Whitley Yates: Avoid ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ instead think ‘we’

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James Allen once stated, “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.”

When we process this quote and then look at our leaders and elected officials, it makes you wonder if we see their authentic character or a caricature of who they want us to believe they are.

This past month has been filled with many atrocities that have shaken our country. Everyone has a different response to trauma, anger and sadness. However, how our leaders respond in times like these truly reveals their character.

On a national level, when we hear of a tragic mass shooting, many people cannot wait to point to where the perpetrator leaned or aligned politically, shifting blame almost immediately to the side of the aisle in which they claim the shooter falls. We also see politicians using national acts of terror to commandeer conversations and hold press conferences to assert their view and disdain for the current leadership.

On a local level—in our backyard—a Facebook exchange between a mayor and another Facebook user became the focus of a lot of attention. After previously condemning another councilor for using an expletive, the mayor used an array of unprofessional expletives to express her outrage toward the mass shooting in Texas. This left some residents upset and shocked by this display of unhinged emotion.

Our society has become so divided on issues that impact all of us, and no one is listening. We are always looking for a singular villain to blame. The tribalism in politics has perpetuated this polarization that creates monologues in place of dialogue.

Our society focuses on this idea of “us” versus “them” instead of what “we” can do together. It is comfortable, and dare I say, “safe,” to sit in the silos of sameness and discuss the ills of our state or our country with people who agree with you. However, it is more transformational to come together and speak about issues that are impacting all of us with people who have differing thoughts or opinions.

Building common ground and finding a place of unity without uniformity should be our overarching goal. Our basic understanding that there is no panacea for repairing the issues we are currently facing is vital to moving the needle forward. It is not just one person’s responsibility to make changes, but a communal effort.

In our current climate, many conversations will be centered on what we could have done to prevent these atrocities instead of what we need to do in order to stop these rash acts of violence. You will unearth an abundance of business leaders, politicians and community members who are pointing fingers, demonizing and blaming each other, but it is important to not give them your attention.

Find and focus on the leaders who are convening stakeholders from all walks of life, communities, industries and professions to create comprehensive change together.

I will be looking for the leaders who assemble and have conversations with all viewpoints, embodying the “we” needed to progress.

The content of our character will be on display.

So let us be intentional about making sure our behavior is worthy of the attention we will receive.•


Yates is director of diversity for the Indiana Republican Party, a political commentator and a law degree candidate. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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