Yesterday, we got more than good football. We painted our faces, donned our team's jersey, grabbed a beer and a hot dog, and learned an important lesson about human dynamics, effective communication, and how to accomplish the opposite of your objective.
As we all know, President Trump suggested last week that all of those football players who refuse to stand during the National Anthem should be fired. As we saw yesterday, over 100 players knelt during the National Anthem yesterday, dozens more than in the past.
In addition to those who defiantly took to their knee, many others sat, several entire squads remained in their locker room until the anthem concluded, and other teams locked arms in a display of unity in the face of the divisiveness around the issue.
There is much to learn from this episode, and valid arguments can and have been made on each side of the debate. But while plenty of ink is being devoted to that discussion, there is an important lesson that we can learn from these events without taking a side one way or the other:
Often the worst way to earn someone's allegiance is to command them to kneel before you.
Or as the case may be here, often, the best way to get someone to kneel is to command them to stand before you.
These rules will vary, of course, depending on the power structures one is working within. In certain structures - generally those which we in the free world would consider outdated or barbaric today, like dictatorships or feudal societies - this type of forced allegiance may work. But in a democratic society, a system in which leaders are elected and citizens are ostensibly considered equal and empowered, such attempts at control will generally elicit protest or revolt, and, as we saw yesterday, will not result in the desired outcome.
None of this should come as much of a surprise to anyone. We all know this to be true in our own lives, personally, professionally, and communally. We are less likely to respond to aggression than we are to respectful communication. We are more likely to comply with a request than a demand. Even in a case when we have no choice, we would rather be asked than ordered, and we will perform a task with more pleasure and gusto when we do so willingly than when we are coerced.
In his book "Collaborating With The Enemy: How to Work with People You Don't Agree With or Like or Trust," Adam Kahane puts it this way: "People don't dislike change, but they dislike being changed." It is not progress or even compromise that we resist, but rather the efforts of those who fail to treat us as equals and refuse to grant us the respect that we deserve.
Regardless of our feelings about the president, the protesting players, the national anthem, the history of race and social dynamics in our country, what is true and obvious is that we all have feelings. And while we may criticize this one or that one for his/her tactics, we must recognize that if we are not cognizant and attentive to the feelings of those with whom we disagree, then we will only continue to stoke the fires of rage and polarization that are blazing throughout our country.
In plain words, as we can all clearly recognize that the outcome of the President's tirade was a significant increase in the behavior he sought to end, so too our own aggression and contentiousness will effect nothing but the further division of the society that we would all like to improve.
We will accomplish little when we strive to make others obedient to our will. We will begin to make progress when we establish mutual respect, when we admit that our way is not the only way and commit to listening to those we see things differently, and when we devote ourselves to the pursuit of goals that will incorporate the feelings and needs of every member of our society.
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