"At the end of the day, we're all in this together." - Jason Aldean
Occasionally, a close friend and I meet to have a drink and discuss where our country is going. My friend, a Russian immigrant who has lived here for more than thirty years, is deeply patriotic. He still sees Russia as the "evil empire" and America, quoting Ronald Reagan, as a "... shining city upon a hill, whose beacon of light guides freedom-loving people everywhere." The America he sees gave him and his family freedom, equality, fairness and opportunity. To him, that America is not just a country but also a set of ideals and values.
As the son of Holocaust survivors who came to America seeking freedom, opportunity and a safe haven from anti-Semitism, I see an America that contains many foundational values my parents passed along to me: do the right thing, treat others how you would want to be treated, stand for justice and equality, work hard, and achieve "the Dream."
Given our shared vision of America, both my friend and I were disturbed about the recent trend of NFL players taking a knee instead of standing in allegiance for the National Anthem, as well as about the NFL's cop-out proposal: that players wait out our anthem by remaining in the locker room.
My friend isn't naive. He knows that the athletes, many of whom are African-American, don't see the same America we see. He knows that black people have suffered from discrimination, racism and perpetual poverty; that many don't have the same access that others may have; that to them and many others, the “justice system” has not been just; and that, growing up in poverty, many of them struggle to see a country that cares.
But what upsets him is that the athletes who are taking the knee can't see that their symbolic actions don't just disrespect the reality of what is but, also, the vision of what can be.
"They don't realize that the flag is a symbol of what America can be -- the ideas and ideals that brought my family and me here," he said to me. "This symbol can continue to inspire others and can make our country better."
Although my friend and I wear opposite political colors, we do agree on the vision of America that our flag represents, the "purple" values that attracted both of our families to this country.
Those values are the same ones that athletes who take the knee want to see happening within society, and they're protesting because there is still a gap between actual America and its aspired values. But, as opposed to elevating the shared values, posting them on social media, and encouraging their millions of fans to practice them and pass them along, they simply protest. Protesting may seem fulfilling, but they can do so much more to inspire our country to do better and be better by sparking a chain reaction to live our values every day. If they choose to inspire, professional athletes can make us better. Just look at LeBron James as the role model and positivity's poster child.
Division is fueled by negatives while unity is fueled by positives. This is one of the core principles that I learned from Dr. David Cooperrider's "Appreciative Inquiry" methodology, which has been used by business organizations, governments and the United Nations to improve performance, develop culture and bring people together.
Here's a telling example. We all remember that no good ideas came about at the high school lunch table when the one negative person showed up. The entire table turned negative, walls and barriers went up, and many times the conversation turned ugly. However, positivity or "appreciation" can turn the negative around. Athletes and their coaches know this because a positive culture is essential to making winning teams win.
Our country has many issues that need to be dealt with: economic and racial inequality; declining opportunity for some and increasing opportunity for others; infrastructure that is aging and, in some cases, dangerous; college debt that is choking the next generation; an education system that is failing some while enhancing others; exorbitant medical costs; and social dysfunction and anger that promote violence and killing.
None of these issues can be solved through negativity, protest and growing incivility. They can be dealt with or resolved only through conversation, collaboration, positivity and appreciation. Unfortunately, few politicians, athletes, entertainers or talk show hosts -- role models many would normally look to -- serve up examples of these positive techniques. Many in politics give us daily examples that promote negativity, incivility and violence. In the process, America wallows in division and divisiveness.
Maybe we need a paradigm shift. If we view America as one organism or organization that is wrapped around the values of our founders, representing a beacon of opportunity, freedom, equality and fairness, and presenting a good life for all of our children, maybe we can achieve the results desired by my immigrant friend and the athletes who want us to be the way America is supposed to be. In America as one organism, if one part of America is hurting, the other parts hurt, as well. We can project empathy and understanding to each other or toxic negativity. Whatever we project will go around and, then, come around affecting all.
I see this one America in the 58 Americans who died in the mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas; in the hurricanes in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico; and in the raging wild fires of California. The Americans that are affected -- straight, gay, rich, poor, Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Christian, Jewish, Muslim or other -- can been any of us, and they represent all of us. We are very similar. We have similar hopes and dreams: we want happiness, success, respect and safety. We bleed red and, through our shared vision and values, a majority of us lean purple.
When my daughter was eleven, some 22 years ago, she drew a picture on a canvas that our neighbors and friends signed at our annual open house. It depicted Noah's Ark under the caption, "We're all in the same boat, so let's keep it afloat." Something to think about in the America and world of today!
What do you appreciate about America and what do you believe America stands for?
E-mail me your thoughts at stuartm@PurpleAmerica.us
Muszynski is President and CEO of Values-in-Action Foundation. Purple America is Values-in-Action's national initiative to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values. www.PurpleAmerica.us; www.viafdn.org