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The Children Know

by James F. Bracher 10-06-04

What horrible lessons are we teaching the next generation about freedom and democracy in the ways we allow our candidates for public office to treat one another? When children hurl insults at one another, they are given “time outs” and told to think about their destructive behaviors and apologize for their immaturity. In contrast, some candidates for elected offices, across this nation, all the way to those pursuing the presidency, are cheered when they castigate competitors, while denigrating members of opponents’ families, including spouses, children and even parents. Criticizing competitors unfairly and disparaging those with whom we disagree propels a culture toward destructive battle lines. Those who engage in this personal attack approach are seeking the voting public’s sanction for their vile rhetoric. These architects of anger are able to fuel their relationship-eroding behaviors by stirring up those who vote to accept their self-serving and righteous condemnations of those who see issues differently. This venom will poison the body politic and destroy the democratic organism that is the promise of America, where fair play and civility are supposed to reign supreme.

If automobile manufacturers slammed their competitors in the way political parties are enabling candidates to behave, by doling out millions of dollars to create vicious attacks on those who offer a different promise and program, then the buying public would react in disbelief. Chances are that the “attacking vehicle manufacturer” would receive sanctions from the public, and suffer reduced sales. If the medical community allowed or encouraged its professionals to disparage peers through personal attacks, patients would be immobilized. Their anxiety would cause them to ask who they might trust to care for their health needs. Doctors are obligated to make the commitment to honor their profession, monitor their own standards, and are encouraged, when called for, to solicit second opinions, seeking the additional expertise of colleagues. If other professions are behaving in mature ways, then politicians, who are asking for us to vote them in so they can accept the mantle of responsibility for sustaining our freedoms – they should behave with the same nobility.

What is wrong with recognizing that a competitor is doing a good job? What is so harmful about acknowledging that someone else has a good idea? One would assume that when the future leadership of the world is at stake that neither candidate would be so awful, ignorant, incompetent, nor unscrupulous that society would collapse with their selection. Why not praise the competitor? Other professionals operate that way because they recognize the contributions of those whose skills lie in their fields of endeavor.

On those occasions when career changes have required relocations for our family from Illinois to Missouri, then to Connecticut, Indiana and California – one experience was consistent. Every physician, dentist, insurance agent, real estate broker, automobile dealer, banker and others who provided services to our family – every time, praised those who had previously been helpful to us. In some cases, different services were required. There were needs for new medicines, replacement fillings, different property and health “coverage’s,” modifications of financial services, and on and on. In no case was the previous provider ridiculed, criticized and attacked. So, what gives candidates the right to be cruel and vicious? The answer is public silence, interpreted as acceptance by abusive politicians, complemented by applauding masses rallying around the “wrestling-mania culture” that cheers the verbal violence and screams for even more superficial personal attacks – providing little substance, but appearing to be both legitimate and important by raising the meaningless noise levels to a counter-productive crescendo.

What might candidates do to change this drift away from being civil, meaning being both courteous and polite? My recommendation is that those powerful adults, who want to be elected, should take the time to live by the Eight Attributes of an Integrity-Centered organization. Children, who were as young as eight years old, and as old as seventeen, sat down with me in April of 2004 and delineated what the Eight Attributes (constructive behavior concepts) meant to them. They spoke with conviction that everyone should be kind - not cruel or sarcastic. Individuals should be thoughtful - not judging; patient - not rude, allowing others to finish their thoughts. These young people remind us that we should work hard to be helpful - not harmful; remembering that we are, all of us, more alike than different. Is political responsibility really any different? After all, if one has to reach the position through behaving in dirty and dishonest ways, how much of the taint and the stench remain on the person and the office after elected?

Taking a few minutes to read what the children say can teach us a way to look freshly at how all adults, including those seeking public office, need to behave, all the time. When the voting public refuses to support candidates who choose not to conduct their campaigns along constructive behaviors outlined by the Eight Attributes, politicians will modify their approaches. When a disappointed public stops sending in contributions to “un-civil” campaigns, and ceases to vote for those who operate in vicious ways, the situation will improve. The alternative was addressed a few years ago in our weekly Integrity Matters newspaper column:

Why have political campaigns become so dirty? Why do we put up with politicians who seek to destroy opponents?

Because a significant segment of our society enjoys wallowing in filth. We are witness to a proliferation of smut and violence in many segments: television, movies, comedy, music and writing.

Political activities reflect a world that worships conquerors vanquishing opponents. The positive difference in modern times may be that we no longer literally kill those whom we defeat. We humiliate them, embarrass their families and hire "dirty trick" specialists to distribute disinformation (lies) about their records.

When we choose to reward dignity with respect and social service with loyalty and honor, we will likely attract a higher caliber process. Until then, you might as well take your gas mask to the voting booth and elect the lesser-smelling stench.

To initiate some change, consider this: rate your candidates on how well they exhibit the “constructive” behaviors. On a scale of 1 to 10; 1 being low and 10 being high – how is the candidate behaving? If he or she is not exhibiting the right behavior, let them know and demand INTEGRITY IN OUR ELECTION PROCESS. To get started, review the straight-forward language used by young people, and think about the styles of those who want you to vote for them. If they are not exhibiting the socially-constructive actions outlined by these Eight Attributes, then you will know what to do about it. No response on your part is an endorsement for more of the same. And, we all know this is not the kind of society we should bestow upon current and future generations.

Boys and Girls Clubs of Monterey County, California applying Eight Attributes of an Integrity-Centered Company
by James F. Bracher© - April 2, 2004

  1. CHARACTER: consistency between word and deed.
    Do the leaders of your organization exhibit congruence between what they say and what they do, as well as what they say about what they did? Do leaders exhibit the right behavior?
    • Respect yourself and others
    • Be an example of courage (fair, firm, consistent and kind)
    • Care about other people around you
    • What people do when no one is watching
  2. HONESTY: truthful communication.
    Do you have confidence that your leaders would never engage in or sanction misrepresentation?
    • Listen openly
    • Be honest and tell the truth
    • Respond with care
  3. OPENNESS: operational transparency.
    Is appropriate information about your organization readily available?
    • Know and understand the rules
    • Help others to make use of all that our Club has to offer
  4. AUTHORITY: employee encouragement.
    Are you able to correct a customer problem? Do you have confidence that your actions will be supported?
    • Use common sense to do the right thing
    • Know that you have the right to do something, to take action
    • Explain when actions have been taken that might not fit with our Club's rules
    • Listen, think and learn from what has been done right, and what has been done wrong
  5. PARTNERSHIP: honor obligations.
    Does your company pride itself on timely fulfillment of all commitments?
    • Be on time, every time
    • Be prepared: Think, Plan, Do --- in that order
    • Look for ways to help one another --- and then pitch in!
    • Leave things better than you find them
    • Be a good citizen
  6. PERFORMANCE: accountability throughout the organization.
    When individuals, including senior executives, under-perform repeatedly, are they given due process and then, if necessary, replaced?]
    • Live up to promises
    • Understand and follow the rules
    • Respect others: their rights, their property, their feelings
    • Own-up to your own actions -- what has been done right, and what has been done wrong

Boys and Girls Clubs of Monterey County, California

Member Pledge
I will treat other people with courtesy and respect at all times.
I will be accountable for my own actions.
I will do my part to take good care of my Club.
I will be considerate of those around me.
I will obey the rules.
As a Boys & Girls Club member,
I will do my best to be a good citizen at all times.

  1. CHARITY: generous community stewardship.
    Does your organization reach out to those in need?
    • Give to others with no strings attached -- don't expect to get anything back
    • Make sure the right tools, materials and help are available at our Club
    • Share the story of how we help others at our Club
  2. GRACIOUSNESS: respect and discipline.
    Does your organization demonstrate care and concern for all stakeholders?
    • Be kind - not cruel or sarcastic
    • Be thoughtful - not judging (listen and learn about others)
    • Be patient - not rude (allow others to finish their thoughts)
    • Be helpful - not harmful
    • Remember that we are more alike than different
      • Understand
      • Appreciate
      • Accept differences
      • Work with others

Young people know what is right and so do we. It is time for those in politics to act like integrity-centered children and exhibit the Eight Attributes. Do your part and tell those who ask for your support that integrity (really) matters and you are demanding it of them.

James F. Bracher
Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership
1400 Munras Avenue
Monterey, California 93940
831-373-0994 (fax)

James F. (Jim) Bracher created the Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership in 2002, as an extension of his 33 years advising individuals and organizations. Those who have sought Jim's counsel include entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and individuals addressing succession concerns. Jim's leadership development firm, Dimension Five Consultants, Inc., of which he is Founder and Chairman, is located in Monterey, California, and was established in 1980.

Prior to Dimension Five, Jim, an ordained clergyman, served ten years as a chaplain, associate minister, and senior pastor. His assignments were Saint Louis Country Day School in Ladue, Missouri; Second Congregational Church in Greenwich, Connecticut; First Congregational Church in Terre Haute, Indiana; and Community Church of the Monterey Peninsula in Carmel, California.

The motivation for the Bracher Center grew from suggestions of clients. They realized that Dimension Five was collecting data concerning effective and integrity-centered leadership that would enable leaders to gain insight into their own operational effectiveness as well as that of their organizations. Jim also saw a need for a Resources section on the website focused on learning, study, and knowledge concerning the role of integrity in effective leadership. The Bracher Center shares insights that have been gained by Dimension Five in consultation with 8,000 leaders.

Jim's education includes a Bachelor of Arts, Elmhurst College; and a Master of Divinity, Eden Theological Seminary. He has continued his education at Whittier College, Hebrew Union University, Oxford University and the Hudson Institute.

His work has been featured on network television, in national newspapers and business journals. He is the originator of the "Talking with Leaders" symposia.

Jim's professional experience includes advisory councils and boards of directors. Along with his advisors and faculty at the Bracher Center, he restores integrity through insight.

Co-author of the book Integrity Matters with Daniel E. Halloran

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