This all started, as many things do, with a tweet.
It’s something I’ve thought a lot about but neglected to dip my toe into the pond on, partly because my own thoughts were still half-baked. I wanted to avoid a knee-jerk reaction.
Commentary tracks to our lives
Why can’t we just stay out of each other’s lives? That’s a question that’s been bouncing around my head a lot lately?
Is it because Reality TV shows have taught is it’s OK to turn someone’s life into a topic of public discourse? Is it because social media has opened the door to our lives in unprecedented ways?
Whatever the reason, the window has been smashed, the front door kicked down and our lives are now open for discussion. And that discussion is increasingly less civil and more angry.
We need to have conversations about our differences. But we’ve lost the ability to do so. In Trusting Others J.D. Bentley writes,
We’re unable to have proper discussions anymore. People these days are either incredibly apocalyptic or incredibly messianic, incredibly black or incredibly white. Instead of seeing disagreements in shades of gray, or as sound and unsound arguments, people look at the opposing side as the enemy not worth hearing out. They take an apocalyptic approach to diplomacy. The enemy can’t be talked to or negotiated with, only destroyed.
This is most evident today in conversations surrounding same-sex marriage, wherein opponents are cast as hateful and ignorant “bigots” regardless of the tack or reasoning employed and proponents are cast as pushers of a monolithic and mythological “gay agenda”. Both sides build very shallow stereotypes in order to assault the other. If your fellow man isn’t a man at all, but a self-made concoction of everything you hate, of course you’re going to say other people can’t be trusted. We like to see the best in ourselves and the worst in others.
Everyone who agreed with us is the ally and everyone who disagrees is the enemy. But it’s not true. We’re all people. We’re all products of our environments and upbringings. We’re all people. Right and wrong are variables. They’re not set in stone. That’s the beauty of beliefs. They can be changed over time. But not by screaming.
When anyone who doesn’t agree with you is the enemy it’s hard to have a dialog. It’s no wonder our politicians can’t get anything done. They shout at each other from across an aisle. That’s how we interact with each other these days.
We’ve forgotten how to converse.
One thing I cherish is a good, conversation with someone I don’t agree with. A well-reasoned, thoughtful discourse on a topic. The goal is not to change their minds. Nor should their goal be to change mine.
Our mutual goal is to share where we’re coming from so we can be closer as people. And to hone our own beliefs by examining them and making them our own. If one of us has a change of heart as a result, that’s an unexpected bonus. Not a stated goal.
But it’s harder and harder to have such a conversation, especially online, even in less-public forums. It is not my goal to convert you to way of thinking. Just to share what I think.
Corporations are people.
Like it or not, if you’re the CEO or President of a company. You’re the public face of that company. And just as our private lives are open to scrutiny, so too are our public actions.
A company is made of people. And those at the top make up the company’s image. There is no longer a divide between who makes up a company and the company’s image.
Chick Fil-A is now Hate Chicken after the President and CEO spoke out against gay marriage. The company quickly deleted it and PR took over. But the damage was done. A controversy raged for weeks with people calling for boycotts of the restaurant and others rushing to defend it resulting in a record-setting sales day. By March 2014, the company had stopped funding anti-LGBT groups.
Despite the reversal in funding and public image, once branded, it’s very hard to remove the image from a company still run by the same man who made the original statements. Another company is having the same problem.
Mozilla, makers of the Firefox web browser, is just the latest in a line of companies that are learning an important lesson.
You can have your own beliefs. And you can spend your money where you want. But if you’re the head of a company, your views are going to be attached to that company. You are not an island. You are the leader. Your head is on the chopping block and what you say and do matters.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion
Is the head of Chick Fil-A able to be sad about gay marriage passing? Sure. Is the head of Mozilla’s donation supporting Prop 8 in California well within his right? Absolutely. They’re entitled to their actions and those actions have consequences.
But Chick Fil-A is going to be branded as Hate Chicken and lose business by those who won’t support those views. Mozilla has already had people step down because they won’t work for the newly-appointed CEO. As the leader of a business, your actions can hurt that business even if it has nothing to do with the business directly.
Let’s Play A Game
Gay marriage is a hot button issue. There’s no quicker way to get blood boiling. Let’s move it out of that realm into another one. How about something we’ve solved long ago? What about racism? That’s over right? Or women’s rights? How about Christianity? This is the land of the free isn’t it?
Let’s take this article and rewrite it’s headline.
Mozilla Staff Urge Their CEO To Step Down Because He’s Anti-Black.
Mozilla Staff Urge Their CEO To Step Down Because He’s Anti-Women.
Mozilla Staff Urge Their CEO To Step Down Because He’s Anti-Christian.
Mozilla Staff Urge Their CEO To Step Down Because He’s Anti-White.
Would any of these be OK to say? If a CEO of a company came out and said these things, would that be OK with you? Not if you don’t agree with it.
The fight for marriage equality is racism all over again. This is not to say racism is over and dead. Because it’s not. But this is the same battle. It’s just harder to see who the enemy is because they’re not conveniently a different color.
While I don’t agree with those who are against equal rights for everyone. I respect their difference of opinion. I respect that in this country we’re allowed to have differing opinions. That’s what this country was founded on. Freedom.
We’re allowed to disagree but when you voice and opinion or give money towards a way of thinking you’re accountable for that opinion. When you give money to support Prop 8, you’re going to lose support from those who aren’t with you.
When you give money to groups looking to keep people from marrying, those who want to marry and those who support their fight are going to stop supporting you.
In your private life, you can do and support what you choose. But when you’re the head of a company and your actions are public, does that change? No. You can still do and say what you like.
However, when you’re the head of a large group of people, not all of those people are going to agree with you. And to those outside the group, it may seem that the group mirrors those beliefs.
What you say matters
Everyone is accountable for their own actions and statements. I’m allowed to say and do what I feel. But I also know that those actions and statements don’t exist in a vacuum. They matter. They can hurt. They can help.
We’re allowed to disagree. We’re allowed to have our beliefs and support what we want. But don’t be surprised when your beliefs aren’t the beliefs of everyone. They’re allowed to the same rights as everyone else.
The CEO of Mozilla can choose to spend his money to prevent gay marriage. Those working for Mozilla can choose to speak out against that and the organization. They can also choose to resign and work elsewhere.
Chick Fil-A’s CEO can do the same. And as a result, he will draw protests and supporters. His profits will rise and fall.
What we say matters. And when you say it from a position of leadership, what you say reaches far and wide. Actions have consequences.