Stephen Covey wrote extensively on our societal shift from the Character Ethic to the Personality Ethic.
"The most important ingredient we put into any relationship is not what we say or what we do, but what we are. And if our words and our actions come from superficial human relations techniques (the Personality Ethic) rather than from our own inner core (the Character Ethic), others will sense that duplicity. We simply won't be able to create and sustain the foundation necessary for effective interdependence," he wrote in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
A Donald Trump supporter wearing a Donald Trump mask. (Photo: Mark Makela/Reuters)
The Personality Ethic - our present reality
When it comes to the Personality Ethic, which has ruled our society for the past century, America has hit rock bottom with U.S. President Donald J. Trump.
This man with the loudest personality won both the Republican nomination and the American presidency; however, the problem is only illustrated by Trump, as he is not the true source of the issues. Trump is simply a reflection of many Americans' lack of critical thinking skills and empathy. Style has been valued over substance. Personality over character.
In our family, critical thinking is the cornerstone of nearly every conversation. I must admit, it is sometimes a challenge. For example, dinner conversations can be both enlightening and extremely tedious.
"That's not exactly true. Let's clarify that."
"That is your perspective, but another person might see it this way."
"Even though I don't agree with that person, I can see why they think that."
These conversations can be mentally exhausting, but they are worth it. I want my children to know how to think, not just what to think.
President Trump is a master of the Personality Ethic - showing off wealth, blustering and talking in circles.
A foreign power was able to take advantage of the lack of critical thinking skills in the American population. This was possible for Russia because a large segment of the U.S. population receives an education based on regurgitating knowledge for tests rather than demonstrating critical thinking skills in the context of the real world. Americans think that they can identify fake news, but many profoundly struggle with this and don't even realize it. They don't know what they don't know.
Trump is the ultimate example that extroverted personalities rule in North America, and that looking good is valued more than being good. He is a master of the Personality Ethic -- showing off wealth, blustering and talking in circles. Many people believe him because they only have patience and time for the sound bite, not the whole story. Trump does all this, while simultaneously berating those who disagree with him. Astonishingly, Trump and his team tell lies about basic facts (yes, those still exist) such as the size of his inaugural crowd. The interview Trump recently did with Time magazine was one of many examples of how nonsensical and dishonest Trump is.
All of us, leaders and followers alike, must be able to question our own inner dialogue. Trump does not appear to do this. But many of his original followers are beginning to. All of us must be aware of the paradigm through which we see the world, which brings me to the second character trait that needs urgent attention.
President Trump reacts to the AHCA health-care bill being pulled by Congressional Republicans before a vote as he speaks about the bill in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, March 24, 2017. (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)
When I think of the word "empathy," I immediately think of the Roots of Empathy program started by Mary Gordon, in Ontaro. This program is a microcosm of what needs to happen on a larger scale. It holds the essence of the answer to the societal woe that is disconnection. Empathy begins when newborns are loved and responded to by a consistent caregiver. Empathy grows when we, as older children and as adults, can connect with that beginning and the human experience that we all share.
There is little empathy to be found in president Trump's budget for the most vulnerable in society. Critical thinking was not largely demonstrated, either; the president "scraps new requirements for programs that train new K-12 teachers."
There is a long-term pattern of the president lacking empathy, from his treatment of women to his treatment of minorities and Muslims. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream has not yet been realized. People are still judged on the colour of their skin, rather than their character.
Critical thinking skills and empathy are required not only to lead effectively, but also to live a good life.
Recently, the Affordable Health Care Act was not overturned. This was a huge victory, but it's just one step. The people of America must keep pushing forward in this moment, valuing critical thinking and empathy as they forge their way into the future.
Across America and, indeed, around the world, there is a harnessing of energy that is taking place as a direct result of the hideous behaviour of America's leader.
Racism, sexism and discrimination have always existed and have been a reality for countless groups of people. This is not new. But the blatant ugliness of it all, coming full force out of the shadows, has prompted many to act. People who have never protested before are protesting. People who never considered running for political office before are rising to the challenge. This engagement is beautiful. I am particularly heartened by the activism of marginalized groups. We continue to need leaders from those groups, not just people of privilege representing those who are marginalized.
Both critical thinking skills and empathy are required not only to lead effectively, but also to live a good life as an individual.
The election of Trump has been a tragedy. It is time for a return to the Character Ethic.
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