Democracy and Dignity

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“This U.S. election is a battle about dignity.”

That’s what Harvard conflict / negotiation expert Donna Hicks said to me this week. That “each of us is born with inherent value, but we are vulnerable to that value being violated.”

When I look at my divided nation, I believe this is true. No matter which side of the aisle we are on, if we feel not heard, we also feel our dignity has been violated. On LinkedIn Live, I shared four ideas on this topic. I believe them to be so important I’m sharing them with you too.

1. The importance of voting. Richard Strauss, composer of the Viennese Waltz, said the following, “The human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but it is the most difficult to play.” If we don’t vote, we don’t have a voice. If you live in a country where you can vote (and if you’re reading this, you probably do) then you have a forum to use your voice. When we use our voices, we honor our own dignity.

2. Peacefully accept election results. Once an election is over, peacefully accept the results. It doesn’t mean we can’t protest; we just do so with legal means. Dallin H. Oaks, a former state supreme court justice, turned religious leader said, “If we don’t like the outcome, we obey the current law, and then use peaceful means to change it.” By doing this, we battle our sense of entitlement embodied in the feeling that our vote, or our desired outcome, is more important. We honor the dignity of others.

3. Why democracy works. This past week, I was reminded of a story Clay Christensen told about a conversation he once had with a Marxist economist from China who was finishing a Fulbright Fellowship in Boston. When Clay asked him what he’d learned, the economist said, “The reason that democracy works is because most people, most of the time, voluntarily choose to obey the law….Americans [choose to obey the law] because they have come to believe they [are] accountable not just to society but to God.”

4. Treat others with dignity. It would be great if everyone followed this guideline in our conversations and relationships with one another, but the reality is not all will. When our dignity is violated, here are two suggestions from Donna Hicks, who was also our podcast guest a few years ago: First, “Don’t take the bait. Don’t let the bad behavior of others determine your own. Restraint is the better part of dignity. Do not do unto others as they do unto you.” and Second, “Don’t assume you are the innocent victim in a troubled relationship: open yourself to the idea that you may be contributing to the problem.”

Then she shares thoughts which accord with our need to battle our entitlement, “Approach people as neither inferior nor superior to you. Give people the freedom to express their opinion.” And “give people the benefit of the doubt; start with the premise that people have good motives.”

When someone votes differently than we do, rather than ‘othering’ them, which is easy to do, we can ask ourselves, ‘Why are they voting this way?” How does their preferred candidate affirm their dignity? Or how does the other candidate violate their dignity?’ If we ask those questions, we move to a place where change can happen—in ourselves, our country, and our world.

This week our podcast guest is Marcus Whitney. He disrupted himself from living in a week-to-week efficiency hotel to becoming a successful businessman and now part-owner of Nashville, Tennessee’s Major League Soccer team. His, is a powerful voice telling a story of personal and human dignity.

As always, thank you for being here.
​Marcus has graciously offered to make five signed copies of his book available to five listeners. If you would like to be eligible for one of the copies, leave a review wherever you listen, whether Apple, Podbean, etc (email us wj@whitneyjohnson and let us know you did!), or on Instagram @johnsonwhitney and @marcuswhitney.

My very best,

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