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Molly Alexander Darden Headshot

Legacy, Schmegacy -- What's the Big Deal Politically?

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"To all those who believe it possible to have win-win outcomes in life. May your actions reflect this belief as you step up to lead this generation." -- Habib Chamoun-Nicolas

As we move toward yet another election season, it's important to consider how we will conduct ourselves and our campaigns (personal and national) so that we can plant seeds of cohesion for the generations to follow.

Although I write frequently about the legacy we leave to the next generation and those to follow, I haven't said why this is such a passion of mine, so I'll tell you now and you may see threads in my story that you could weave into your own.

More than 80 years ago, when my parents fell in love, they happened to be of different religions; my siblings and I are still feeling the repercussions of that! Because of that difference, elders on both sides decided that this religious divide was insurmountable and they rejected our 'mixed' family which grew eventually to seven siblings, and innumerable nieces, nephews, grandchildren and 'greats'. (Both sides of my family are historically prolific.)

My parents married and managed to stay together, for the most part, happily for 60 years until my Dad died; we grew up without knowing our innumerable cousins; we missed out on all the fun, milestones and memories they enjoyed, and continue to enjoy together.

Now, one cousin and I, brought together after his brother's death, are struggling to develop closeness despite polar opposite political beliefs. This cousin is a wonderful, warm, loving individual with the same strong moral values as mine; both of us are intensely patriotic. The challenge lies, not so much in our opposing political views as in our approach to finding common ground so as to move our country forward.

Our country today is in much the same position as my family's various divisions, and it's high time we learned to change that picture. My cousin is learning that it's OK to stay loyal to core values while reaching out to find workable connections with the other side. This is a difficult skill to master; it requires patient perseverance and understanding for us to get on the same wavelength; we're getting there, and I firmly believe that children and grandchildren from his and my families will be the better for our efforts.

Politically, Facebook is still full of accusatory, 'I hate Republicans / Democrats / Obama / MitchMcConnell', etc. posts, often with little relation to truth; a significant number are distorted, others true but hatefully presented. This is particularly disturbing because we will soon head into congressional campaigns which bring the promise of more intense versions of the same paralyzing messages -- unless we decide to brake for progress, and take a more enlightened approach.

How can we do that? Well, we can start by sticking to the truth -- no leaving out parts, no distortion, untruths, one-sided accusations, name-calling, negative adjectives, 'I hate ____'-type webpages, and the like. Those negative tactics lead us nowhere except to more divisiveness. Perhaps the most important skill we must develop, though, is learning to listen with the objective of fully understanding the opposing viewpoint while looking for mutually agreeable points.

Abusive, inaccurate portrayals don't reaffirm us as morally strong, patriotic Americans, nor do they win anything of value for us. We simply can no longer afford to take the position of 'my side must win over your side' because that approach only leads to more hatred and divisiveness -- it's totally a lose-lose approach -- and that makes people who take that approach, losers. Instead, we must say, 'When America wins, we all win.'

Any approach that will move America forward cohesively will have to be cooperative, based on taking the best of each others' core values and applying them to the issues we're working to resolve in a form that is acceptable to us all. In other words, we're all in this together, and we have to work through it all together.

Skills leading to such a positive approach are skills we should know already and be passing on to our children and grandchildren. They are conflict resolution and negotiation skills. If we don't know them yet, now's the time to learn. With a mastery of both those sets of skills, the sky's the limit for us and for those who follow us!

Of the many books on these and other basic communication skills, the ones I find most useful are: Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader (Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan, 2nd Ed. 2013, Jossey Bass), Negotiate Like a Phoenician (Habib Chamoun-Nicolas, 2008, Key Negotiations), The Five Percent (Peter Coleman, 2011, Perseus Books Group/Public Affairs) and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey, 1989, Simon and Schuster).

I'm ready to prepare a winner's legacy, a more First-Rate America, for coming generations in my family; will you join me for your family? If not us, then who? If not now, then when? Let's do this together! Let's begin now!