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It is time to listen

Leadership — the art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common goal. It is a process of social influence, which maximizes the effort of others toward the achievement of that goal.

Over the past several months, Americans have witnessed leadership from unexpected sources in governors making decisions — right or wrong — about how individual states combat COVID-19, finding ways to procure personal protective equipment so health care workers in their state, in their hospitals, can meet the virus head-on, but safely. More recently, others, ranging from mayors and governors to police chiefs and legislators, have led the way in immediately condemning the actions of the Minneapolis police officers responsible for the killing of George Floyd, recorded for the entire world to see, and recoil from.

Now, as cities across the nation become the scenes of protests, leadership is again expressing condemnation, this time of those using peaceful protests to launch attacks on people and property. Violence is not the answer; it’s not the right way to protest; this is not the place to protest, they say.

Protesting, at its heart, is not a peaceful event. It is the anger, pain and frustration of not being heard that drive people into the streets, joining forces to make their message louder, together.

In an ideal world, the message would be heard without violence.

This is not an ideal world.

Four years ago, an NFL quarterback kneeled during the National Anthem to protest the oppression of black Americans and a series of deaths at the hands of police. It was an act of peaceful protest, but instead of listening to the message, many fans reacted with outrage. Leadership condemned it. It’s not the right way to protest; this is not the place to protest, they said.

To be heard was important enough that Colin Kaepernick risked the job nearly every American boy dreams of having when they grow up — and he did, indeed, lose it. It will be interesting to see how many American football players kneel when NFL games resume this year. It will also be interesting to see how many people recoil from the act, not from outrage, but from the reminder that a man sworn to protect and serve deliberately kneeled on the neck of George Floyd until he died, ignoring his pleas for mercy — not listening, not caring.

It is time to listen. If leadership doesn’t listen, then come November, vote out those who cannot or will not hear.

And may we all — white, black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, men, women, children — take the time to listen. May we all find our own ways to be leaders: ways to help, not hurt; ways to resolve, not devolve; ways to recognize the humanity of each and every one of us.