On December 10, 1914, an enormous explosion erupted in Thomas Edison's famous Menlo Park Plant in New Jersey. The chemical-fueled fire spread so quickly that 8 fire departments were unable to put out the blaze in 10 of his buildings.
The legendary inventor lost priceless plans for future inventions, new product prototypes and many old memories. He also lost about $23 million dollars in today's money because his insurance only covered one-third of his losses.
During the fire, he was asked by a newspaper reporter, "What are you going to do now?" He calmly replied, "Although I am 67 years old, I'll start over tomorrow."
The moment the fire died down, Edison and his team focused all their time, energy and talent on building something better.
Two days after the disaster, Edison and his team finalized a design for a portable searchlight that could be seen for miles. He got the idea from watching the fire fighters struggle in the dark to save his plant. Six months after the disaster, he started selling a battery-driven light solution to solve that problem.
"If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves."
~ Thomas A. Edison ~
On May 25, 2020, an enormous explosion erupted in our country. This fire wasn't started by a match, but by the gruesome murder of an unarmed man in Minneapolis.
The video of the unemotional white police officer putting his knee on George Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while three unemotional police officers (one White, one Black and one Asian) stood by and did nothing to stop the violence will live with me and most leaders for the rest of our lives.
I may never understand how anyone could be capable of committing such a cold-blooded crime, why 3 police officers were silent while watching someone suffer, or why so many people around the country decided it was okay to express their anger by breaking into stores, stealing merchandise, destroying property and, in some instances, killing other innocent people.
WE'RE BETTER TOGETHER
For a brief moment, our nation was united in the belief that what happened to George Floyd was heartbreaking and outrageously wrong. Millions of people around the world viewed the violent video and yet there was no debate about what happened. However, the harmony didn't last long. For the last 4 weeks, too many family members, friends, business associates and strangers are arguing in person and over social media about the cause and cure of the problems that led to his tragic death.
Good relationships are being damaged and, in some cases, destroyed as people try to convince each other...with their "facts"...that their opinion is right. Instead of agreeing to disagree and respecting each other's opinion, the "cancel culture" seems to suggest we should vote some people off our island.
The melting pot that formed our Great, not perfect, Nation is boiling over, and it's time for leaders to turn down the heat and help people work and live better together.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
~ Martin Luther King, Jr. ~
The fire in Edison's factory was confined to his property and stopped burning in a day. The George Floyd fire is still raging all over America and it will continue to burn until people of all colors, backgrounds and beliefs really listen to each other's point of view, find common ground and create the positive changes that will make the United States a better place for this and future generations.
A BETTER WAY TO WORK AND LIVE
Early in my career, I spent 4 years working in prisons around the country teaching a program called, Guides for Better Living. The course was created by W. Clement Stone and based on his book, Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. I also spent about 10 years, after leaving Stone's Organization, as a volunteer teaching a similar course at Cook County Jail.
The most successful programs were always the ones where we could get the guards and inmates in the same class. On the surface, the two groups seemed so different; but when "each side" learned to really listen to each other, the color of their skin or uniform didn't matter. They discovered they had similar hopes, dreams and fears.
"Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding."
~ Albert Einstein ~
THE LOST ART OF LISTENING TO LEARN
Much of the unhealthy conflict in our lives is the result of people not listening to each other. The problems in our workplaces, families and communities are not going to be solved by just protesting or signing pledges. We need more leaders committed to having one-on-one "listening to learn" meetings with family members, friends, business associates and even strangers.
It's time to sit down, face-to-face (6 feet apart), make a phone call or connect over Zoom and just listen to another person's story, especially those individuals who look, act and think differently than we do. The goal is not to solve a problem, but rather just listen to learn more about the other person's point of view and discover what we have in common.
At the surface, we're all different; but down deep, there's a lot of common ground.
Offering someone our undivided attention, letting the other person drive the conversation in the direction they need to go, and gaining a greater appreciation for the other person's facts and feelings is extremely difficult. However, it's worth the effort. Giving the people around us the experience of being heard is one of the most valuable gifts we'll ever give the individuals we work with, live with and serve.
"The obligation to listen can be experienced as a burden, and we all sometimes feel that way. But it is quite a different thing to be moved by a strong sense that the people in our lives are eminently worth listening to, a sense of their dignity and value. One thing we can all add a little more of is understanding, respect, compassion, and fairness, the fundamental values conveyed by listening."
~ Michael P. Nichols ~
"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."
~ Winston Churchill ~
Many of the people in our workplaces, families and communities are hurting and exhausted these days. Listening to their frustrations and aspirations, as well as their ideas for helping everyone thrive...not just survive...during these turbulent times, will help the people you lead and love feel valued and appreciated.
There is a way to work and live better together - let's find it...one courageous conversation at a time.