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This Land of Strangers - Robert E Hall

This Land of Strangers

"..the most important book of the decade." — Richard Boyatzis, co-author of best seller Primal Leadership

Relationships, in all their varied forms, have been the lifetime study of Robert Hall. He brings a rare combination of experience as a researcher, consultant, writer, teacher and CEO in dealing with the real-world relationship challenges of modern organizations. When coupled with a decade of hands-on experience in the gritty world of inner-city homeless families it translates into a tapestry of vivid stories, well-researched and oft startling facts, and strategic insights that weave together the yet untold narrative of society's gravest risk and most stellar opportunity.

The Radicalization of Relationships: Time for Reformation, by Robert Hall, Huffington Post, February 16, 2017

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Relationships are becoming politically radicalized. Which car service you use, coffee you drink, bracelet you wear, speaker is allowed to speak – are now forced-choice political decisions and even political statements. Boycott this, protest that, bully and ridicule them, punish those over there. Our congress is like two parents “governing” in the midst of a really ugly divorce and now 7,000 California workers seek signatures for a 2018 state constitutional amendment to “Calexit.” Relational reconciliation is about as welcome as ancient leprosy.

Relationships begin to radicalize when two things happen: when we put ideology ahead of relationships and exert power to force our beliefs on others. In the extreme, we rightfully condemn these forces in terrorist acts attributed to groups like Radical Islam and preach the need for moderates to reform radicalization. But, it is also time to acknowledge we have started down a path of growing political polarization necessitating our own need for reformation.

Polarization Growing into Radicalization

Could our polarization become radicalization? The facts are sobering: In 1979 40 percent of the members of Congress were rated as moderate, today only 10 percent are moderate and 90 percent rate ideologically extreme. It is not just politicians. Voters who consider themselves ideologically extreme grew from 29% in 1972 to 49% in recent years. The share of Democrats and Republicans holding a “very unfavorable” view of the other party has tripled since the 1990s. In the 1960s four percent of Democrats and five percent of Republicans said they would be displeased if their son or daughter married someone with a differing political ideology. By 2010 that number had reached 33 percent and 49 percent respectively.

In the last Presidential election, we started with more than 20 candidates but the last four candidates standing – Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the left and Donald Trump and Ted Cruz on the right – were the most extreme. Each party moved in opposite directions, more “radical” voices prevailed and more moderate voices were drowned out.

Now comes former birther, President Donald Trump, signing a barrage of executive orders including a hastily prepared immigration ban with little involvement of his party’s legislative leaders nor the effected department leaders. Our model of legislators passing laws that Presidents execute has devolved into Obama and Trump issuing executive orders that judges either affirm or deny.

Differences and conflict are not new. What is new: our retreat from centuries of advancements in more participative and collaborative ways of governing. At a time when many organizations seek greater stakeholder engagement, much of our political engagement is driven by unhealthy polarization, not collaboration. It seems the world has gone off its meds with everyone all victimized and angry – where the more we gain, the more aggrieved we feel.

The New Relationals – Reformation to Counter Radicalism

It is time to stop blaming George Bush, Barack Obama or even Donald Trump. These are the leaders we elected – democracy gets the leaders it deserves. We must become the change we seek (Gandhi) – bottom-up – because top-down change keeps being rejected.

It is time to organize a new breed: Relationals – committed to relationships that work. The old model offers two dominate groups: passionate conservatives and passionate progressives/liberals for whom “compromise” is now a dirty word. To quote Sam Harris: extremists view moderates as just failed extremists who stand for nothing, warranting no credibility.

Moderates are often luke-warm. Why? Many are repelled by this take-no-prisoners, winner-take-all approach where radical rhetoric and actions yield more media attention, extremist leaders, division and dysfunction.

Relationals must become Relational Leaders: organizers and activists for reform around three ideas.

Relationships First: A model of relational reformation begins with a very simple but powerful idea: put productive relationships first – over ideology. Radicals put ideology first – viewing relationships as a means toward the end of converting others. Relationals view ideology as a means toward stronger relationships. They do not de-value ideology but rather redirect it to enable higher purpose: respect for disagreement, collaborative improvement, overcoming obstacles, compromise over dis-unity. Organization research finds people who feel respected are 55 percent more engaged.

Relationships: A More Sustainable Cause than Ideology: It is no accident that the largest political segment today (42 percent) is aptly labeled “none-of-the-above” – Independent – another for word for homeless. These independents define their political affiliation by the relationship they-do-not-have – neither democrat nor republican. Most independents do not lack for ideological beliefs and leanings, but value a higher “relational” purpose than leaders roiling their base in a fund-raising arms-race of manufactured extremism; where enraged constituents reward leaders with more power and richer coffers. Donor management has become anger incitement. It extracts a cost that we can no longer afford and puts our way of life at risk. To paraphrase President Reagan: independents did not leave their parties, their parties left them. Now is the time for Relationals to mature from “none-of-the-above,” into a positive, sustainable movement to counter relational radicalization that fractures us.

Relational Power: Independents suffer from a power-shortage. The New Relationals are passionate about growing power by sharing it – not hoarding it. They believe collaboration, co-creation, transparency and participative relationships yield more sustainable solutions than power-wielding, controlling ideologues. They believe innovative solutions are inherent in differences when stakeholder engagement trumps ideological purity.

Our country is being run today by political parties shrinking in popularity while growing more radical – an unsustainable trend. It is time for relational reformation. Maybe it’s a new party or maybe part of existing parties – think Tea Party or the emerging Democrat “Resistance.” I believe Millennials are well-suited to play a defining leadership role given their ideals of collaboration, co-creation, participation and inclusion.

Former Chairman, Joint-Chiefs-of-Staff, Peter Pace’s advice regarding growing sectarian-violence during the Iraq war is instructive: “If the Iraqi people decided today that they love their children more than they hate their neighbor…this could come to a quick conclusion.” That’s it: a relational movement where relationships trump escalating ideological divide.

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