Last night, 90 million people tuned into the first presidential debate.
We all watched as the presidential candidates threw punches at one another like their lives depended on it. We all felt the tension and exchange of hatred. It was offensive. With every punch, each candidate intentionally and recklessly stripped their opponent of his/her dignity, honor and, I would argue, humanity. They reduced each other to the sum of their weaknesses and bad choices. They left America feeling uncomfortable and discouraged. And all of this was done with the intent of coming out on top. It was all about the win.
At one point, Trump scoffed: "When you try to act holier than thou, it really doesn't work."
This particular punch definitely wasn't the worst one, but it stood out to me. It felt like a sucker punch to my stomach. My whole body tensed up with remorse as I immediately recalled uttering those exact words to my brother two weeks ago. Words that I knew would knock him off his "high horse". I had just finished telling him about this girl I crossed paths with and how I planned to help her out of the crisis she was in. His response was not filled with the enthusiasm and encouragement I had hoped for, but rather with concern and skepticism towards the circumstances. He was being protective over me (as any younger, taller brother should). I interpreted his concerns as mistrust. I heard him communicating that I was naive and that my plan lacked wisdom. My "fists" went up. Without thinking, I said: "This 'holier than thou' crap needs to stop, Noah. You do this all the time." Punch thrown. Ouch. I knew as soon as the words left my mouth that they hit him just as they were crafted to. They knocked him off his high horse, reduced his identity to the weakness I exposed, and put him on the defense. He came back trying to teach me a lesson, further proving my point - exactly as I set him up to do. He couldn’t win. I set him up for failure. I had him on the ground, my foot on his neck and fist raised victoriously in the air. It felt good for about five seconds. Then I realized that I hadn't won anything. Actually, I led both of us to loss.
See, my gut reaction to the words spoken was fight or flight, which turned the conversation into a competition of who would end up on top. I acted out of the belief that if he came out on top, I would lose. And I couldn't risk losing - my pride, self-worth, and independence were at stake (or so I thought). So, I reacted to the words expressed with fists up and mouth open, ready to throw punches at my "opponent" (how awful is it that I viewed my brother that way!?).
I believe there's another way. A much better way. One that I've thought a lot about and have to continue to work on. Here it is:
I believe that in moments where we feel like someone is throwing punches at us, we have the opportunity to dig deeper and offer grace. We have the opportunity to recognize, speak to and bring out the good in everyone, no matter how many barriers there are to their outward expression of that good. With my brother, I had the opportunity to respond to the heart behind his words with palms open and mouth shut. I had the opportunity to listen - really listen - and see that though his words may have communicated negative things about me, his heart was to love and protect me. I had the opportunity to presume that his heart behind the words was good - to assume he is good. And my response could have granted him the freedom to live into that good.
I want to believe in the best in others - to be with and for them. I want to be the kind of person who speaks to the best in others and grants them space to live into it. When we speak to the good, more often than not, the person will offer their best in response. Even if they're not offering it initially, they will rise to the occasion and become that person we openly believe they are at heart.
The best part is that bringing out the best in others isn't a threat to me - it's actually bringing out the best in me, too.
My dad once told me: "A true leader doesn't use his power to win over people, he uses his power to win people over." To win over people, you engage disputes with a win or lose mentality. Your goal is to defeat the opponent and set yourself up as the winner. To win people over - you engage a win win mentality. The goal is relationship. You are with and for the other person. You speak to the good in them. Yes, you recognize their weaknesses, but rather than using that against them, you cover them with grace and celebrate their strengths.
To win is to build relationship, to believe in the best, and help each other live into it.
Can you imagine what the debate would have looked like if both candidates spoke to the best in each other? What if they really listened to each other? Not just to the words spoken, but to the heart exposed behind them. What if they spoke to the good in each other and granted their opponent freedom to live into it? Yes, their opinions and policies can and will be different, but I actually think their differences would have been so much more powerful and acceptable if they had expressed them in addition to highlighting the good in the opinions of the other. They could have used this platform to display their best selves by believing and speaking to the good in the other. Last night’s debate could have earned America’s respect.
So, may we all have the courage to dig deeper, listen to the heart, speak to the good, and bring out the best in others.
To making each other great again!
I'd love to hear your thoughts - so leave a comment or shoot me an email! I am using this blog space as a vehicle for building The Dented Life community. So, if these blog posts are in any way encouraging to you, I would love if you shared it with a friend who might be encouraged by it too!