Discussion needed at all levels of government about how to govern: Part 2

Occasionally someone will ask, “Can’t we all just get along?” It’s not about getting along, it’s about finding a way to govern that fosters the stability needed for people, families and businesses of all types to make good decisions.

Reading part one of “Discussion needed at all levels of government about how to govern” may have left you thinking, “That all sounds good, but how can we actually turn down the heat and make some progress?”

There are a few issues which are very difficult to find common ground, but let’s set those aside for now. In reality, there are very few issues where some level of shared goals and/or values can’t be found. On most issues, there are things both sides agree on, which form a starting point for the discussion. There are some things which each side feels strongly about, and other things which each side can more easily compromise.

As an example, I’ve compiled a spreadsheet with key thoughts from the guiding principles from the constitutions of most of the tribes in Michigan. As you would expect from 12 sovereign nations, there are differences in what they consider the most important principles. There are also some common threads, things like: conserving common property and natural resources, developing common resources, governing themselves under their own laws (in a word, sovereignty), maintaining and fostering tribal culture and way of life and promoting the economic interest and welfare of members, especially descendants and elders.

Do we really listen to each other, to hear the reasons why something is important, to understand the values behind someone’s position? Do we attempt to understand the legal structure behind the actions of a board, to understand what they are, and are not, empowered to do? Do we get involved when we can calmly review and discuss the issue, or only when we are upset about something that didn’t go our way? Do we take time to understand not only that people are different, but why they are different and how we can use those different perspectives to improve our policymaking efforts?

Here are some questions for all of us to think about, and for those in positions on governing boards to discuss:

  • How do we, as leaders, build the kind of working relationships, trust and ability to listen to the values and goals of those who disagree with us, which are necessary to craft the best possible solutions to the issues that we face?
  • How do we avoid the win-lose mentality and keep our work productive?
  • How do we develop the give and take necessary so that the values and beliefs of all are considered and addressed, without either side feeling they got hit by a train?
  • And, perhaps more importantly, how do we craft solutions that aren’t reversed every time the political majority changes?

If those conversations sound too difficult for your board, ask for help. There are professional mediators, coaches, and consultants available in the private sector. Michigan State University Extension and other public sector agencies can sometimes provide assistance as well.

Finally, make it personal. Ask yourself: what are the things I need to do differently?

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