Personal Strategies for the New Political Reality

Some of us are dismayed and even appalled by the incoming administration, its policies and its behavior. (If that doesn’t include you, feel free to read on and disagree, or to delete and move on.)

By Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsThose of us who do feel that way need to review our personal strategies including how we spend our professional time, energy and credibility.  That’s hard to do. This new political reality can be overwhelming and represents so many kinds of failure – of the system, of ourselves, of my generation, of civility, of truth.

Many have focused on three broad approaches, none of them attractive: fight everything (“resistance”), try to work with the new administration (“accommodation” or maybe “collaboration”), or crawl into a hole and hold your breath for 4 or 8 years (“avoidance”). Each has its attraction, each has its flaws.

I’ve got some blunt advice which probably won’t satisfy proponents of any of those three approaches. (I’ve also written more neutral advice specifically for the workplace, posted on LinkedIn as “New Political Reality: Rules for the workplace”.)

Pick your battles

My advice: pick your battles.  Differentiate among:

  • Impact issues: The issues that have the greatest impact on us all, and where we each have a chance to have an impact. In my case, one is climate change. That doesn’t mean climate change has to be one of your impact issues. Choose your issues, dedicate yourself, focus, look at how your professional decisions impact those issues.
  • Boundary issues: The issues that simply can’t be tolerated, no matter what. These are issues of right and wrong, not right and wrong policy. Many are basic issues of human rights and civil rights. When these lines are crossed what stand will you take?  And should that stand be any different in the work place? If it’s wrong on the street why is it okay in the office?
  • Regrettable issues: The issues which we wish we could fight, but have to let go or leave to others.

You can address impact issues in two different ways. One path is trying to influence policy (e.g. reduce homelessness through changes to housing and employment policy). The other path is trying to mitigate the actual impacts of policies (e.g. feed hungry homeless people tonight). These two paths are both necessary, and are complementary rather than conflicting (though they often compete for attention, volunteers and funding).

Make your plan

Once you’ve figured out which issues are which for you, you can start to build a plan of action:

  1. Focus on impact issues. Get to work researching, writing, volunteering, negotiating, advocating.
  2. Stand up and be counted on boundary issues.
  3. Learn to breathe deeply on regrettable issues.
  4. Build coalitions. As I noted in my LinkedIn post: “Don’t apply ideological tests. People don’t have to agree with your reasons to support your proposal. In Washington that used to be called ‘reaching across the aisle.’ It works. (It even can create mutual understanding that makes real progress.) Don’t get sanctimonious about it.”
  5. Get involved locally. Get down to earth and focus on the day-to-day reality. You’ll learn a lot about the issues. More importantly, you’ll actually do something. If you feed someone, they’re fed for that day, no matter what someone tweets out of Washington.
  6. Support each other. People are going to be discouraged, including you. Many are going to feel isolated in their companies, agencies, communities and even families. Reach out. Respond to those who reach out to you. Look for new platforms that allow you to connect with others wrestling with the same challenges.

Act

This isn’t an easy plan to follow. For many of us, there is no easy plan for the next few years. But we each have to find the right balance.  We can’t resist everything: that’s exhausting and turns important voices into a dull roar of background noise. We can’t just wait and see: there are already important decisions being made (wrongly) and lines being crossed. We can’t just sit in the Facebook echo chamber sharing SNL videos with each other.

It’s time to remember the words of someone who mastered the social media of his day without deprecating others, Mahatma Gandhi: “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”

Or to put it in terms the new administration might understand: “Do the right thing even if results uncertain. If you do nothing, you can be sure no result. #Pickyourbattles.”

Dressing for the new realities

[Opinions in this blog are solely those of Scott Nadler and do not necessarily represent views of Nadler Strategy’s clients or partners, or those cited in the post. To share this blog, see additional posts on Scott’s blog or subscribe please go to nadlerstrategy.com.]

One thought on “Personal Strategies for the New Political Reality

  1. Scott, thanks for these wise words. They reach me personally at a time when I made the decision to invest in learning more about how our regulatory and policy framework is developed and implemented (in a formal master’s degree), while I am still focused professionally in helping companies understand the value of stakeholder engagement. Talk about kismet! That said, I think you could call out more specifically in bold something that perhaps is holding back many individuals from acting: the need to learn, first. Very, very few of us know how our own system of government works, and therefore how to participate effectively. So, I would advocate for unfollowing those media sources that focus on noise and an ongoing debate on semantics, and start focusing on media, friends, colleagues, and initiatives that can teach us how to give substance to our concerns, and to our solutions. The noise right now can be overwhelming and distracting. Don’t be afraid to turn it off.

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