This I Believe

Harriet - Houston, Texas
Entered on July 22, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65

At the opening reception for each Fellows Program offered by the Houston/Gulf Coast Chapter of the American Leadership Forum, I get to name what in the community I am most passionate about. For the last several years I have said “Making sure everyone has a voice at the table”.

I believe that Houston will be a better place only when every perspective is voiced. That is how we build an ALF class, with leaders from every sector of our community in our Core Fellows Program, and with leaders from every perspective you find in Houston’s medical community or public education community in our single sector programs. The goal is to get to really know and trust people who are different from you, and from those new relationships among people committed to our community will come better collaboration for the public good.

On further reflection, I should not just say that everyone has a voice, but that each of us will take the time to listen to those voices. I believe that is more important than ever in this election year. It seems that even within a political party, and certainly between political parties, people are wedded to their positions and more committed to being right than to creating an alternative future by taking time to listen to and ask questions to understand the others’ opinions.

Why is it that we need to stress differences instead of listening for what we have in common? Shouldn’t we try to better understand the differences? I might not change my mind, but at least I will understand your point of view. We won’t agree on everything, but we should find what we can agree on.

As a former banker and a current nonprofit executive, I truly believe that diversity of perspectives working to solve a problem leads to better results. Furthermore, if I take time to understand why you hold an opinion, we build a relationship, and that improved relationship will pay off in other arenas. When we disagree on a course of action and only one of us wins, we both still need to live with the outcome. If we select that action after really hearing the other side, chances are that it will not be so much of a winner-take-all solution. I think this is hardest to do on a global scale, so let’s try it first locally – in Houston, or in your neighborhood, or in your school district.

Before I give advice or tell “them” what is right, I exercise curiosity and try to understand the other. After all, the only one I can control is myself, so this is where I start. This is what I believe.