The Role Connection Plays in a Democracy

January 10, 2021
Mike Stallard

Can we embrace the spirit of E Pluribus Unum and move forward in 2021 as people who value connection, cooperation and making progress together toward the common good? Whether your political leanings are toward the left, center or right, whether you identify as a conservative, moderate, progressive or liberal, the political divisiveness and social strife that marked 2020, and were on full display in the troubling events last week in Washington, D.C., underscore the need for cultures of connection to become the norm in our communities, workplaces and governing bodies. 

E Pluribus Unum, the Latin phrase meaning “out of many, one”, was the motto put forward by the committee of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson appointed on July 4, 1776 to design a seal for the brand new country. Out of many states (which, up until then, had been thirteen separate British colonies), one nation: the United States of America. Out of many groups of people, one people: Americans.

For the citizens establishing a new form of governance, the underlying rationale for America’s constitutional democracy grew, in part, out of their experience of being controlled by a monarch without having an adequate voice in matters affecting them. It was also informed by their knowledge of 150 years of religious wars in Europe and the resulting massive loss of human life following the Protestant Reformation that began in the 1500s. Setting out freedom of speech and freedom of religion, our system is based on tolerance among a diverse population, recognizing that we can agree to disagree on even the most important matters in life. The rule of law prevents individuals and governments from resorting to violence in order to get their way; constitutional checks and balances prevent individuals and governments from abusing the power the bestowed to them by the people.  

Your Role: Preserving Democracy by Encouraging Connection Throughout Society

Each of us, whether we have formal leadership roles or not, can have a positive influence on boosting the bonds of human connection in our families, with our neighbors and co-workers, and in the larger society. Boosting connection begins with the mindset that connection is important to thrive in life and that it positively impacts the way in which people interact and work with each other. I thoroughly make that case in the recently-published second edition of Connection Culture.  

Holding a connection mindset also means rejecting a leadership philosophy that demonizes those with whom you disagree or communicates every difference of opinion requires a fight. This applies in the workplace and in the public square. Demonizing leads to dehumanization which often ends in violence, verbal and/or physical. 

The relational cultures in our families, workplaces, faith communities, educational institutions and community organizations is where we pick up and hone our social skills. Are the cultures you are in cultures of connection, control or indifference? Do you feel respected, recognized and part of the group? Or do you feel minimized, held back, marginalized or ignored? Are the attitudes, words and behaviors being modeled by those who have a leadership role connecting or disconnecting? 

Cultures of control and cultures of indifference disconnect us from one another, harming us individually and collectively. Whereas, in a culture of connection, we learn to peacefully coexist and work together. We develop the important social skills of asking questions so that we learn others’ points of view; listening with the intent to understand, not just to reply; being open to considering the ideas of others as we make decisions; showing empathy; and finding common ground to act upon. This is the essence of a connection culture: individuals feel valued and included and their perspectives are welcomed; they feel seen and heard. These are the social skills that are necessary to sustain our constitutional democracy. 

As I wrote in the Introduction of Connection Culture, if we are to be a country that values the dignity and inherent value of each individual, this is a time for entering into honest, open and productive dialogue. In all of the issues we are facing, we must go beyond just talking and take action to make lasting change. I believe we can collectively turn the tide if we are willing to be intentional about connection.

Connection Today Isn't Easy But It's Worth the Effort

The physical separation required for so many months in order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 brought a new awareness of how connection is woven into our everyday and the challenges we face in connecting in a satisfying way when we need to be apart in order to keep each other safe. Technology has certainly helped to bridge some of the gap but it can only go so far in our building and maintaining authentic, life-giving connections with those around us. It has been said that communication is 7% spoken words, 38% tone of voice/volume and 55% non-verbal (body language). It is tougher to take in and correctly interpret non-verbal cues when we are working remotely and meeting over a video call. 

Thankfully, in 2021, as COVID-19 vaccines reach greater portions of the population, we will be able to safely come together in each others’ physical presence again. As we reemerge this year, don’t be surprised if reconnecting may feel awkward at first. I expect many individuals will feel anxious as they begin to re-engage in-person because they are not accustomed to being in the presence of a number of other individuals. With intentional effort, patience and perseverance, we will become comfortable again, strengthen our social skills and reconnect. 

If a connection culture had a pronoun, it would be we, not us and them. The framework of connection culture can help us as we strive to be “we, the people.” Won’t you join me and my colleagues at the start of this new year in committing to become “intentional re-connectors” who will be a positive force and champions for connection in 2021?  

More From Michael Lee Stallard

Lessons on Connection from the Life of RBG

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Protecting Remote Workers' Productivity and Performance

Michael Lee Stallard is a thought leader, speaker and leading expert on how human connection in workplace cultures affects the health and performance of individuals and organizations. In addition to Fired Up or Burned Out, he is the primary author of Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work.

Photo by ElevenPhotographs on Unsplash

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