Think about the people you sit with at lunch, meet for a beer, or see at smaller meet-ups. Are they like you? Do you feel more comfortable around people who think like you? Or do you welcome the opportunity to be around those who think differently?

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read a Newsweek article about Washington wives of yore. It’s both interesting and sad.

Do you remember the video of Sen. Orrin Hatch (Rep.) speaking at the funeral of his “Irish friend” Ted Kennedy (Dem.)? After you dry your eyes, think about those on the Hill today. What are the chances now that a Republican and a Democrat will have a friendship like this?

Back when their relationship started, Senators and Representatives lived in DC with their families. They spent time hanging out with guys from both sides of the aisle.

“If you live across the street from your political opponent, if you know his kids, if you’ve been to dinner at his house, it’s impossible to go up on the floor of the Senate or in the media and blast him the next day.”

I’m not calling for a return to the “good old days” because they weren’t all good. Permanent residence in DC can lead to a syndrome I detest — the Beltway bubble that insulates some of our politicians from what it’s like to sign or earn a paycheck. I do think it’s important for them to come home and get a sense for what their constituents need, but something was lost along the way.

“Real legislating—the compromises and dealmaking that distinguish politics from posturing—happens only among people who know and respect each other.”

That’s what we lost. Camaraderie and collaboration were lost. People become symbols of their party platform. Static ideology takes precedence over reason and relationships.

Nowadays as soon as they’re elected, the fundraising cycle begins again for the next campaign. Wouldn’t it be better if our policy-makers focused on leading, thinking, collaborating, innovating and legislating while in office, not raising funds and running for the next election? Ah, what a dreamer I am.

It’s easy to demonize the other when you don’t choose to know or understand them. This is the root of racism, religious hatred, homophobia and a host of other evils. That’s the extreme version.

What’s the light version? Think about yourself, or think about the leadership of your company or organization. Do you (or your leadership) surround yourself with those who think like you? Who have the same beliefs or philosophies? Who are the same age, gender, religion, ethnicity or race? Who have the same economic, educational or professional background? Who do or see things the way you do?

What’s missing? Exposure to other perspectives and stories. Serendipity. Don’t knock serendipity. It’s the root of much creativity and innovation in the world.

It’s easy for any of us to get trapped in a bubble. Fortunately, because of social media, it’s also easier now to tap into voices and perspectives outside our bubble. I’m not sure how we’ll change Washington but we can pop our own bubbles.

leadership diversity perspective association organizational

flickr photo by missbossy