It is hard to watch the news these days without saying to yourself, "What is our country coming to?" It is hard to have a conversation about current events without hearing the same phrase from someone else. With the common intention of making our country better, it is now more imperative than ever that we each recognize where we may be falling short, and how we can improve. Even if you have the best of intentions, you are likely contributing to the problems in at least one way.
Here are three of the most common ways you might be unknowingly contributing to the problem, and what you can do about them:
1. Placing the blame on others. Pointing fingers causes issues to be framed in an "Us" versus "Them" way, which automatically takes the accountability off one's self and places it onto another person or group. This is normal, natural, and easy, but that doesn't make it productive.
Even the most well-intentioned person can be doing more. Yes, even you. Taking my own advice, even me. This is not to say that other people do not contribute in a large way to problems, and that they should not be held accountable, but we often place blame on others as an "out" for ourselves. Once your focus is off what others are doing to contribute to the problem, you can begin to assess how you can contribute to the solution.
2. Waiting for or calling on others to initiate change. It is natural and common to call on our nation's leaders to initiate change, yet people often focus all their attention on what OTHERS should be doing, rather than what they could be doing themselves.
Instead of saying, "When are THEY going to make things better?" ask yourself, "What can I do to make things even a little bit better?" Be an example of how to initiate improvement. And, no, posting something on Facebook like "This has to stop!" or "I am saddened by the state of our country" does not count. Statements like those, while well-intentioned, are simply another way to call for OTHER people to make changes without acknowledging what you can do to make any sort of difference, no matter how seemingly small.
3. Thinking the problem is too big to do anything about it yourself. Some problems seem too big and too complicated for us to do anything about. Especially when they are wrapped in emotion, pain, opposition, and frustration. This is when it becomes especially easy to commiserate and become stuck in a cycle of inaction or even destruction.
In my book Executive Toughness, I share the story of Nando Parrado, a survivor of a plane crash in 1972. The plane was carrying his rugby teammates along with his mother and sister when it crashed into the Andes mountains. Faced with the death of some of his best friends and his mother and sister, Nando led himself and 15 other survivors to an eventual rescue. He did this one step at a time, against all odds. He didn't focus on the enormity of how he would get off that mountain, but instead he focused on making his situation better one inch at a time. Then when that improvement was made, he focused on the next inch. Parrado got himself and the other survivors off that mountain one inch, one step at a time, having experienced disastrous setback after setback. Nando Parrado is an incredible example of relentlessness and mental toughness, and he didn't have the luxury of commiserating about his situation if he wanted to survive.
Humans like Nando Parrado are rare, but that doesn't mean that we can't develop the same level of his solution-focus. It is this focus that saved his life, and this focus that is required for positive change. It is easy and normal to commiserate about the negative state of things. The truth is, every time you say, "What has our country come to?" you contribute to the problem. I challenge you to be abnormal. I challenge you to ask yourself, "What is one thing I can do to make it off this mountain and make this country just a little bit better?"