Why this Liberal is willing to accept Chris Christie’s apology, and a few words on bullying.

Education Task ForceTo quote a favorite phrase of politicians, “Let me be clear.”

Let me be clear: I am not a supporter of Governor Chris Christie.  I grew up in New Jersey and live there still.  My wife is a public school teacher, and her salary has gone down over the past few years, not up, directly as a result of his policies.  I, myself, was a teacher in the public schools for seven years and was let go because of budget cuts in 2011.

I believe he’s wrong on a number of things, but I’m willing to put political differences aside and applaud him for the way he stepped up and handled this, so called, “Bridgegate” controversy.  He stood up there at the podium at this morning’s press conference and took responsibility for what happened.  I say, well done for that.

Is he a “bully”?  Some say yes, some say no.  Either way, I think he could help himself a great deal by at least considering why he’s gotten this label to begin with.

The term “bullying” is getting thrown around a lot, lately.  First, let’s define the term.

To use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

When I was  a teacher, I encountered several bullies in the classroom, in the hallways and often on the playground.  What it comes down to is how one goes about getting what one wants.  We all want things in life, whether it’s a toy someone else is playing with, a certain job or relationship with someone we feel will make our lives better, or a set of political policies we want enacted.  There’s a difference, though, between being assertive and strong and standing up for what you believe in, and acting like bully.  This difference can and should be seen in our leaders.

There are many ways to go about being a great leader.  Surely there have been many great leaders in history who haven’t been kind, and you might ask, What does kindness matter if the job gets done?  I might answer by asking, What kind of a job is getting done, exactly?

I want my leaders to be firm and have strong opinions about policy, laying out their ideas and plans for what they believe to be the most effective governing policies.  At the same time, though, any leader, however beneficial their policies and strategies might be for the people being governed, could give him or herself a huge shot in the arm by doing four things and doing them over and over again.

1. Listen and hear

There’s a difference between going around, politely allowing people the opportunity to have their say, and actually hearing what it is they’re trying to tell you. Everyone has a story, and it’s hard to hear everyone, but the best kind of listening involves a kind of attention to things underneath the surface that we don’t always make the time to dig for.  Nobody is what they seem at your first impression.  Listening is a wonderful trait.  Listening and hearing is taking that trait to the next level.

2.  Try your best to make sure people feel they’ve been heard.

You don’t have to agree with everyone, and I’m not saying that the goal is to bring everyone to the same side.  Difference is brilliant.  What I am saying is that people need to feel that they’ve been heard.  We’ve been taught that this is true in personal relationships, and the same is true for our leaders and those being led.  If you’re going to disagree with me on a position, allowing me to feel like I’ve actually been heard will make your policy change pill just a little easier to swallow.  Making me feel like I’m an idiot will certainly not be as effective.

3. Consider that “how” you say what you say is just as important (and I’d argue more so) as “what” you are saying, then choose your words carefully.

Very few things hurt leaders more than being perceived as those who don’t care how their language lands with the hearer.  In America, we seem to respect the “no nonsense” approach to things.  I appreciate that.  I do.  What I’m talking about is finesse in communication.   Kennedy and Reagan had it, especially Reagan.  They were both no nonsense type of guys, but their messages were delivered much differently than those being delivered today.  The goal isn’t to get everyone to like you, but wouldn’t it be more effective for you if they respected you?  More flies with honey than vinegar?  It’s worth considering.

4. Act compassionately

Showing compassion is not the same thing as showing weakness.  I think that idea has crept into our politics as well as into our religion in this country over the past several years.  You can make a stand for what you believe in and still act with a compassionate and loving heart.  Everyone has their own story.  Taking the time to consider that story and what has lead a person to their current viewpoint can only make for a more productive and beneficial future for all sides of a disagreement.  When you act, act decisively, but do so with compassion.

I don’t expect that Governor Christie is going to become Nelson Mandela now.  I expect him to go on being pretty much the same, truth be told.  But with all of the political bickering that goes on back and forth between the Ds and the Rs, it was a refreshing change of pace for me to see the governor get up and handle this controversy with what I thought was a nice bit of class.

So, well done, Guv’nor! I accept your apology.

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