In the face of these uncertain times, it is necessary for each of us to be brave. Though it is easier to simply follow along and protect what we currently have, we also need the courage to stand up for what is right and risk being vulnerable.
So many of us have been duped into believing social media enables us to actively write our individual history instead of actually living and sharing in a collective history. As much as we think we are freely choosing what to engage in, we are often being led by others with a financial or power incentive to make us follow along.
Politicians appeal to our worst fears and increasing insecurity in order to move their particular agenda forward. Hope and dreams are out; fear and uncertainty are in. Democracy has become more about getting a larger share for oneself rather than growing the collective pie.
This way of thinking leads to blaming another demographic for our own misfortune as it is easier than taking responsibility and doing something about it. Our nation of immigrants has somehow lost sight that this is our strength, and that regardless of where you were born, your color or creed, you have an equal opportunity to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Perhaps this is due to thinking we should all have equal opportunity rather than equitable opportunity. If this were about equity, then those who need more assistance would get more, and we would all see this as fair. Of course, this would require accepting that we are all, as American citizens (regardless of our heritage), equal in deserving opportunities.
In what is rapidly now being referred to as a post-truth world, many knowingly accept fake news from anyone and anywhere because they believe respected journalistic institutions are also fake. Somehow all news is considered equal because all internet voices are equal. Though verified factual information stands in stark contrast to ignorant opinions—because everyone has a megaphone—these are treated equally. Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one, and the internet means we all own one.
Without a Walter Cronkite, who people once took comfort in telling us the truth, we can now choose any individual to tell us the personal truth we want to hear. Many people are no longer concerned with what is really true, but rather what is true for their current point of view. Confirmation bias runs rampant as they don’t want to debate the issues, but only reinforce their narrow perspective of what is currently true for them.
In the face of this, courageous leadership is absolutely required and we shouldn’t be looking for others to demonstrate it. We should seek this in ourselves.
In the same way the internet has leveled the playing field for our voices, we can all become leaders in our own communities by standing up to injustice in the real world. When we witness intolerance, racism or random acts of violence, we should immediately stand up against it.
This means standing up for individuals who are marginalized whether in the workplace, at school, or simply standing in line at a grocery store. When we witness an ignorant xenophobe oppressing others, it is up to each of us to stand up courageously and denounce it. We can no longer accept that staying on the fringe is okay just because our own lives are currently safe and comfortable. “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people,” said Martin Luther King, Jr.
Courageous leadership is about getting outside of your comfort zone and risking to be vulnerable by defending what you stand for. Somebody once said life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. I believe we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Though hatred and mistrust are rampant in our society, we need to denounce hateful actions and encourage bridge-making. We need the patience and compassion to first understand others before seeking to be understood by them. We need to recognize our own personal hypocrisy before we attack others. To move forward in restoring trust and compassion, each of us must take a long hard look inside ourselves before blaming others.
Leading with courage means fully acknowledging oneself—including our bias, limited perspective, and overall ignorance—before seeking to influence others. Rather than build walls to divide ourselves and other like-minded people from those who are different, we should bravely seek to find common ground and better understanding.
Lead with tolerance and compassion. Assume that everyone is doing the best they can for themselves and for their families. And be the leader of the change that you want to see in yourself and others.