believes it takes to be a peacemaker and why he believes humility is one of the most important qualities to have. He shares that he was able to negotiate an end to apartheid because his imprisonment gave him the opportunity to study his oppressors for 27 years.

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