We live in a divided time. This is not news nor is it even new. In the past, our differences on issues became campaign issues that were sometimes set aside in favor of compromise and governance once the election was completed.
Today, the multitude of communications channels keep differences alive in ways that reach beyond Washington and the State House into neighborhoods, families, and friendships. Social media allow people to fire up their arguments and emotions without ever facing each other, ending with “unfriending” or “unfollowing.”
We are all trying to yell louder so that our point will carry the day in our own camp. We have given up trying to reach the other guys.
Putting it in perspective.
At United Way of Rhode Island, there was quite a bit of angst in our organization after the presidential election. We have staff who voted on both sides and I wanted to be sure that we kept our team together.
We are fortunate to have a war veteran among our staff. His name is Jason and he served on the front lines in Afghanistan. I called an all-staff meeting around the Veterans Day holiday and I asked Jason if I could ask him some questions in front of the staff. He agreed.
After I thanked him for his service I asked, “Jason, were you at the front?” “Yes.” “Did you come under fire?” He laughed, “Oh, yes.” “When you were under fire did you ask the soldiers around you who they voted for?” More laughter, “Oh, no we didn’t have time for that.”
I turned to my staff and said “We are under fire. We were before the election and we are now. We take 200,000 calls a year for help at 2-1-1. We need to raise money for a variety of human service needs in our community. We do not have time either.” And the staff, I think, was relieved. No one really wanted to let our differences divide us. And that is my point.
Working together to serve the community.
People want to come together to solve problems. To talk, to listen, maybe even argue the point a bit, but they want to move toward solutions. They want to add light, not heat.
The nonprofit sector is nonpartisan for good reason. We represent a place where people of all backgrounds can come to work on solutions. No one is trying to win for themselves, only for the community we serve.
We entertain ideas from both left and right because all ideas are welcomed as we work together as committees, boards, staff, and the wider community to determine what will work best and how to pay for it. We have benefited greatly from having many views at the table.
I recently heard a political slogan: “Not left, not right. Forward!” Our slogan at United Way is “Live United.” I think those two things go together very well. Our community is well served if we can live up to them because, in the end, we are stronger together.
Please join us at the WaterFire Arts Center on Thursday, October 11, for United Way of Rhode Island’s 92nd Annual Celebration — an evening dedicated to strength through unity. During the celebration, we’ll recognize local leaders who’ve helped make Rhode Island a better place. Register today.
Anthony Maione has served in Rhode Island’s nonprofit sector for 35 years, including 15 years as CEO and president of United Way of Rhode Island. After a distinguished career, Tony will retire at the end of 2018.