By: STEPHEN SALISBURY
This week I’d like to talk about the struggle that leaders often face between their need to be “right” and their willingness to concede. As someone who has functioned in leadership roles my whole life, I’ve come to the conclusion that, more often than not, being right is not as enjoyable as being able to make other people happy even if you believe they are wrong.
This is not to say that standing on principle is not the right thing to do. But there’s a difference between standing on principle and just wanting to get your own way at the expense of others. Having the willingness to negotiate with an opponent and the ability to find common ground is something that our country has, it seems, lost the ability to do.
Please don’t take this as an endorsement of those in power who espouse truly evil philosophies that marginalize and divide those who are the most vulnerable in our society. What I’m talking about is the fact that we can’t even have conversations anymore with one another without taking someone’s opposing viewpoint as a personal affront. Spend two minutes on Facebook lately and you’ll see what I mean in spades. This saddens me because I’m afraid we miss out on so many opportunities to grow simply because we are unwilling to listen.
Sun Tzu, in his ancient Chinese book of military strategy, “The Art of War,” states that, “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” As someone who hates conflict, but loves a good argument, let me tell you, walking the fine line between discourse and antagonism is difficult.
This past Friday, during our SGA meeting, I had the pleasure of leading a discussion about our election by-laws for the upcoming campaign cycle here on campus. To be honest, this was a conversation that many of us had been putting off for a while because we dreaded the battles we knew we were likely going to have over some sections of the proposed document we working to pass. But this week, we set aside our whole agenda, and dedicated our entire meeting to hashing out a version of these guiding principles that would be acceptable for everyone; at least everyone that was required to vote on them.
What I loved about this process, and what I wish our “fearless leaders” in Washington could have witnessed, was that we all remained civil. No one took anything personally even though there were those of us who clearly saw certain things very differently. It took us a while, but eventually, we were able to make any and all adjustments to the document, so that when it came time to vote, which by the way required a three-fourths majority to pass, the document passed unanimously and everyone walked away satisfied that we had done our jobs effectively.
I can honestly say it was one for the more enjoyable experiences I’ve had as an SGA member. Not because everything that got through was what I wanted, which I can assure you was not the case, but because I was so proud to see such a diverse group of people have an honest debate with one another, valuing each other’s opinions, and in many cases, having the willingness to concede even though their choice might have been different. Sun Tzu would have been impressed.
This same spirit has been employed the past several months in the form of our SGA Budget Committee. For those of you who don’t know, one of the primary responsibilities of the SGA is to take a major portion of the student activities fees that all of us pay each semester, usually in the neighborhood of $600,000 to $700,000, and allocate those funds to 11 or 12 different departments here on campus—things like the Raclin School of the Arts, to help pay for free tickets for our students at art events; The Preface and student publications which produce the paper you are reading and the many student academic journals that come out each spring.
We are also the primary source of funding for the operations budgets for the SAC, the Office of Student Life, Titan Pro, Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Women’s Volleyball, Intermural and Club sports, and of course our own SGA budget.
This committee is chaired each year by our treasurer and president and it is a daunting task. But, I can tell you, the committee this year has been amazing and is working hard to find the right balance of funding for all of those departments. Sun Tzu also said, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” Let us take advantage of the opportunity we have in coming months to listen and when possible, concede. Your life may be better for it in the end.