Jul 122017 3 Responses

Why Congress Needs to Take a Hike

One of my greatest pet-peeves is when people blame the President (any President, not just this one) for what is actually the job of Congress. The President is not THE government for the United States, he/she is one-third of our leadership, sharing power with the Judicial and Legislative branches. Most of the power and expectation from the Constitution falls not on the President, but on Congress. They are the ones who are supposed to be so connected with the people that they determine the changes which need to be made, motivating them to write legislation. The President then oversees the execution of those laws while the Court makes sure we stay in bounds of what the Constitution has prescribed. The crippling political climate we have experienced for the last decade is far more a failure by the legislative branch than the executive or judicial branches.

Congress needs to take a hike.


The Power of a Hike

One of Jenny’s favorite activities is hiking. Before meeting her I wasn’t a fan, but in two decades of being with her, I’ve come to appreciate the power of a good hike. Recently, we spent two weeks in northern Montana and southern Canada. Hiking the trails of Glacier and Banff National Parks, I was struck by one thing–the attitudes of those hiking.

Hiking toward a glacier in Banff, my daughter lost a hearing aid. We narrowed down the likely location to about 500 yards of trail. A family from Australia stopped their hike and helped us look. A few minutes in, the daughter found the hearing aid allowing Ella to hear and saving me a few thousand dollars in replacement costs.

Going toward a lookout at Lake Louise, Silas and I stopped to allow Ella to catch her breath. A few feet up the trail another family was struggling with the mosquitos. The teenagers were asking the mom why she didn’t pack bug spray. I told them we had some. Their first reaction was to decline my offer, but then more mosquitos struck. They took the spray and continued on their way. Four days later and 30 miles away, I passed one of the teenagers and he said, “hey, it’s the bug spray man.”

Traversing a path toward Hidden Lake in Montana, we passed a family headed the other direction. Seeing my Arkansas hat, on girl said, “SEC.” Seeing her Georgia hat, I responded, “SEC.”

On every trail, we interacted with someone. We stepped aside to let them pass. We offered a hand on a steep incline. We encouraged them they were almost there or told them the view was worth it. We chit-chatted with people from various countries and locations intrigued by their experience and always searching for common ground. The hike was a shared experience and we naturally created a community to make the process more achievable and enjoyable.

Imagine if Congress acted this way. Instead of playing the political game, imagine if our political leaders focused on two questions:

1. What do we have in common?

2. How can I help?

It’s easy to find differences. They make for good fodder in political commercials and can create an “us vs. them” mentality. But they aren’t always useful in getting things done. Finding common ground requires more work, but it’s far more useful to accomplishing a task. Disagreements are always present but establishing common ground reveals places where we can work together.

Focusing on ways I can contribute is a radical difference from attempting to find ways I can win political points. It may not help in re-election, but it would greatly improve governing if our leadership would focus on ways they can help others. Too often politics is about stopping the work of the opposing party and winning a media moment at their expense. What would happen if our politicians spent less time opposing others and more time finding ways to help?

It’s Not Just Congress

While there is no question Congress needs to learn these skills, there is little hope they will. It’s hard to change cultures that have been in place for so long, especially when so much power is at stake. But these two ideas aren’t just saved for Congress. What would happen if each of us focused on these two basic ideas–what do we have in common and how can I help?

At work it would change competitive relationships in collaborative efforts. Not only would it help the company, it would likely advance your career.

At home it would transform combative relationships into compassionate ones. It would ease the stress on a marriage while also increasing the affection.

In communities it would replace cynicism with cheer. Instead of everyone focusing on what others aren’t doing, they would fixate on the possibilities of what could be accomplished together.

These two questions are so simple they are easy to overlook, yet they have the power to transform individuals, families, institutions, and communities. In whatever you are doing today, stop and consider–what do we have in common and how can I help? When your actions are born from the answers of these questions, things will change.

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