There was a time when I thought our nation couldn’t be more divided. When the very idea of a middle ground seemed impossibly distant. Now I long for those days.
It’s one thing to believe in a cause, but when the way you lean begins to define you instead of the other way around, that’s a slippery slope.
The campaign can be political, environmental, or cultural, it makes no difference. When your point of view becomes so narrow that you lose all perspective, when the flavor of Kool-Aid you drink starts to color the way you think, you’re on a fast track to fanaticville.
Lately, I’m beginning to think we’re already there. The signs are everywhere. Just this past week, three stories got my attention:
When Facebook (FB) COO Sheryl Sandberg decided that the human race should ban the word “bossy,” the politically correct and “Lean In” crowds lapped it up. And why not? Nobody wants to deter girls from leading. Sandberg’s heart is clearly in the right place. But you’ve got to wonder, where is her head?
After all, you don’t have to be a billionaire executive to know that abolishing a word won’t accomplish a thing. People will just find another way to say it or, even worse, act on it. Besides, it’s sort of bad form in what’s supposed to be a free society that holds free speech above all else, don’t you think?
I’m actually certain that Sandberg is intimately aware of how adversity breeds leaders and business success stories. How challenge only serves to steel our resolve to prove ourselves worthy. How up-and-coming executives and entrepreneurs don’t let a word stand in their way.
And yet, we still have a new cause to fight about. Better pick your side and get tweeting.
Meanwhile, New Jersey just became the third state to ban Tesla (TSLA) and other manufacturers from selling cars directly to consumers. Texas and Arizona are the other two states whose legislatures are presumably bought and paid for by powerful auto dealer lobbies.
Some claim the move is fair. That it makes sense. That consumers need all those friendly independently-owned car dealerships to protect them from all the big bad car companies. Besides, it’s cheaper for big auto that way.
I’ve got to admit, it took some pretty creative spin-doctoring and more than a little warped logic to come up with that argument. Think about it. If you’re so concerned about consumers, why not let them decide how they want to buy their cars? And if it costs car companies more to sell direct, shouldn’t that be Tesla’s choice?
But here’s the thing. While everyone debates whether it’s okay for states to ban direct auto sales, we’re not having the real debate: whether it’s okay for federal, state, and local governments to over-reach, over-regulate, reduce competition, limit consumer choices, and create virtual monopolies?
Now that’s a fight worth having.
Also last week, Barack Obama signed an executive order that would make it harder for companies to avoid paying overtime by giving employees a management title without paying them an appropriate management salary, a common practice in certain industries.
The President is asking the Labor Department to raise the current salary threshold from $24,000 a year to something a little further north of the poverty level.
Of course, it’s a political move designed to bolster the left’s income inequality movement during an election cycle, but still, whichever side of the fence you’re on, you’ve got to admit, it does make a lot of sense.
And yet, support for this initiative is split right down party lines. Predictably, the right doesn’t want government interfering in business, least of all by executive decree. And forcing companies to raise salaries is likewise a no-no.
Well, I’m a pretty conservative, pro-business guy. And trust me when I tell you, this is actually a good move that’s long overdue. Go figure.
Look, I get that we live in a sound-bite culture where our attention spans are about as long as it takes to read a headline. I know that everyone’s got to get their point of view across in 140 characters or less if they want to be heard. That’s fine.
But when we insist on defending the indefensible because that’s the side we’re supposed to be on, nothing gets done.
What we need is fewer causes and more common sense. Fewer campaigns and more common goals. Less fanaticism and more flexibility. Less digging in our heels and more putting ourselves in each other’s shoes.
Lean in all you want. Lean left or right, for all I care. After all, it’s a free country. But if we’re always running in different directions, we’ll never get anywhere, that’s for sure.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of the upcoming book, "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.