An American Mindset

Finding trust and connection with those we disagree with is critical to our nation's well-being
December 18, 2020 Updated: December 18, 2020

In America, we are in some very turbulent times right now as the nation goes through the aftermath of this election. I can tell you in my time as a Green Beret working in trust-depleted places all over the world, I’ve seen these situations before, as have many of my brothers and sisters who serve in the military.

I’m speaking to you as a veteran, citizen, and the founder of Rooftop Leadership. I am asking you to take a look at what’s happening around you in your operational environment and really take stock of it and ask yourself, “How can I create connection and trust through this?”

One of the first things we need to look at is the churn of political polarization itself. That’s that social tension we’re all feeling and it is just getting more and more turbulent as the days go by. That churn can take on many different forms—it can present as distraction, disengagement, a lack of purpose, distrust, or—of late—as Sebastian Junger, author of “Tribe,” says, “contempt among citizens that one normally reserves for one’s enemies.”

That’s a powerful word. Contempt.

When that happens, the outcome is predictable and it isn’t good.

It isn’t good for our nation, it isn’t good for our communities, and it isn’t good for our kids.

In his groundbreaking book “The Upswing,” award-winning social scientist, Robert Putnam says, “The most important reason to worry about polarization is that in the long run extreme polarization can produce democratic breakdown.”

Our political leaders know this, as do their respective parties, and yet they still govern from the extremes. And we get caught right up in that churn. What we have to realize as leaders as the next few months unfold is that nobody else is coming.

How we conduct ourselves at an individual level, and at a community level, will set the tone for how we come out on the other side of this thing, regardless of who holds power, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office or Congress.

We don’t need top-down leadership to show us what responsible leadership looks like. It’s about how we lead ourselves, our communities, our families, our businesses, that will decide how we fare on the other side of this thing, regardless of our political party.

It’s about how we show up for each other as Americans. A bridging trust mindset is the absolute key to that. Bridging trust means to bridge beyond your own in-group, your own ethnicity, your own religion, your own socioeconomic status, and your own political party.

It’s how we find the common ground that we can all rally around in this country, instead of dividing ourselves by our differences.

We must fight for a sense of “we” in times of unprecedented “I” mindsets. In fact, how we show up as leaders— whether we are on the losing or winning side—goes far beyond the results of this election.

And I think the greatest test for us as a nation is how we lead when nobody’s looking.

Again, if you’re waiting for someone in Washington to model that, it isn’t going to happen, at least I’m not seeing it. And as an American, I’m not good with that.

I’m not good with handing this churn of polarization over to my kids. I’m asking you right now to stand up for what’s right and good and best for the country we love so dearly and adopt a bridging trust mindset.

Start by regulating your own emotional temperature. If you find yourself starting to get worked up, get off social media, turn off the news, and go for a workout, run, or do whatever helps you lower your emotional temperature down to a parasympathetic state rather than this highly aroused fight, flight, or freeze state. That state is for dealing with threats to our survival. It limits long-term thinking and narrows our focus. It makes us reactionary and isn’t a healthy norm for a democracy.

Then, and this one is so overlooked, connect around common ground. In spite of all the disagreement, let’s find what we have in common and connect there first. Stuart Diamond in his book “Getting More” says, “Even in the most high-stakes negotiations, make a connection first.” There’s plenty for us to connect around as we come through this election.

We need to think about our younger generation. Are we going to hand them a society where in-groups and out-groups compete for resources and scarcity in a primal, tribal kind of way, or are we going to hand our children a bridging trust society where people go beyond their in-group and rally around a common vision that’s bigger than themselves?

In this time of political polarization, there’s no mindset more American than one of bridging trust.

Scott Mann is a former Green Beret who specialized in unconventional, high-impact missions and relationship building. He is the founder of Rooftop Leadership and appears frequently on TV and many syndicated radio programs. For more information, visit RooftopLeadership.com