The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, May 24, 2017 1:00 am

Tribal counsel

Respectful engagement, not mean tweets, is the only way we can show growth

Melissa A. Rinehart

Why has an iron fist of hate become a pre-emptive tool for the destruction of one's ideas and personal character? Why have many of our country's leaders seemingly set aside their integrity to tear apart someone else's?

It feels as if the bar continues to creep lower for thoughtful engagement, decorum and a demonstrable appreciation for our collective identity as Americans. True leaders don't lead from behind the scenes, they lead from the front lines. They answer questions from their constituents, listen openly without interruption or derision, do their research and seek a variety of opinions from which to frame possible solutions. In other words, they engage intentionally with and across diverse sectors. They work relationally instead of through unilineal discernment. They engage within a collective framework wherein everyone has value, not just those who agree with or financially support them. True leaders don't set aside ethics or morals to support initiatives that help a minority over a majority. They should not only work for us, but alongside us.

I want more leaders who are open to diverse thought and ways of building consensus. An anthropological study conducted in Kenya recently found that baboons, whose culture is hierarchical and authoritarian in nature, are capable of leading by consensus. Why can't humans do this more? Of course, it's not the only way to lead or organize ourselves, but I believe the timing couldn't be more perfect to at least try. I want leaders who don't counter oppositional thought with name-calling, insults or other childish tactics. Such ill-quipped banter is simplistic and shortsighted. Why not dig deeper for the root causes of division? Why not find those core issues we all agree on?

I have relationships with people of various political orientations, and we engage respectfully with one another because we understand from the outset that there's a shared purpose – to live healthy, prosperous lives. While our paths may differ for attaining that purpose, I actually think therein lies the beauty of opportunity. It's from these diverse paths that more thoughtful engagement emerges. It's from there opportunities can lead to effective change. Inclusion should not be feared, but revered. I'm tired of my elected leaders listening only to those who shout the loudest and decry the “other,” or those they deem more important or worthy for whatever reason.

I value everyone and have committed my career to helping reduce inequities for disadvantaged populations because they, too, want and deserve healthy prosperous lives. While this country was founded on an intrinsic value of individualism, I'm tired of everyone looking out for his/herself. Integrity is one of the most critical qualities a person possesses, and it feels lost to me in public discourse today.

We need to strive for a common good because I firmly believe we can help more people by working together than from a space of contempt and disparagement. Simply put, we can do better and shouldn't tolerate what appears to be a new status quo for engagement. Our shared narrative doesn't reflect well on us right now, let alone work for us in any meaningful way outside inconsolable anger. Whether through media spin or Facebook memes simplifying complicated issues through disparaging language, our freedom of speech has become an abusive weapon of choice.

One needs to ask him/herself, how does this ugliness foster positive change? How does perpetuating hate move us forward collectively? If you're honest with yourself, you already know the answer to these questions - it doesn't.

My hope is that before one places or shares an ugly meme or tweet in the cybersphere, they pause and ask themselves how that's helping us move toward a common good. If baboons can reach consensus, why can't we?

Melissa A. Rinehart, a Fort Wayne resident, is an applied anthropologist and works as an educator, researcher, author, consultant and community advocate. With the support of Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County, she's leading the effort for Welcoming Fort Wayne.

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