B•G•B (Bonus Guest Blog): WHERE, OH WHERE, DID "REASONED DEBATE" GO?

Guest Blogger: Chuck Maniscalco

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Chuck Maniscalco spent twenty-one years building success at Quaker Foods and then PepsiCo.  He started in consumer insights and later–as a CMO, President and later division CEO–that grounding served his brands well.  He remains one of the most astute marketers and quality people we’ve been privileged to work with at Element 79, not to mention a scary good guitarist and incorrigible distance runner.  This month, he takes the reigns as CEO of Seventh Generation: a mission-driven manufacturer of earth friendly cleaning and paper products which aligns perfectly with his passion for manifest leadership


A couple years ago, I had the opportunity to see Bill Clinton speak at an economic conference.  He was asked by the conference organizer, ‘What are the three biggest issues facing humanity?’  Talk about a heady question.  Clinton was either pre-primed or just as quick on his feet as is his reputation.  He said, ‘I believe that two of the three biggest issues facing all of us are:  global warming, and access to clean water.  Global warming because it is the sole issue that could literally stop the progress of humanity.  Access to clean water because it is the #1 source of disease and death in the world.’  

He elaborated quite eloquently for a bit on both issues, then turned to his third issue: ‘Whether it be the middle east, India/Pakistan, North Korea, or even Washington, D.C., I believe that local, national and world leaders have fallen into a trap, which is that people who disagree with one another don’t actually TALK with one another about the issues, and when they don’t, there is no opportunity to find COMMON GROUND.’  He elaborated with his own experience in D.C., when he went into his Presidency as an outsider to ‘the beltway’.  He said that he fell into this same trap because he didn’t want to appear naive, nor vulnerable.  Wow!  Having reasoned debates with people you disagree with equated with exposing naiveté or vulnerability!  There’s a sad commentary.

A second thread on this topic came from an analysis of why political parties in the United States have become so extremely right or left, with precious few people in the middle, and with virtually no willingness to compromise.  There were several factors the author pointed to, but the one he argued was most salient was the advent of easy and cheap air travel.  Prior to this, it was a chore for Senators and Representatives to go to D.C., so when they did, they stayed for extended periods of time.  And when they did this, they actually got to know one another; made friends across the aisle; went to dinner.  Now, they fly in and out, and never build actual RELATIONSHIPS.  Without relationships, there is no easy venue to connect and debate the issues.

Finally, the most recent event highlighting this ‘balkanization’ of humanity came when the fact that the sitting President of the United States was invited to speak at the commencement of a prominent university, and it turned into a MAJOR CONTROVERSY. Think about this for a second.  When the person elected to lead our country is not welcomed because he might disagree on a social issue, it is an indication of something seriously wrong.

Think about this in your own life.  Do you actively seek out people who disagree with you?  Do you welcome the debate when it happens?  Are you open to shifting your own strongly held opinions based on a healthy, reasoned debate?  

I am afflicted with a disease that causes me to always see the merits of both sides of an issue.  I used to think it was a strength, because it helped me get to a better place by truly taking advantage of both sides of an argument.  But, in our new world, I’m sad to say it feels like a weakness.  Do I give in and play the game of not talking with people who disagree with me?  Or do I fight to encourage a reasoned debate?  I have no answers, just wishes, probably in the end unfulfilled.

By Chuck Maniscalco, CEO Seventh Generation, Seventh Generation