How to Get Along

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How to Change the Culture of Congress

A couple weeks ago there was a hearing on Capitol Hill on How to Build a Move Civil and Collaborative Culture in Congress. I listened to it live and wrote to the staff afterwards, hoping to get involved. It was pretty inspiring.

Chaired by Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Vice Chair Representative William Timmons (R-SC), the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress has been working since 2019; six Democrats and six Republicans appointed by party leaders.

Sometimes when people read my stuff or are in a meeting that I run, I hear “They really need you down in Washington!” Indeed, many Americans have come to believe that our national Congress is incapable of solving problems on behalf of the nation. This Committee is working on that.

Watch the June 24 Hearing here, like I did.

They are currently focusing on three fronts: time, incentives, and relationships.

Time. Members of Congress are way over-scheduled. Simply finding time to talk through issues and really understand each other’s perspectives seems impossible. The sessions in Washington often start on Tuesday morning and adjourn Thursday afternoon and they all go to their home districts each week from Friday through Monday. To be more civil and collaborative, like all things worth investing in, requires quality time.

Incentives. There are currently strong incentives in Congress for gaining wins for your party or your district at any expense, but few incentives for being civil or collaborative. Some interesting ideas were provided at the hearing about a group or respected congressional leaders, from both parties, actually scoring all Members of Congress on civility and collaboration. At least make it a thing to look at and report on.

Relationships. Related to time and incentives – both stacked in the wrong direction – members of Congress don’t have the types of close relationships with each other that are conducive to civility and collaboration. “This place is messed up,” one of the Committee members explained. “We don’t have lunch here.” Lunch Is not built into the schedule and there’s no common place (think school or company cafeteria) where everyone gets together to simply talk, hang out, and get to know each other. Someone suggested that there need to be more informal and confidential meetings (like across a lunch table). “There have to be places where no one is performing,” they explained.

Other ideas at the hearing included better onboarding and orientation for new members of Congress, and professional development training among Congressional staff on topics such as conflict resolution, communications, and collaborative techniques. Congress is an  organization with 10,000 employees, one of the Committee Members pointed out, and apparently NO institutionalized professional development training for its staff.

I have this old school belief that Congress works for us, the people. If we want members of Congress to be more civil and collaborative WE have to demand that of them. This means not electing members who put party over country or who put meanness over respect. It means praising our members of Congress for actually talking with their adversaries and making compromises.

One of the Committee Members explained how he is from Minnesota where ice hockey sets the culture. Hockey teams compete hard against each other and at the end of each game they line up and every player shakes hands with every player. Their respect for the game and for each other is more important than winning or losing. “Congress should do that,” the Representative from Minnesota explained. “We should line up and shake hands with each other every session.”

The Committee releases recommendations on a rolling basis throughout the year. Click here to see what they’ve come up with so far.

These are all just ideas of course. What do YOU think?

How Our Communities Responded to COVID

Great job Greater Portland, Maine!

You might call it community fabric or community infrastructure. There’s a lot of talk about community resilience. I’m trying to talk about a community’s ability to weather a storm or adapt to new imperatives. I think that’s how communities last; by weathering and adapting.

Humans are especially good at responding to storms and game changes when we are well-connected to each other. In my opinion, it’s the stuff in between the individual humans that make the community stronger as a group. The connections. The knitting. The networks.

This new video celebrates the volunteers and municipal workers of communities near Portland, Maine. It’s really great!

The 8-minute video takes us back to the start of COVID and tells heart warming tales of leaders emerging and networks igniting. You might see people you know from Chebeague Island, Naples, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Westbrook, Cumberland, or Yarmouth.

If you want to feel good about America’s community-level response to COVID, this video is pretty fun.

A big thanks to Tom Bell and Kat Violette and Greater Portland Council of Governments for producing it. It’s so good to be reminded of stories like this that hold us together.

A few quotes from the video for fun:

We got about 50 people in the Town Hall and started making plans.
– Sharon McDonnell, Yarmouth

We didn’t do it for the kudos, we did it for the kiddos.
– Deb Dean, Naples

I have been overwhelmed at the ways that people have rallied to support and educate and protect their communities.
– Carla Hunt, Yarmouth

The Wheel’s Still in Spin

“Don’t speak too soon, for the wheel’s still in spin.”

The quote is from Bob Dylan. Do you know the song?

And here’s a Taoist story along the same lines.

There once was a farmer whose horse ran away. On hearing of the misfortune, the farmer’s neighbor arrived to commiserate, but all he got from the farmer was, “Who knows what’s good or bad?”

This proved to be true, for the next day the horse returned, bringing with it a drove of wild horses in its train. This time the neighbor arrived with congratulations, only to receive the same response. “Who knows what’s good or bad?”

This too was so, for the next day the farmer’s son tried to mount one of the wild horses and broke a leg.

More commiserations from the neighbor, with the same response which was again validated, for soldiers soon came around commandeering for the army, and the son was spared because of his injury.

Another way to think of this concept is: God is still speaking. More will be revealed and it is not for me to judge in the present what is best for the future.

I once saw someone accept bad news as neither good nor bad, just news. I once saw someone accept bad news as truly bad, yet remain open to things turning good; open to unimaginable twists of fate. I once saw someone receive awesomely good news, yet not get carried away with illusions of grandeur. “There are no big deals,” this person used to say.

These three people showed me that I always have a choice to accept whatever comes. I have a choice to react with moderation. I have a choice to make peace with whatever is happening now and simply be curious about whatever comes next.