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PRESIDENT’S 2019 LETTER

PRESIDENT’S 2019 LETTER

Dear Colleagues,

Since I wrote the 2018 President’s Letter one year ago, the situation we are facing domestically in the United States has only become more critical, and the role of our projects more vitally important. The work of Mediators Foundation’s projects — each in their own unique way — are like the antitoxin to the poisonous demagogic leadership that has been gaining momentum during the last few years.

I want to draw your attention to Building Bridges: The Mediators Foundation Story,a 10-minute video that shares the 30-year arc of this organization’s work. Just click on the link on our home page (mediatorsfoundation.org) and you will witness some of the remarkable work that we and our colleagues have done to bridge diverse divides and foster understanding across boundaries. Some of our current projects include:

  • The 3S Project: steering American foreign policy to prevent, rather than trigger war.
  • Philanthropy Bridging Divides: linking CEOs of major philanthropies across the partisan divide to build trust and collaboration.
  • Bridge Alliance: now an independent network of 100 organization that are building a powerful transpartisan network and movement.
  • LivingRoom Conversations: bring new skills and format to enable families, communities and organizations to discuss difficult issues.
  • AllSides for Schools: empowering students to learn how to analyze the news from multiple perspectives.
  • VoterRx: using the media to awaken civic engagement and to galvanize voter turnout in the rising generations
  • Common Ground Initiative: building a new cultural narrative about public lands to foster wise use and safeguard them for future generations.
  • Active Peace: a transformational approach for civic engagement based on nonviolence and restorative justice.
  • United Politics Initiative: tackling deeply challenging problems with bi-partisan, data-driven, and community-based approaches.

I celebrate each of the initiatives that are being nurtured under the Mediators Foundation roof and encourage you to learn more about them by going to our website mediatorsfoundation.org.

TOXIC LEADERSHIP     

I closed last year’s letter with this well-known quatrain of
Leonard Cohen lyrics:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

The danger we face now, however, is not about democracy having a crack, but rather about it being broken, perhaps beyond repair. The arc we are following at the moment is not toward light, but toward darkness — not an enlightenment, but an endarkenment.

Even before the recent fear mongering about a “national emergency,” it was clear that the role of demagogic leadership in our culture was growing ever stronger.

As of this writing, there is an unmistakable resurgence of authoritarianism in America. Herman Goring, one of Adolf Hitler’s closest colleagues, captured the essence of this leadership style well when he said at the Nuremberg trials following World War II: “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked,and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and expose the country to greater danger.”

In my 2006 book Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences Into Opportunities, I described “the demagogue” in detail. It was based on a careful analysis of leaders who, when faced with a crisis, made it worse by resorting to hatred, extremism, violence, and in the worst cases, genocide.  Here is how I summarized the ten attributes of the demagogue:

  1. Distorts the truth
  2. Dehumanizes adversaries
  3. Intensifies existing conflicts
  4. Sees only their own “side”
  5. Lacks basic compassion
  6. Seeks obedience
  7. Views him/herself as superior
  8. Relies on ideology, not experience
  9. Unable to deal with complexity
  10. Destroys bridges between groups

For the first time in recent American history, the President of the United States arguably meets all ten criteria for demagoguery.

Clearly the demagogue represents a direct threat to democracy. If we allow such leadership to take root in our civic culture, and to gain power over key institutions, the impact will be the same in America as it is any country. Demagogic leadership will destroy trust, undermine civic discourse, and — like a car engine without oil — bring democracy grinding to a halt. The result will be paralysis, chaos, and, unless opposed, violence.

BRIDGING LEADERSHIP

As democracy is being poisoned by demagogic leadership, we need the antidote of bridging leadership that our Foundation’s remarkable projects embody.  This kind of leadership — one that heals divides, rather than expands and exploits them — goes by many adjectives in many cultures: enlightened; integral; peaceful; inclusive; sacred; etc. It also is defined by nouns: mediator; peacemaker; bridge-builder; etc.

After many years in this field, my colleagues and I have turned to the phrase bridging leadership because “every language knows the word bridge because it is part of our collective human heritage.”

SHINING THE LIGHT

As senior political strategist Rob Stein rightly concludes, we are at grave risk of “splintering into discordant tribes.” That can be remedied only if we “foster new cross partisan relationships, establish communications vehicles and platforms for the robust exchange of ideas, recruit and elect a new generation of leaders committed to ideological diversity and encourage evidence-based policy formulations that span traditional cultural and political divides.”As the italicized phrases “cross-partisan” and “span…divides” underscore, bridging leadership is the critical ingredient to renewing our political life.

Fostering this kind of leadership is Mediators Foundation’s mission. If you dive more deeply into our projects, you will see that every one of them is seeking to activate citizens to become engaged, bridging leaders. This has been our mission for the past three decades. And it will continue to be our focus until once again, the “bell” of democracy “rings” and “the light gets in.”

Thank you for caring about ourwork —and for the work youdo — that keeps the light of democracy shining brightly.

 

Sincerely,

Mark Gerzon