On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
We see it on Capitol Hill, at Occupy Wall Street rallies, and in revolutions abroad: a sense of “them versus us” — a feeling of separateness that’s polarizing society. In an increasingly connected world our differences -– whether partisan, religious, economic or social -– are creating fissures and fostering discontent that’s leading to inaction in some places and violence in others. We examine the roots of social polarity, and find out how to deal with it at work and in our communities.
- Howard Ross Author, "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance (Rowman & Littlefield); also Principal, Cook Ross
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Howard Ross is here. Later in the broadcast, arrests at the occupied D.C. site and the challenges ahead, but first, it's a feeling that seems to be working its way into our interactions with friends, our dinner table conversations and into the media itself. It's the feeling that our society is more polarized than ever, that no one can agree anymore, that our differences are tearing us apart.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJust before thanksgiving, when a congressional committee failed to agree on deficit reduction, Senator Max Baucus of Montana put it this way. We're at a time in American history, he said, where everybody's afraid, afraid of losing a job, to move toward the center. You've got to have people who are willing to move, he said. Whether it's Capitol Hill or at occupied Wall Street rallies or in revolutions in the Middle East, the sense of Them versus Us has become pervasive. So what's going on in society? How have we become so polarized? And how do we fix these fissures that have crept into our communities?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to help us understand the roots of this and the implications is Howard Ross, business coach, consultant and trainer. He works on work-based diversity issues. Howard's also a principle with the firm Cook-Ross and author of the book "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose and Performance." Howard, welcome.
MR. HOWARD ROSSThanks, Kojo. Happy Holidays to you.
NNAMDIHappy Holidays to you. Before we talk about the divisions we're seeing in our society, can we explain how this us versus them phenomenon starts? How do individuals classify themselves? Or how do we classify ourselves into groups?
ROSSWell, I think it's an interesting process because I -- we have kind of correspondingly a desire to be connected with people and a desire to feel safely by ourselves. And we often identify ourselves in multiple ways. I think that you and I may have talked over the years, Kojo, about the fact maybe I had dinner one time, but years ago, with I. King Jordan, when he was president of Gallaudet University and he was saying that African American female students on campus, when they're off campus, mostly relate to themselves as being deaf because that's their primary interaction with the hearing world.
ROSSWhen they're on campus, primarily relate to themselves as being black and when they're in the black community on campus, primarily relate to themselves as being women. So I think we're like that. We have multiple aspects of our identity. I don't mean like "Sybil" or anything, but I mean, multiple things that we may frame at different times. And they're more present or less present depending upon what's going on. And so we've got this sort of, you know, me and you part of it, which is, you know, I'm a man, you're a woman, for example. Or I'm a man -- or I'm white and you're black or I'm, you know, whatever.
ROSSThen you've got the Us versus Them aspect of it, which we identify with particular groups and the other group and then, you know, even broader than that. But then something happens and all of a sudden, those differences seem to melt away and get replaced by a shared identity. A great example of that was the way a lot of Americans felt in the days immediately after 9/11, when, all of a sudden, our differences around race or socio-economic status or other things seem to melt away and our common shared fear as Americans brought us together. The same thing happens when you hear, in emergency circumstances, for example, after the earthquake in San Francisco, when there were stories about how, I forget which road it was, the collapse.
ROSSBut there was affluent neighborhood on one side and a very low-income neighborhood on the other and both those neighborhoods kind of joined right together to work together. So we're constantly reflecting on our personal identities and how identities are shaping in the world around us.
NNAMDIWell, those differences may have melted away after 9/11, but they seem to be hardening again. What are the pros and cons of this kind of grouping behavior? Obviously we wouldn't indulge in it if we didn't see advantage in it. But what are the advantages and disadvantages?
ROSSWell, ultimately, I think the great mythology about human beings is our separateness. I mean, if we really look and we see this, you know, people talk about it in somewhat clichéd ways. You know, if you look at a group of ants in your yard you see ants, you don't see individual groupings of ants. And of course the same is true for human beings. We're all sharing this planet. We all have more in common than we do different. Our DNA structures are so similar that they're, you know, people even say they're more similar than the pile of leaves, et cetera, et cetera. I can give you all the clichés in the world around that.
ROSSSo we know that we have a shared humanity. We know that any even modicum of a systems thinking lets us know that what happens over there also affects us over here. That, what sometimes called the butterfly effect and yet at the same time we have this desire to create safety by cocooning ourselves and we're dealing right now in the world, I think, with a numbers of factors that has had that happened, that polarization happened more than any time that I can remember in my lifetime. I mean, it's certainly politics is the obvious one, but not the only one.
ROSSI think there are a number of things that are contributing to that. One is that, we're at a time when we are exposed to more information than we've ever seen before. I mean, there's no question about that and I know that your previous guest was talking about information.
NNAMDIYes, and we tend to think that that's a good thing.
ROSSYes, and information's great except that, that the sort of contradiction of that is that we have so much information available to us that we can't possibly absorb it all and so what we do is we selectively absorb information. Where as in the past we might've listened to a certain couple of radio stations or watched ABC, NBC and CBS and had 95 percent of the news that was given to us be news and only five percent be punditry. I mean, you remember when on "60 Minutes" they started with "Point, Counterpoint." It was revolutionary that they actually had these different opinions.
NNAMDITwo different opinions.
ROSSAnd now, of course, what we do is because we can't read everything or hear everything, we selectively read or watch or hear the things that are more oriented towards our way of thinking. So we -- let's say MSNBC instead of Fox News. Our neighbors watch Fox News instead of MSNBC. We have particular bloggers who we tune into because we like them, they're popular. We listen to what particular politicians have to say. We form in our neighborhoods, associations that are more segmented and so all of this leads to greater polarization than ever before.
NNAMDIBut does that also explain how, as we become increasingly diverse and how it would appear as we increasingly accept diversity, we nevertheless get more isolated and polarized? Many of us would probably say we lead pretty diverse lives. We travel, we may have friends from different cultures, different races. We eat different ethnic foods, but you have a useful test to see if we're really as socially diverse as we say we are or we think we are. Tell us how to do a social map?
ROSSRight. What we do, you know, we often do with our clients, invite them to do a socio-demographic mapping. We're the last people to say, well, you know, we do -- because we have do this illusion of diversity. We live in this mess of diversity around us and -- but often we don't even realize how limited that is in terms of the things that are important to us. So if you ask a number of very simple questions, you know, you say to yourself, for example, list the 10 people who you most socially engage with? And just write them down and obviously, you know, cheating on this is kind of like cheating on your golf score when you're playing by yourself, it doesn't do much for you.
ROSSThis is not about being held accountable to anybody but yourself. But if you, you know, as a white Jewish man, if I write down the 10 people who I most socially engage with and nine of them are white, then that's just a window into the world that I'm likely to see. Who are my best friends? Who are my confidants? When I'm at work, who are the people who I engage with at work outside of my necessary work interrelationships with them? What are the organizations that I'm most interested in in the community that I most give my time, attention or listening to? And what are those organizations look like demographically? And you could go through virtually every area of your life and do the same thing and for many people, once we develop this kind of socio-demographic map of ourselves, it's quite stunning.
ROSSBecause we don't even realize how our -- how limited our field is. You know, for example, people live in neighborhoods, which have a lot of diversity in them. But if you ask them, which of the neighborhoods do you spend time with? They'll begin to see that there's an interesting phenomenon that's occurring through most -- in the most diverse neighborhoods around the country today. And that is, people are spending less time with their neighbors. Robert Putnam is a psychologist, sociologist rather at Harvard, who studied this quite a bit.
ROSSWell, let's say we live like that and we are honest about the map that we put together. And when I put together the map, I said, nine out of the 10 people are black, they're male, they're in my age group. What kind of ways do we use to rationalize this feeling of separateness, maybe both within our communities and often at work? How do we rationalize it?
ROSSOne way that we rationalize it -- by the way, Kojo, we haven't even mentioned our religious practices and as we know, it is often been said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America, right? But I think the one way we rationalize it is by not looking at it. We rationalize it by not seeing it, by pretending it's not what it is, by convincing ourselves it's not what it is. And it's one the reasons why doing this kind of socio-demographic mapping can be so valuable. It's because we have to confront the reality. If one looks at that and says, you know what, I'm perfectly fine living my life with only people who are like me, then that's their choice,
ROSSI mean, nobody, you know, we're not in a place socially where people are forced to engage to play cards with anybody other than the people they want to play cards with or anything like that. But I think that there an awful amount of people in our society, I believe the majority of people in our society, who believe that diversity is generally a healthy thing for our culture and that -- who see the real value in it and have had enough experiences of it so that we can see that, you know, getting a window into the world of other people broadens our world and opens our experience up and turns us onto things we didn't even know existed. And for those of us who believe that, that diversity is a healthy thing and is the way of the future, then for most people looking at that, they're going to want to do things about it, to get out a little bit more in the world than they have been.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Howard Ross, business coach, consultant and trainer. He works on workplace diversity issues. Inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you feel a sense of separateness from your colleagues? Do you feel a sense of separateness from your neighbors? If so, why? Call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to our website, kojoshow.org and answer that question there. In his 2008 book "The Big Sort," journalist Bill Bishop cites one interesting statistic. In 1976, about a quarter of America's voters lived in a county that a presidential candidate won by a landslide margin. However, by 2004 it was nearly half of Americans who lived in such of a county. Bishop says, "That partisan sorting is just the tip of a larger, social and economic transformation." What say you?
ROSSWell, I think that there's no question that that's true and no question that we've got this sort, again, this dichotomy of experience, which is the more diverse we get the more people tend to be pulling back into this sort of clannish. I mentioned Bob Putnam earlier, the sociologist from Harvard. Putnam sent people out to interview 30,000 people in the most diverse communities in the country and found a disturbing trend, what he called...
NNAMDIThe more diverse we get, the fewer we participate in certain (unintelligible) .
ROSS...what he called a -- right, a turtling effect. That people pull back into their clannish and so people are participating less in things like the PTA, the Civic Association, you know, these groupings that normally brought us together as a culture and instead, staying back with their own community groupings where they feel safer. And this is all about fear, that's really at the core what it's about.
NNAMDIIn the "Big Sort" Bill Bishop writes that Americans have sought out modern-day recreations of the 19th century island community's type in where and how they live. Is that, in your view, an overstatement?
ROSSNo, no, I think it's very much the turtling effect that Putnam's talking about. I think that that, you know, we see it. So when we're part of the dominant group, particularly when we're, let's say white or Christian or male, you know, heterosexual, we don't notice it as much. We go to an organization, we say, well, anybody can come to this, you know, the Civic Association and we don't even notice that much when there are only a few people of color around and not even ask the question, why aren't there more here, because it's open door and we really believe and feel, honestly feel, that people are welcome to come.
ROSSOf course, when you're the minority, when you're in the non-dominant group, you notice dramatically when people like you aren't around and are not included or not as welcomed or not in leadership. And so, that makes it less your organization, less the place that you're invited to. And in addition to that, of course, we carry the generations before us. So that for example, I've done a lot of work in schools around this and PTAs that you have a lot of African-American families who are not so eager to participate in PTAs because they remember their mothers or their fathers being humiliated when they participated a generation before.
ROSSNot necessarily feeling welcomed. Not necessarily feeling included. Or even two generations before in some cases. And so, these institutions that most of us feel like is core Americana, for other places -- for others bring out memories of pain.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, is your neighborhood more diverse, yet somehow more socially isolated? Why do you think that is? Call us at 800-433-8850. Here is Abby in Clifton, VA. Abby, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ABBYWell, I was just going to comment on your conversation. Thank you very much for taking my call.
ABBYI have been involved with kids' school and groups and also neighborhood things and church things. And I think it's not always a choice of the individual whether they're involved in certain things or not. Because when you get involved in an organization then you become more socially engaged with the people that you -- are in the organization. For instance, like a PTA group or something like that.
ABBYAnd they find out that you don't think the way they do, they're not going to likely turn or you just feel uncomfortable or rejected when you're with them, you know, like, I had a group that I used to go out to dinner with a lot. And I don't drink because of my religious beliefs and they always felt really uncomfortable because I didn't drink, but I didn't care if they drank. And yet I always felt like everybody's sort of closed up when I was around. And I thought it was sort of getting in the way of their social comfort. And so, I engaged less and less with them, you know? Not because I don't love them, because they're great people. But just because I didn't feel comfortable in the group.
ROSSWell, Abby, I think what you're describing is exactly what happens to most people in a lot of circumstances in their lives, this discomfort that you're describing, not knowing quite how to traverse the difference. And somebody says, well, you know, Abby doesn't drink and, you know, we want to drink. And it feels sort of uncomfortable. So, and let's just have a party and this time we won't invite her. We don't even say that. Or you decide, I don't really want to go because of people being uncomfortable.
ROSSAnd this is exactly what Putnam was finding where diversity was concerned occurs. Now, the good news is it doesn't mean that it never really has to be that way. What resolves that is when we talk about these things that are in the background as opposed to letting them be awkward. You know, and so I'm sure you've had times when you said, look, I want you all to know I don't drink, but it doesn't bother me at all if you do, or something similar to that. We have moments where we bring to the surface that which is in the background.
ROSSAnd we talk about it consciously and we make it clear what people's expectations are. And people, you know, we call dock-a-dock, so to speak and then we can move on. But all too often, we don't want to go there because we're not sure how to traverse those. And the more tension there is around the particular differences, so for example if you stick in that I'm a Democrat and you're a Republican, for example, or something like that, that becomes harder and harder to deal with. If it's race, it's harder and harder to deal with. And so, we have to learn to have those crucial conversations.
NNAMDIAbby, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. We still have a couple of lines open. Who have you had a more than 10-minute conversation with in the past week and how different or similar to that person are you? 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow. Email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We are talking with Howard Ross, business coach, consultant and trainer who works on workplace diversity issues, author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose and Performance." We're talking about social polarity. Howard, before we go back to the phones, can you give us some historical context for the social polarity that we are now seeing. When has it ever been this bad, if you will, or worse?
ROSSWell, I actually think that it's as bad as it's been in my lifetime. I mean, I lived through the Vietnam War era and civil rights eras. And, you know, in those times, certainly, around our political system you didn't see the kind of polarity. You had Northern Republicans who are more liberal and civil rights. You had Southern Democrats who are more conservative. Similarly, you had anti-war Republicans during Vietnam.
ROSSYou had -- you had pro-war Democrats. I think that the recent study show that the most conservative member of the Senate is now considered to be more liberal than the most liberal Republican member of the Senate. The most conservative Democrat member is more liberal than the most conservative -- or liberal Republican, which is unheard of. You know, the notion that there's no middle ground here.
ROSSAnd so -- and I think the very things that we're talking about this kind of special interest segmentation of the media, special interest segmentation of organizations is happening more and more. And so, we're becoming very calcified in those points of view in a dangerous way, I think.
NNAMDIHow do you see this kind of divisiveness we're talking about playing out in the organizations that you're working with?
ROSSWell, I think it's very common for -- I mean, for one thing, what happens in the external world happens internally in organizations. And so, there are certain topics that one could very easily talk about years ago even if one had stark differences, politics being one of them, where you could talk to people over lunch and you have Democrats and Republicans go to lunch together and they talk about and debate and tease each other, whatever. And then you go back to work.
ROSSNowadays, it's almost forbidden to have some conversations like that in a lot of places. It's just too dangerous to go there. I think similarly around religion you're finding that there'd be more and more attention around that as the politization of religion occurs more and more in our society. And so, as a result, there is this notion that I tippy toe around the people who I work with in terms of my core personal feelings about things, the things that are most important to me and rather than be fooling myself, I have to be careful about how I represent certain things and/or what can also happen is that organization cultures can only allow for a particular point of view rather than a more holistic one. And then the whole team loses.
NNAMDIHere's Gail in Arlington, VA. Gail, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
GAILHi. Well, my comment, I have two comments. One is that I try to have the opposite problem. I am actually African-American. But probably in the last 25 years or 30 years in my life, my associates tend to be almost exclusively, both in my work environment and socially, white people. So I actually have to work really, really hard to spend time -- in fact, almost in no situation am I ever in, like, a large group of black people. And then just to sort of follow-up on that, a group of friends to see Chris Rock a few years ago.
GAILAnd he is my son-in-law so I'm very familiar with his work. And one of his new jokes in his last tour was that, you know, race relations, they've gotten better. All black people have a few white friends. And all white people have at least black friend. And my whole row of friends, we fell out of our seat. He had no idea I was in the audience with 10 white people.
NNAMDIYeah, he'd probably made fun of that, too. But...
GAILSo when I took them backstage, I introduced him to my 10 white friends and told him and it's true, I'm the only black friend.
NNAMDIMm-hmm. Howard, care to comment on that at all from Chris Rock's mother-in-law?
ROSSYeah. I think what you're talking about is sort of the new reality that some people are facing, I think. And sometimes socioeconomic status leads to this. I mean, you know, the sort of intersection between socioeconomic status and race in our society is pretty profound. And so what can happen sometimes is because of the particular job you have or the particular social standing that you achieve and where you decide to live, you can be -- people can be in the circumstance that you're describing.
ROSSI'm not saying necessarily that was true for you, but I think that it can happen to people. And people find themselves in a very odd kind of position, which is, you know, here I am the only one here and yet somehow disconnected from what we might call my root community in terms of my identity. But also more comfortable over here, relative to the normative social memes of the culture that I'm a part of.
ROSSSo if I'm a part of this neighborhood and it just happens to be that I'm the only black family in this neighborhood or my family is the only black family, I still feel included. I feel connected with folks around me. And so they become my community. And, you know, ultimately we would like to think that that's -- there's nothing wrong with that, certainly, as long as you have the freedom to go back and forth.
NNAMDIAnd once it evolves -- once it evolves naturally which is how it seems to have evolved in your case. I remember your son-in-law once making a joke about the fact that he lived in a fairly high income neighborhood as an African-American movie star and performer, yet his neighbor, his immediate next-door neighbor happen to be a white dentist, as a matter of fact. But if...
GAILExactly right. And my daughter and my son-in-law, just to follow-up a little bit, do go out of their way to make sure that my three granddaughters have a very diverse lifestyle in terms of, you know, who their friends are. They make sure that their school they all go -- it is a private school, it's diverse. I mean, they really work hard...
NNAMDIWhich is the question I was -- which is the question I was raising with you, Gail, because in the case of you, it seems to have evolved naturally. And I was going to put to Howard the extent to which one should try to work on these things as her daughter and son-in-law seem to be doing.
ROSSWell, yeah, I think that it's interesting because I had somebody say to me, not long ago, you know, so what you're saying is, you know, people should have a personal affirmative action program. They should go out and choose friends to match it. And to a certain degree, I would say, yes. I mean, I think that what we need to recognize is that this notion that this is social engineering we're talking about doesn't take into account that we're dealing with the situation as the result of more than 200 years of social engineering. We weren't naturally born to, you know, the social system around race in our country was a constructed one.
ROSSAnd it was supported by rules and laws, which made it impossible or illegal in a lot of cases for different people to interact with each other. We're at the effect of that. And so, from my own standpoint, when I'm looking around to meet new people, I don't come from saying, well, gee, I'm going to choose somebody who's of color simply because, you know, I want to add that to my group, in that sense. But I will say is if I'm only seeing white people to choose from, then my view is obviously limited because there are a whole lot of interesting folks out there who are not white.
ROSSAnd so, where do I need to go so that I meet a broader range of people? Then what naturally occurs that is you meet people who you like and you meet people you spend time with. So, it's not like hiring a black friend, it's putting yourself in circumstances where you're likely to meet more people who are different from you.
NNAMDIGail, thank you very much for you call.
GAILYou're very welcome. Thank you.
ROSSThank you, Gail.
NNAMDIWe move on to David in Leesburg, VA. David, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
DAVIDYes. Thank you, Kojo. Enjoying the show. And it's very interesting to hear Mr. Ross. I was just going to go ahead and put in a plug for an organization that I hope both of you have heard of and that's ToastMasters. It's an international organization geared to helping people learn to overcome their fear in public speaking. And the reason I mention it is because all the clubs in, particularly this area, the D.C. area, greater Virginia, Maryland, are very diverse.
DAVIDAnd it had helped in many ways, not only in the diversity by the various nationalities of people but also their political backgrounds as well. I'm a member of two different clubs and we continually have speeches given on political topics that show different sides. And also, we've had members in many of my clubs from diverse backgrounds -- African, we have had Chinese. We've had Czechoslovakians. We've had Persians. It's a wonderful organization not only to increase your public speaking but also to get a sense of other people and your surrounding and the greater community that is America.
NNAMDIDavid, thank you for your call. Howard?
ROSSYeah, I'll -- I've never been to a ToastMasters' event, David, but I know a lot of people who have. They really speak very highly of it. But I think the broader point that you're making is that there are things that we can engage in in our community where we get exposure to diversity. I think it's a good question we should ask ourselves when we're doing sort of our own social mapping for ourselves, which is what clubs do I join and who are members of those clubs? And I mean clubs in a broad sense, obviously.
ROSSWhere do I participate? You know, do I go to movie theaters that are outside of my community? Do I go to restaurants where I'm going to encounter different people? Do I put myself in circumstances where those who I consider the other are available to me so that I can learn more about them? And I think that finding clubs like, you know, or -- not clubs -- but organizations like ToastMasters that represent that diversity is a great place to begin.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, David. Here's Larry in Alexandria, VA. Hi, Larry.
LARRYHi, Kojo. How are you? I'm glad to hear your show. It's pretty interesting. The point I wanted to make, Kojo, was about -- I'm glad your guest brought up the whole question of the media. Because I find the media to be one of the big obstacles for people learning new things. But more importantly, the fact that critical thinking is no longer taught in schools and more in popular culture. And I wanted your guest to comment on the lack of critical thinking.
ROSSWell, I think that -- let me comment just quickly on the media conversation first. I think that we also have to be responsible for our relationship with the media. I mean, I know I, you know, I tend not to watch FOX News, just to be transparent. It's not my, you know, it's not the political bent that I'm usually interested in. But I make a point of trying to every now and again, probably not as much as I should, because I want to know what color the sky is in that world. You know?
ROSSHow is it that that different point of view shapes itself up? I think that, you know, reading different columnists does that for us. So, lots of things that allow us to do that. So, I do think that we have to be responsible for the fact that the media isn't offered to us and we listen to or watch what we choose to watch. I think where critical thinking is concerned, you're absolutely right. And I think it's particularly dangerous not just in our schools but in society in general and very much along the lines of what we're talking about.
ROSSI mean, we're living in an increasingly thoughtless society. And because of the fact that we got so much information available to us and can't possibly process all of it, what we do is we tend to turn to reliable sources, ergo people who believe what we believe or we think believe what we believe. And they tell us what to think. So, during the health care legislation -- I forgot what university it was, but we've mentioned it before on the show did a study where they did a synopsis of the two different health care approaches, one Democrat, one Republican.
ROSSSwitched the names and 75 percent of people chose the name -- chose something they didn't believe in because it had the name of their party on it. I mean, that's the world that we're in. So, getting back to teaching kids how to think rather than just giving them information is critical at that. But of course is counter to where we're going with the public schools where we're cutting out more and more of anything but the basic education and relying on other sources to inform kids.
NNAMDILarry, thank you very much for your call. Since you brought up politics again, I'll talk about it more explicitly. In the Boston Review's Fixing Congress issue, Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee blames former House Majority Leader, current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich for changing the culture of Congress in 1994. He said that when Gingrich became speaker of the House, he ordered freshmen Republicans not to move their families to Washington because he thought they needed to campaign full time at home.
NNAMDIWhether you agree with Congressman Cooper or not, the point he makes is a good one. You can't foster a community spirit if you don't get to know each other. I'd like to add to that just to complicate the issue some more that on the other side of aisle, Barney Frank, who just said he is retiring from Congress, in both of these cases, you had particularly smart, sharp-tongued individuals who are notorious for not getting along with members of their own party. As a matter of fact, were nevertheless seen as being responsible for adding to the divisiveness that we see in the Congress.
ROSSWell, I think that -- I think it's true and there's lessons to be learned from that for us as well, which is that when we're at work, for example, a notion of getting together socially with the people you work with, which when I was growing up I saw very commonplace. I mean, certainly my family, my dad, my mom both would often have social events where they got together with people they work with. I think that that's increasingly difficult for families, particularly because so many people have more busy homes.
ROSSThey've got, you know, the kids are into more activities. More often than not, both families -- both parents are working nowadays. And so all of these things make them more challenging. But I think that, you know, when you look at the shift that he's talking about relatively to when Gingrich took power, I know I had a conversation not long ago with somebody who is a child of somebody who's in one of the houses of Congress and I won't say who it is, but she is Republican. Her father is a Republican, and she was talking about the fact that when they first came here, she's in her 30s, when they first came here it was very common for them to get together with Democratic congressmen and senators, and they would have these social events, very close family friends and the like, and they took care of each other's families and supported each other's families, and how toxic it's becoming now because it's really considered to be less and less acceptable.
ROSSYou know, the famous relationships between Ted Kennedy Orrin Hatch, and people like that who had these very strong political differences, but, you know, personally could really relate and often worked together. And now, of course, being seen -- ask Charlie Christ -- you know, being seen with the president, if he's from the other party, means that you're not considered to be conservative enough by one side, and, you know, to be honest, the same thing can happen on the other side as well. So I think it's dangerous when we begin to demonize people of the other side.
NNAMDIDangerous, but how do we get into that mentality? How do groups get into that mentality whether in Congress or in our communities, that the survival the this group and it's ideals take precedence over the greater good?
ROSSWell, I think that there's something that happens in the human species when we feel afraid or threatened, and at times when we feel afraid or threatened, the other tends to loom larger for us. That we're in an economic crisis right now, that we're in a circumstance where many people are challenging the well being of our country long-term in ways that we never really have looked at before, is not separate from what's going on. At those times we tend to pull into -- in our fear, pull away from those who are different from us and kind of hold onto what we believe in in stronger ways.
ROSSAnd of course that affects things like the people we're working next to. For example, if I'm working in a factory and we've had layoffs at the factory, and then I come back -- and my friend Bill gets laid off, and then I come back and this guy Jose who's working next to me is there. You know, I look at Jose and I say to myself, or the mind says, why is it that they're here but we're laying off Americans, without even thinking about the fact that Jose was born in the United States to Mexican-American parents, or maybe he's been a naturalized citizen for 30 years.
ROSSYou know, nonetheless, my sense of what American is gets defined by that sense of taking care of my own, and I think that that's a natural human trait, but unless we talk about it, it can devolve in to a very dangerous trait.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. I guess the next time we'll talk about whether this democracy is simply changing, evolving and re-inventing itself, or whether something much more, I guess, dangerous, is taking place here.
NNAMDIHoward Ross, thank you so much for joining us.
ROSSKojo, it's great to see you. Have a wonderful holiday season.
NNAMDIHoward Ross's latest book is called, "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance." He's a business coach, consultant, and trainer who works on workplace diversity issues. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, arrests at the Occupy D.C. site this past weekend, and we look at the challenges ahead. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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