Reflections on Action
IF YOU WANT LOVE, BE LOVE. IF YOU WANT PEACE, BE PEACE. – Coldplay
Yesterday, we remembered the members of our armed forces who gave their lives in service of this country, all while continuing to grieve the senseless killings of innocent people in Buffalo, NY, and Uvalde, TX. On this particular Memorial Day, in light of these tragic events and our continued inability to doing anything about them, I struggled to feel proud of the country I had immigrated to as an 8-year-old boy. And over the past week, I have ridden a wave of emotions – sadness, fear, anger, shame, and confusion. But most of all, I have felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness. As if there were nothing I could do to make a difference. I’ve written about the phenomenon of helplessness in times of crisis before. But this time has felt different. I have felt a level of despair unlike any I have previously experienced. It is as if I am facing the full weight of the entirety of the issues we are wrestling with as a country all at once. And not knowing what to do about it. It has been a week of intense learning and growth. I offer the following reflections in the hope that they are helpful to you.
First, the questions you ask can change your life, and perhaps change the world. It was easy for me to be outraged at the news of innocent people being killed as they shopped and attended school. Easy to complain about the situation. Indeed, I kept asking myself, Why aren’t we doing something about this? It’s a natural question, but it’s powerless. It doesn’t generate access to action. On the day after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in which nineteen children and two adults were killed, I went for a run to clear my head. About mid-way through the run, I began to ask a very different question: What would I do if I were 100% responsible for ending mass shootings in this country? This is a radical question, for it is rarely true that one is fully responsible for anything. But when I ask that powerful question, not as an assertion of truth, but as a stand to take in the world, a whole new set of actions appear as available. Performance in any area of life is about expanding the action set available to you. For me, dozens of potential actions emerged. There were crazy ones like running for Congress and simple ones like writing my next weekly email about this very topic, as I’m doing right now. There were ambitious ones like getting 50 CEOs to sign a demand to the 50 U.S. Senators who have refused to sign the background check bill approved by the House last year. The question of 100% responsibility awoke me from the anesthetized state of frustration I found myself in, and powerfully shifted me into the domain of action. This is where performance happens. And this is the power of asking the right question.
Second, while Shakespeare suggested that revenge is a dish best served cold, action is best served hot, but not too hot. The time to act is when you’re in a heightened emotional state. When emotions subside, the gravitational pull towards inaction is often too strong to counter, no matter how committed you are. It is why we find ourselves always wondering why we’re not doing enough. As I sat with my own emotions, I realized I needed to move quickly into action. I had seen this movie before. Anger, outrage, intention, commitment, and then… nothing. This time, I moved quickly into the question above and into action. But I moved too quickly. I was too hot. I spent an entire day working on the 50 CEOs initiative described above, only to realize that, while well-intentioned, the world has seen too many New York Times full-page letters signed by politicians or business leaders. It didn’t need another one.
Third, even if the world needed a demand from 50 CEOs, the best actions come from those best suited to taking them. And I wasn’t best suited to make this particular initiative happen. Instead, I began to focus on the actions that I am most capable of taking. Actions don’t need to be big. Oftentimes, they are small. But they are actions, nonetheless. And it’s usually best to take the first one. Mine was to make a public post about the issue calling on all business leaders to take a stand for sensible gun control. Once you’ve taken one action, the next one usually follows rather easily. My next action was to invite California Senator Dianne Feinstein to our offices for a conversation with CEOs on the issue (I am awaiting their response). The Trium Group, where I serve as CEO, will also be offering executive coaching pro bono to the leader of a non-partisan group focused on gun control (we are working on this right now). And, of course, I decided to write the post you are reading right now. Will any of these actions solve the issue? Not likely. But it is the sum total of millions of actions – small and large – taken by millions of people that will change our current situation. The world is calling on leaders to step up and lead. I am calling on leaders to step up and lead. And I can’t expect people to do something that I’m not willing to do myself.
Finally, and this may be the most important takeaway of all, I recall the words of Mother Theresa: “If each of us would only sweep our own doorstep, the whole world would be clean.” A couple of weeks ago, I was at the Cold Play concert in Santa Clara, CA. Lead singer Chris Martin is an extraordinary performer and human being. The entire two hours were an anthem to love and kindness. At one point, the giant screen behind the band flashed the following: “IF YOU WANT LOVE, BE LOVE. IF YOU WANT PEACE, BE PEACE.” If I want a loving, kind, and peaceful world, I need to be loving, kind, and peaceful. Here’s what’s wonderful about this. I have complete control over whether to do this. I realized, yet again, that there is only really one truth. And that is love. I will act with love. Period.
If you haven’t yet seen Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr’s press conference, you must watch it. It is a master class in leadership.
Gail Collins and Brett Stephens have a conversation about the state of affairs in America in this New York Times op-ed, “One Nation, Under Guns.”
A picture or chart often says a thousand words.