Dear Barack and Friends
"The Democrats still don't know how to go negative. Until they do, they will lose." That's how a CNN commentator ended Monday night's coverage of the Democratic Convention. Is he right? What does it mean for someone to offer hope -- and strongly defend it -- when public life and politics is marked by acrimony and negativity, and shaped by pundits who unrelentingly dispatch such nonsense? Here's how. Any individual seeking to promote authentic hope and change in today's society must be clear about two things: keep focused on what truly matters and be certain of your desire to win. Your pursuit to make a difference in the world cannot simply be about "fighting the good fight." Those of us who toil in the vineyards of hope and change should want to harvest the fruits of our labor, simply put to improve people's lives; strengthen conditions in society for change; and make good on our urge to do good.
But we all know that the purveyors of negativity will not relent. They will bait you, call you names, and push half-truths. They will decry any form of nuance as weakness. We know their ways, and you must not fall victim to them. Do not take the bait. Do not get lost in their maze of mischief.
Stay true to your aspirations, and train your eye on victory. This is something I wrote about some months ago. My advice is similar today, only stripped down, more urgent, and perhaps more relevant given the chatterboxes, consultants, and critics in their empty suits who stand vulture-like awaiting the demise of hope.
Moving forward, here are key points to keep in mind:
1. Be clear on the difference between authentic hope and false hope -- I say this because this distinction must guide and propel everything you say and do. The moment you slip into a rendition of false hope is the moment you lose credibility. This requires enormous discipline on your part; you will have to play by stricter rules than those who assail you. It will be easy to take cheap shots, produce half-baked ads, and blur the lines between false and authentic hope. Don't do it.
2. Demonstrate hope, don't simply talk about it -- I've said this numerous times before: people gain hope from the sense of possibility which emerges from the potential of a new path. This path must be rooted in a vision of what can be versus what is; and it is made real by offering succinct proposals that make it concrete. Talking about "hope" alone will not motivate people.
3. Be tough as nails -- anyone who has brought about authentic hope has had to be tough-minded, thick-skinned, and a fighter. Ex: the prophets, Martin Luther King, Jr., neighborhood folks who made a difference. None of these people brooked any lip from others. They hit back, hit hard, and hit consistently. This is your task. Just be clear that in doing so you must stay true to points #1 and 2 above.
4. Negativity is a deathtrap -- yes, I know it has worked in the past for many individuals seeking to win, whether they were candidates seeking election or community leaders making a point. In fact, it very well might work again today. But if you genuinely believe in the call to pursue authentic hope, then you must not bite the apple. It is rotten to its core. Tactics and strategies rooted in negativity will only lead to your demise. People support you because of where you have planted your feet; stay there.
5. Stay away from Kum-ba-yah -- let's be honest, there's a danger in all this hope and change stuff. It's easy to slip into touchy-feely language that makes it sound like we're all headed for summer camp, or some God-awful office retreat. If you want to pursue hope, then you must be careful about gratuitous Hallmark card moments. Keep it real.
I've written a little piece called Make Hope Real that might come in handy; if you've already read it, pass it along to others who want to pursue hope and change. What's clear is that we can't do any of this work alone; it's also true that if you and I don't stand up, then who will? There's too much at stake. Let's win.
Click here to order a free copy of Make Hope Real