As a father of two young children and an advocate for and with young people for much of my career, I want to make an impassioned request: stop associating bad behavior by adults with the actions of a child or adolescent.
The petulant child analogy, the “adult daycare” image, or any of the other references to adolescence that try to capture the limited emotional intelligence of the current resident of the White House fundamentally misunderstand and muddle both what it means to be a child and what it means to be an adult. The petulant adult is a different beast from the developing child and we need to treat him as such.
For starters, my child’s daycare while full of petulant children, including my own, is a place of love and growth and inspiration. It’s a place of unbounded learning and development, not unbounded dysfunction, conniving, and malice.
In a typically developing child, mistakes, conflicts, and even random tantrums come from naiveté, exploration of boundaries, and the reality of yet-to-be-developed parts of their brains that drive things like executive decision making and management of emotions. I struggle with these things every day as a parent, but I recognize that my kids’ lack of logic and decision-making is normal, natural, and why they need consistent, loving parents and other caring adults around them. At the end of the day, they are doing their job developing and I just have to keep doing mine in guiding, loving, and supporting them unconditionally.
We should never confuse this process and generally healthy dynamic with what we see happening in our White House, in our country, our boardrooms, or anywhere else. We should never associate genuinely childlike behavior like tantrums or grabbing someone else’s toy with the actions of adults who persistently lash out irrationally, don’t understand basic relational norms and constructs foundational to a society, and who use their position and power to manipulate and disempower others. In adults, this is not naiveté; it’s perversion. It’s not exploration; it’s intention. It’s not about their limited brain development; it’s about the rest of us accepting and normalizing bad behavior because of someone’s money or position or race. None of this is child-like. It is sick.
At the root of the illness is privilege, which not only has the ability to arrest basic social development in the child of privilege but also can persist to embolden and empower that lack of development as a source of ignorant, coercive, bully power in adulthood. The other privileged of us not directly impacted by their malevolence only feed and strengthen it through direct support or inaction.
I don’t know what to do at this point except try to do the little things every day to keep finding a place to move my next foot forward.
So, today, let’s take some power back, take a step forward, and reclaim our language not only in fairness to our children but also to clarify the real issues we are facing.
Donald Trump is not a petulant child in an adult daycare. He’s a sick adult. It’s different.
We all know the story about change: it’s the only constant, it’s happening faster than ever, if we don’t like it then we will like being obsolete even less.
It’s all true. But, most of us and most of our companies haven’t really internalized the implications. If any of these thoughts on change are to be meaningful, we best change the way we approach this not-so-new world order, not merely acknowledge that it exists. We have to change ourselves.
I was working with a company recently that operates call centers to provide direct support to their customers. As we talked about growth and change in their company more broadly, we explored if and how they were, or could be, learning from these front-line employees. What were they hearing directly from customers that the company really needed to understand?
We’ve all heard the saying about the importance of having “an ear to the ground” so we can sense imminent changes in our work environments and markets. Who has their ears to the ground more than those meeting our customers where they are? Dealing with their problems? Frustrations?
Too many of our people on the front-lines think they don't have the power or position to speak up in our organizations and don’t have the ability to create change in their own work. As a result, many of us are missing a huge opportunity to become more resilient, adaptable, and creative organizations. When we don’t listen to our customers and the employees who interface directly with them, we run the risk of missing indicators of emergent change in our markets, products, and even broader society that can lead our products, services and companies toward their next iteration.
Through our discussion, this company realized that their listening to front-line employees was spottier than they would like - that the value of listening to employees was more ad hoc and leader-by-leader than a consistent, strategic value of the firm. The implications from this discussion and this kind of organizational self-awareness are pretty vast.
How do we as an organization demonstrate listening as a value? How do we train our people and set management expectations? How do we hire and promote our people to support such a strategic value? How do we intentionally recognize good listening as good leadership? How do we openly celebrate the knowledge that our people at all levels are stepping up and sharing with us?
People at all levels of our companies need formal and informal outlets to provide feedback, ask questions, and share ideas for solutions. This is just strategically smart. It’s not merely about being nice to our employees. Not only will listening to our employees make our company more resilient and adaptive, it will also make for happier employees and better products and services. When they know their ideas and insights are respected (even if not always acted upon), our people will more actively identify customer patterns and frequent issues that we may never see, and solve them in ways we may never have thought of. They will own their work.
So, instilling a culture of listening that is supported by training, accountability, and processes up and down our organization is paramount to leading emergent change –the change we otherwise may not see coming.
Days like this, weeks like this, waking up and living in a world that does this: there is a part of me not very deep down that just wants to crawl in a hole. Hide away with my family. Protect them. Love them. Protect our love from a hateful world. I am still fighting through this instinct.
And, at the same time, I have been reading and writing and thinking about power and love and society. This love that I instinctively want to hide away and protect, this love I want my children to feel, this safe, isolated love – it will not help. It is powerless. Anemic. It is part of our problem. It is a defense, a denial. It separates us, and is a sign of weakness and selfishness.
My alternate instinct is to release the rage and frustration I feel about our culture’s unwillingness to think of, consider, act, and legislate with a mind toward the other, rather than just our own needs and the needs of people like us. Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s having children, but I feel we as a country are more self-centered than ever before. We are citizens of an economy driven by the belief that our self-interest is what matters. We are competing with each other for scarce resources. If we get ours, somehow it will trickle down, out, or up to be the best for the collective. We will have done our part. That’s what capitalism has taught us, right? But, surely we are more than cogs in an economic system – more than economic citizens.
What about all of this flag hullabaloo? There’s a broad war of social values and ideals being waged but in the narrowest possible way because we no longer know ourselves as part of a society. We talk about Democracy and try to build it with an economy, not by practicing democracy and building it with a society.
I see it in curt interactions among neighbors on the sidewalk all the way up to the person in the White House. We want what we want. And, if you don’t want it, then fuck you. You’re wrong. I’ll get mine, and don’t try to stop me.
Our social bonds and identities have become so weak that we see codified rights and laws as the guidelines for society rather than the safety net that will allow all of us in a society to thrive and provide the opportunity for us to be our best selves. The law defines the basest form of ourselves that a society can tolerate and remain in tact. We believe we have a right, therefore we must. It’s not prevented by law, therefore, we should. If our neighborhoods and communities feel weak, this is why. It’s because they are. The social bonds have given way to economic and legal ones.
I am starting to rage.
So, now I am back at love, but not the love I want to hide away and protect. I need to find a love that has power. Efficacy. Purpose. A love that is generative and potent.
How do we empower love rather than protect it? How do we cultivate empathy that builds a society? How do we teach and learn that the needs and feelings and perspectives of others matter even as I have a right to my own? How do we teach our children that sacrificing of one’s own self is not weakness, it is strength? That the other is part of us? How do we teach and learn that love is power and the ultimate power is love?
We are missing something, people. We are missing basic human connection. We are missing decency and personal sacrifice. We have sold our souls to ourselves. We are consumers of our own propaganda, and we’ve lost contact with each other and with something more powerful.
I have not written myself into any answer or sense of clarity here. I am lost.
So, I will just come back to the words I wrote in reaction to a previous gun tragedy in Dallas, hoping I could empower, rather than protect, love so that others might also:
I love you.
I love you because today I feel lost and powerless and I need to love you. I love you because I need love this morning and it’s the only light I can see.
I love you because whoever you are and wherever you are and whatever you look like, you have within you the power to help heal this world, to help heal me or the other person next door crying through his morning coffee, holding his kids a little longer and tighter, attempting to drive to work through bleary eyes.
I love you because people I don’t know and cannot tell are hurting and need someone to love them.
I love you for the implicit value of love to our common humanity, to the common life force among us. Only love allows us to share this humanity and not hold it within, isolated, alone. Love connects us, opens us to each other.
I love you for your implicit value.
I love you because only love can create the world I want to live in, to raise my daughters in.
All I hear in my head this morning repeating over and over again are Dr. King’s words: “Darkness cannot drown out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drown out hate; only love can do that.”
In the spirit and hope of sharing some tiny light this morning to drown out darkness, spreading love to drown out hate: I love you.