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In his prophetic post World War I poem The Second Coming, W. B. Yeats writes:

“The blood dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned,

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

There is a Chinese curse that goes something like, “May you live in interesting times.” We certainly seem to be living in one of those times. Peggy Noonan called it “big history” in her Saturday Wall Street Journal column.

My friend Jennifer Brown, author of the recent Amazon business best-seller Inclusion, relates a conversation she overheard last week that got me thinking about the special challenges to entrepreneurial health in a time of severe societal polarization and instability.

Jennifer reports hearing a Starbucks barista sharing about how thoroughly sick she was of the incivility of current political discourse and that she had come to a conscious decision: The minute she logged onto Facebook and saw a single political post, she would immediately log off.

I know how she feels. The political trope of our time has never been so fraught nor the urge to disengage more alluring. Everything is overly charged. It seems folks are bloody exhausted, yet endlessly drawn back into the emotional vortex of the pure drama of a seeming manichaean struggle. (Manichaeism, if unknown to you, is an early Christian heresy that divided the world into absolutes–pure back and white, pure right or wrong–a dualism with little middle way.)

This dominant current meme is reinforced by a report I heard mentioned on NPR recently, which cited a poll from somewhere that over 40% of couples who supported different candidates in the US presidential election ended up breaking up over their differences. Wow! So much for the golden example of James Carville and Mary Matalin, Democratic and Republican strategists respectively, who seem to live a very happy domestic existence despite their political disparity.

There is an almost addictive quality to the dramatic distortion so apparent in our present political moment. It can be all-consuming to the detriment of the focused passion essential to entrepreneurial success. Much like any addiction, our exciting and disturbing political moment allows us to avoid and skirt the very real challenges posed by our essential businesses and personal lives. It is just so much easier to fling ourselves into the exciting societal/political drama than to face the quotidian challenges of everyday life and business. It’s like embracing an escapist sugar high.

This is not to say that political passion and idealism of any stripe are not necessary and wonderful. I respect idealism, of course. Most successful entrepreneurs are idealists. How else do they summon the indispensable courage to attempt to create something out of nothing each day? It is an act of artistic faith, as well as of personal will.

There is an intuitive wisdom in the decision of the young barista mentioned above who chooses to cut off any further political discourse rather than get caught up in ad hominem manichaean disputation. It is sometimes necessary to disengage temporarily. It may well be a healthful disengagement from present polarities to maintain a practical and mindful center. There is no shame in keeping your attention on the main business chance.

Successful entrepreneurs are nothing if not practical people. They are risk-takers but not reckless adventurers. They may live on the cutting edge, but not without shrewd calculation. To maintain that focus this may be a time for the withdrawal from the tropes of the popular meme. It may be a time of making choices as to where to place limited personal energy. Just as it is good to stay clear of individuals who are energy sucks, so is it also sometimes necessary to resist the lemming-like madness of societal drama.

Entrepreneurial practicality militates a functional utile, a nuanced understanding that truth exists in the gray non-absolutes, not in the blacks and whites of political purity. It is important to recognize a bone-deep weariness that can sap creative and functional business energy.

So, this is not a time of tolerance and the truth of “the gray.” But we do not need to surrender to distracting, uncentering angry absolutes.

As Carl Jung warns us, “We all feel the opposite of our own highest principle must be purely destructive, deadly, and evil. We refuse to endow it with any positive life force; hence we avoid and fear it.” Thanks, Carl.

8 Responses to “Politics, Polarization, and Entrepreneurship”
  1. Michael Drapkin says:

    Amen, brother!

  2. Sandra Atenasio says:

    Palm Beach is a town divided, there is no gray area – either you are for or are against! I own and operate a florist, which is usually a happy environment, however, some days it has turned into a battleground with several customers who have opposing view points! I have found it safe to maintain an a-political attitude, thus avoiding the sap of creative energy!

  3. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Me too, Sandy. Nice to hear from you.

    Tim

  4. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Thanks, Michael.

    Warmest regards,

    Tim

  5. Patric Hale says:

    The French political philosopher Raymond Aron once wrote: “Patriotism is always at its highest during times of civil war because we are driven by our vision for the future of our country to be willing to die for our beliefs.”

    I’m now past my mid-60s mark and I don’t quite understand how we got back to the 1960s again. While the passions of the 1960s were driven by racial inequality, sexism and fueled on by a failed war in Vietnam, we seem to see those who lost the election attempting to reignite those passions for what can only be described as blatant political reasons because they lost! Sadly we also see a new President who has neither the temperament, patience, or judgment to let them simmer rather than being determined to combat not the most egregious malaprops by Dems, but EVERY one of them that only simply flames the fires of their disappointment even more.

    The Flynn resignation is telling…. The Dem leadership rolled out the “what did he know and when did he know it” phrase of Watergate in attacking Trump for actually doing what he should have done which was ask for Flynn’s resignation. Flynn, because of his 30 years of service to our country deserves the process of coming to the decision in an appropriate manner. As a reminder, these were the same Dem Leaders who held up any investigation into Obama’s WH insisting and instructing Susan Rice out-and-out LIE about the Benghazi attacks, keeping to the story that it is was all about an “internet video” – and they held to that story right through Hillary’s campaign!! And then there was ALL of the things Hillary did where NOT ONE Democrat was heard saying anything bad about her breeches of national security which Flynn as head of DIA must have known a lot more about but was not permitted to “leak” the information the way clearly the continued Obama insiders in the intel community did to force this resignation by Flynn.

    Can you say “hypocrisy”?

    But I agree with your article. If only Conway to get Trump to drop the Twitter account – or at least minimize its use for truly important issues – and focus on “making America great again” as he promised!

    I hope all is well.

    P.

  6. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Your depth of knowledge and reference always astounds me, Patric. Certainly Trump at least should use the Twitter account more judiciously. It’s certainly a fascinating, though dismal political time.

    Tim

  7. David says:

    Thanks, Tim.

  8. Tim Askew Tim Askew says:

    Thank you for reading Making Rain, David.

    Warm regards,

    Tim

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