NATE FELTMAN: Engage in difficult conversations

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Traditionally, Labor Day weekend signifies that fall and football are on their way. But nothing is traditional about this year. So while fall will arrive—although maybe I shouldn’t presume anything given this year’s events—Big Ten football will not. Too bad. I think this was the year my Hoosiers would have made their first appearance in the Rose Bowl since O.J. Simpson’s Trojans defeated Harry Gonso and crew in 1968.

So instead of Big Ten football, we’ll be inundated with political commentary. While the election will be over in less than two months, unfortunately there will likely be no let-up in the uncivilized behavior of both sides and the partisan gamesmanship.

I am old enough to remember a time when presidents enjoyed a “honeymoon” after the election. The president’s agenda took center stage, and members of the opposing party understood that the country had spoken. As such, there were moments of bipartisanship and unity of country.

Those days are long gone. Let’s hope they return for the sake of our union. When elected officials envision two very different Americas, nothing can be agreed upon—other than that there should be no limits to the amount of national debt we accrue.

Some argue partisanship is necessary to effect real change. If that is your cup of tea, you’re having a ball right now. But most people prefer less vitriol and more common ground. Remember former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ calls for a truce on social issues? Mitch’s larger point was that we have so many more important problems to tackle as a country if we want to remain the best hope of the free world.

Given the state of our national politics, the state and local levels offer the best chance to make a difference if you are concerned about our community. It is where you will find people rolling up their sleeves to improve their communities rather than seeking national fame with appearances on Fox and CNN with the latest headline-grabbing, wacky policy ideas. Heck, we work so well together in Indiana that it seems the Democrats have already conceded the governor’s race to Eric Holcomb. But that’s for another column.

The local level is also where you can engage in conversations that are difficult and meaningful. Over the last couple of months, I have been fortunate enough to participate in many conversations about racial injustices and inequities. While we all have preconceived notions about the world, I tried to enter these conversations with an open mind and a willingness to listen and understand viewpoints that might be different from my own.

For example, I believe that hard work and perseverance are determining factors for success in life. However, in conversations with my African American friends, I better understand that the lack of mentors and the lack of opportunities at the highest levels in corporate America sometimes can mean hard work alone will not get the job done. And while I find it difficult to comprehend how the destruction of our downtown is justified in any way, I have heard an alternative viewpoint that perhaps real change will not happen with only peaceful protests.

It is much easier to remain in our bubbles with like-minded people and cling to our preconceived notions. But when is the last time you learned something in that environment? Civilized conversations in which each participant seeks to understand the other are important if we want to bridge divides. Agreement does not always need to be the objective—empathy and understanding should be.

Take the time to engage in difficult conversations. You will be surprised how much you learn and how, by working together, we can devise real solutions.•

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Feltman is CEO of IBJ Media and a shareholder in the company. To comment email nfeltman@ibj.com.

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