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How We Live Reflects Who We Are

While my younger and immensely more social media savvy colleague beseeches me to weigh in on trending topics and news stories as soon as possible, I sometimes like to wait a day or two, not only to ruminate on the points made, but also to see how others respond to the information. Not surprisingly, I often find that my conclusions are not how others reacted to the same information.

The most recent example of this was Cook political reporter David Wasserman’s piece in the Washington Post, Will the Election of 2012 be a Contest of Whole Foods vs. Cracker Barrel Shoppers? In the article, he correlates voting patterns to locations of two of the country’s most profitable grocery and eating establishments; and without too much mystery discussed how more affluent, educated Whole Food shoppers tended to vote Democratic while those who frequented ex-urban and rural Cracker Barrels preferred Republicans. His point in using “microtargeting” to understand voting patterns was to look at which voting groups are up for grabs in the upcoming election.

I, however, found two other interesting pieces to this story. First, is the surprise I found in the online comments and the vitriol between the Whole Foods shoppers and Cracker Barrel customers. Distain is a kind term for what transpired and a sad commentary on how real life is starting to mimic cable news. Second, is that with the technology that has allowed people to dissect a certain group’s behavior are we creating unnecessary barriers that keep our country from being able to come together and build solutions around tough issues?

Are you aware of the impact of your actions?

If you at all familiar with my work, you know that I believe there’s much more our elected leaders can be doing to exemplify leadership that moves beyond partisan victory to policy success AND if as citizens of this country we are behaving just as our representatives then is it any surprise that the trend will continue? Do we really need to choose between the two? Does it make a difference if some people like Cracker Barrel food and others want a $10 bottle of pomegranate juice?

Perhaps the first step we can take as a nation in addressing the serious problems we face is to stop demonizing people who are not like us. My guess is that there are many Whole Foods shoppers who are sacrificing in other areas of their life to buy groceries they feel are most healthful for their families. And there are plenty of people in rural areas who enjoy fresh produce and a trip to the Cracker Barrel offers great meals and a break from the kitchen – and whatever the case, does it matter why someone chooses one over the other?

If each person becomes aware of the impact their actions have on others, perhaps we can begin to change our communities by building consensus instead of dissention. And if our elected officials truly want to change the tone of Washington, speaking only to the voters that agree with them and against those who don’t is not the way to do it. Yes, there is a formula for winning a campaign and choosing to target one group or another – and we see the results of those strategies. If we want something different to happen in 2013, then perhaps we the people need to start doing something different now.

3 Easy Ways to Start Living the Leadership Choice

  1. Observe how often people in the media, friends, family, sales clerks, etc., make a derogatory comment about another person or group. You will be surprised how often it happens.
  2. Notice your own pattern of behavior when you observe this occurring. Do you jump on their bandwagon?
  3. Resolve to make a change and then act. The next time this happens, perhaps you can provide a comment or insight to help the other person see the commonality and not the differences. In any case, I guarantee you will feel better by not simply going along with the group think.

How many people do we need to create a different way of thinking about issues? Who knows and it’s far fewer than we think. In ratcheting down the vitriol, we have at least opened the door to greater understanding and perhaps a way to really listen to each other. Then, and only then, will we craft solutions that work for everyone and will move our country in the direction everyone wants to see.

Kathleen Schafer is founding principal of Leadership Connection and author of Living the Leadership Choice (release December 2011). Connect with Kathleen on Twitter and read her blog at leadershipconnection.net.

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Jay Johnson

Yes it’s true that by strengthening the dicotomy, you strengthen the interenal bonds as well (‘we’ vs ‘them’). But seldom does anyone think of the long term affects of this tactic to generate a short term gain.