“No, the immigrants are not up to our standards.”
“No, women or people of color cannot be trusted to vote.”
“No, it is not possible to take care of the environment and boost the economy at the same time.”
Over the years, “no” has led to countless statements like these—statements that are weak, untrue, and gross underestimations of the strength and potential of America’s many diverse people.
The United States was not built by this sort of short-term, self-centered thinking. To be sure, Americans have many reprehensible themes woven into our history; the treatment of native peoples, the abomination of slavery, and the exploitation of peoples and resources across the globe, to name a few.
But when we were at our best, we welcomed the stranger and the less fortunate. We were strengthened by diversity. We fought and died for great principles and oppressed people. We were lifted by those who served for a greater good beyond themselves. We said yes.
This courage to live our values built small businesses and some of the world’s great companies. It built grade schools and international universities.
In February, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice released a film examining the fabric of our country—what it used to be, what it is, and what it will be. Are we to be a nation of screamers locked within rigid borders with rigid ideas that are dominated by saying “yes” only to our ideas, and “no” to everything else? Is this what we want to become? Can we succeed this way in the future?
Organizations, schools, and communities do not thrive with this approach. Instead, they fail to innovate, lose their best people, and are shunned by rising generations. As an example, in spite of the policies preferred by the current leadership in Washington, businesses, universities, and healthcare organizations continue to plan, invest, and work toward a clean energy economy.
Of course, this is not a new thought. Gena McCarthy, former Secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency, has been a long-time champion of viewing clean energy as a societal health issue as well as an economic issue. Today, even traditionally red states like Nevada are passing legislation to move to this economically and socially beneficial long-term plan.
They are saying yes.
America has never succeeded by being a nation of “no, it can’t be done.” If we are to continue to build strong organizations and great institutions, we will need to move beyond short-term self-interest and become a nation of solutions.
First published on ForbesBooks.com/Forbes.com/JeffThompsonMD