Adam Steele decided his next blue highways visit would be to a part of America in transition from heavy manufacturing to advanced technologies. It was a section of the country that was perhaps the most diverse mix of cultures. White and African American blue-collar workers became the workforce of the new economy. There was an influx of immigrants from all over the world, working in blue-collar jobs as well as in managerial positions. Many of the companies were subsidiaries of foreign-owned companies.
Whenever Adam visited a community, he liked to have breakfast at a popular local eatery. He found a lot of clues about the community by who was eating together and from overhearing the conversations. What he discovered on this journey was very different from what he expected.
The tables were a microcosm of the community with a mix of cultures enjoying breakfast together. This was not something he expected, but the conversations were even more surprising. Not once during his month-long travel did he hear any discussion of anything that could be considered remotely political. Rather the talk was about sports, families, work, and simply the stuff of life. Virtually every day he heard about a family in need. In fact, the routine ending of each meal was a tip left for the server, and money deposited in a can be placed at the checkout counter. The money went to someone local who had fallen on hard times.
Adam was surprised by the gentleness of the people in what he thought would be a tough environment. When he shared his observations with a business colleague who lived in the area, he was surprised by the insight he provided.
“I’ve come to believe that those in a community are greatly influenced by who we elect to leadership positions. Leaders who feel their power comes from stirring up emotions will tend to create a population that is culturally charged.”
“For more than 40 years, our U.S. Senator has built a career on caring and gentleness. He has been an amazing Senator who sponsors and votes for things that matter to our people and not causes. In addition to his gentle manner, he is very approachable. He’s never had any real opposition because it’s so hard to ask for votes when your opponent has touched your life. His common sense approach has been an anathema to both political parties. But his views on issues often become the way policies were eventually decided upon.”
“Why don’t you join me for a tribute dinner this evening for him? We’re having pork chops, soup beans, and cornbread – the Senator’s favorite meal. Whatever you do don’t wear a suit or even a tie.”
At the dinner that evening, Adam was amazed by the genuine warmth in the room. “These people really like each other,” he thought. There were no speeches, just stories. When the Senator took the microphone, he told a story of how a rival Senator’s wife had made a batch of vegetable soup for his wife as she was battling cancer. The Senator concluded by saying: “Kindness is viral, pass it on.”
As Adam reflected on the evening and his journey, he began to realize how important leadership is to setting the tone. Being gentle is not being weak. In fact, it’s about creating a culture of acceptance for everyone.
* * *
“Gentleness, self-sacrifice and generosity are the exclusive possession of no one race or religion.”
– Mahatma Gandhi