When I accepted a position with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., I never expected that two years on Capitol Hill would make me a better parent.
That’s right. Two years on Capitol Hill exploring ways we might get our elected leaders to speak more civilly and respectfully with each other taught me a thing or two about listening, learning and leading.
In 2013 after retiring from Girls on the Run International, an organization I founded in 1996, I was invited to serve on the Commission for Political Reform. I, along with 25 folks, mostly D.C. “insiders”, met regularly for two years to get to the bottom of “what’s going on in American politics” that has our leaders so angry, polarizing and distant from one another.
After two years, I walked away from the experience curious to learn more. So in August of 2014, I set off on a cross-country road trip and asked everyday Americans that very same question … “What’s going on that has us all so darn angry and fearful of one another?” I spoke with Doray, the housekeeper at the hotel where I was staying; Dave, a truck driver I met in a Starbucks; Chrissy and Brian, a couple of homeless youth; Nate, an Army veteran. I listened to literally hundreds of people over the course of that month.
I came back to Charlotte a changed person. I was more open, a better listener and more hopeful about the future of America. I consequently founded “The Red Boot Coalition.” Why red boots? On the days I wore red boots, folks were more inclined to start up a conversation. “I like your boots,” they would say. “Great,” I would respond and soon the two of us were talking America, politics, race, gender and a whole host of other topics.
The Red Boot Coalition provides safe spaces for people to come together. We are a warm and welcoming group open to all. During our weekly, one-hour guided meetings, we do two very important things; we practice how to listen without an agenda and we practice honest sharing. We then take those very simple, but not so easy-to-do skillsets out into the world. Over time, the biases and barriers that separate me from other people come down. I am more peaceful, more present and more able to effectively and positively engage in what at times feel like a toxic, fearful world.
And what does that have to do with parenting? I am a better parent. Both of my kids have noticed. I listen without an agenda. I am there for them. I don’t immediately try to fix, correct or save them, but instead listen and allow them to share. A fabulous skill to not only practice at the highest levels of leadership, but in my own home, with my own children.
It all makes sense. As the old adage says, “Peace begins at home.” Well so does listening without an agenda, a simple concept that over time brings connection, builds trust and creates a place for little people to grown up into kind, productive and empowered adults.