Telling It Like It Is

If you’ve had your ear to the ground lately you’ve probably heard people being praised for a lack of political correctness. As a result, you’ve probably witnessed the rise in what many have called “telling it like it is” – which has become code for hammering one’s opinion without concern for how it’s received.

It’s hard to summon the perpetual state of offense needed to respond to each dose of “telling it like it is” that occurs in our 24-hour news cycle – but it is worth considering how we got here.

In other words, it’s worth looking at the increasingly tribal ground of public discourse we find ourselves on, where opinion is taken as fact depending on which person or group it’s coming from.

This is a place where the goal isn’t to reflect the truth or embody a set of values, but to win at all costs.

A hallmark of “telling it like it is” involves doubling-down on one’s own false certainty, digging deeper into beliefs regardless of whether they are proven to be inaccurate.

Thankfully, we’re already seeing evidence that the immune system of civilization works.

Just as white bloods cells come together to protect the body from disease, individuals are coming together to protect our communities from diseased thinking. We have so much to be proud of in that regard – truly – and if we keep it up, the cancer cannot spread. Ultimately, I believe we will heal from our discordance although, as usual, it will take us a while to get there.

Thus, it’s this “between time” we should be aware of – i.e. the space between when we recognize our own behaviors as destructive and when we take action to correct them. We can decide for ourselves how drawn-out this “between time” will be but, as long as we’re in it, we’re shining a very big spotlight on what not to do rather than modeling forms of communication that are both honest and skillful.

And our children are watching.

In a couple hours I’m going to speak to a room of students at Northwestern University in Chicago. These are future leaders in the height of their formative years, meaning the attitudes and world views they adopt today will shape who they become tomorrow.

Again, while I believe we will eventually recover from the toxicity of this time, I can’t help but feel like we’ve cheated a generation searching for role models while we figure it out. Yes, there are notable exceptions, but I wonder how much they are internalizing the caricature of leadership being presented to them on the front pages every morning.

As I mentioned before, we are the ones planting seeds on the ground they will inherit. The question is: What are we planting?