April White for TEDxAlmansorParkLive: Is Living United Worth the Fight?
Our world today seems to be splitting at the seams. Everywhere you look, differences produce division, judgment and, in some cases, violence. It doesn’t have to be that way. April White, founder and president of Trust Relations, has an answer to the chaos.
She believes we can use the actions we dislike in others as a tool to achieve a more authentic, united life. To do this takes trust and respect in your own and each other’s inherent value. In other words, we must see and trust the good in others—and ourselves.
Read the full talk transcript below.
Is Living United Worth the Fight?
Ok. Let’s start with a moment of truth. Have you ever thought you were better than someone else? (I mean, you’d never say it out loud). But when you look at other people you may have thought, “I’m definitely more inclusive than they are, more generous, more realistic, more something.” Right?
Our perceived differences cause us not just to think we’re better than others, but to act like that, too.
We fight, we accuse, we make fun of, we dismiss, and, in some horrible cases, we even kill others—all because of our differences.
But, in my experience, thinking that we’re better than others just because we’re different from them is never productive.
I know because I’ve done it.
And having different beliefs than my parents almost caused me to never see them again.
I grew up in a Christian home that was very devout, and I was all-in as a kid. I used to read my picture Bible for fun and go off in the woods—by myself—to sing worship songs.
But after I went to college, I started taking philosophy classes and meeting people with different beliefs. It all made me start to question if I really believed that everyone who was not a Christian would go to hell.
Well, questioning the beliefs I was raised with did not go over well with my parents.
Over time, my questioning led to a growing rift between us. I stopped being honest with them about what I was thinking, what I cared about, and what was going on in my life.
A lot of little cuts and unspoken words all added up to an unbearable silence.
Somewhere along the way, I started to view them as my enemies instead of my parents—all because of our differences.
In the place of my parents who raised me—and did a good job raising me—I saw these close-minded monsters who were nothing like me.
And when they told me I wasn’t allowed to bring my live-in boyfriend home for Christmas one year, because we were “living in sin,” I was furious. All that molten rock that had built up in me for years just erupted all at once. That was the last straw for me.
I told them I didn’t want to be in their lives anymore.
We were estranged for six years—all because I thought, “I’m better than these people.” And I wore our separation like a badge of honor, because it showed I had the integrity and courage to stand up to narrow-minded people.
Yet, as the years went by, I had a horrifying realization: If I wasn’t accepting them for who they were and what they believed, how in the world could I be angry with them for not accepting me for who I was and what I believed?
It made no sense.
I was judging them for being judgmental.
And all that time that we were estranged I thought I was more liberal, more open-minded, and more loving. I wasn’t. I was just different. Not better. Just different. Not even right. Just different.
And I can tell you this, cutting my parents out of my life did not make the world a better place for anyone—especially me.
Thankfully, I was able to reconcile things with my parents, and our relationship is stronger now than it’s ever been—but I will never get those six years back.
They’ll never attend the wedding I didn’t invite them to. They’ll never visit the places I lived or worked at in New York City, when I moved away.
And I missed so many important moments. Thanksgivings. Christmases. The family vacations we’d take to Utah in the summer. I even missed my brother’s wedding.
All in the name of superiority.
Worst of all, I broke the golden rule—I did to my parents what I didn’t want done to me.
Then I started to see this divisive pattern everywhere.
At work. In the news. With friends. We were all doing to other people what we would never want done to us.
We were all going around feeling superior to other people or some other group because we have it “right.” We know better. We are better.
All this pettiness and intolerance and hate, disguised as mild dislike—and it’s all leading to a growing division in our world.
In fact, in many ways, our world today is splitting at the seams. Everywhere you look, people are disowning each other over different opinions and beliefs, races and religions, political views and anything else we can disagree on.
That’s not going to get us anywhere.
The key to living united is saying, “My beliefs are different, but not better—and they don’t make me better either.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
I would add: “Division cannot drive out division; only unity can do that.”
We need each other to solve the complex challenges in our world.
We need each other to generate the creative friction necessary to build a better world.
Research actually proves this.
A study of 100 product teams found that by reducing team harmony through diversity and task uncertainty, the teams actually increased their creativity and innovation.
And we’ve seen this, right?
I mean, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak? Wow, are they different characters! But you take that visionary salesman and that genius inventor, and smash them together, and you get Apple. Then you have Roger Waters and David Gilmour, who are very different musicians, but that push and pull between their musical sensibilities is the very thing that made Pink Floyd’s music so innovative.
So while the fight to live united is a fight, it’s a fight worth fighting.
It’s worth the advances we’ll see in technology.
It’s worth the masterpieces we’ll write together.
It’s worth the policies we will co-create to actually address the needs of the masses.
I had to learn this all the hard way. But you don’t have to have my losses to learn my lessons.
You can do your part to become the example our world needs to live united.
I’ll show you how.
It starts with trusting your real value, but not your fragile ego—and also realizing that we dislike people who represent a part of ourselves we don’t like, and we disown people who represent a part of ourselves we don’t want to own.
Let me explain.
When was the last time someone really irritated you? If you strip it down to its essence, what about it was so upsetting? What was the quality of it? Was it selfish? Thoughtless? Critical?
Now do some soul searching—and take an honest look at yourself. Ask, “When was the last time I did something similar?” Obviously you probably didn’t do exactly the same thing; but ask yourself, “Have I ever exhibited the same qualities that were in the behavior I found so offensive?”
The answer is almost certainly “yes.” Because it would only irritate you if it had a landing pad. And it would only have a landing pad if you did something similar in the past—or are capable of doing something similar in the future.
I know it’s rough, but stay with me. The good news is, our perspectives aren’t permanent—and neither are our bad behaviors.
If you can figure out where you did that and why—and shine that light right on it, no matter how painful and gross it is because those cobwebs are gonna show in that basement—then you can clean it out.
You can forgive that person. You can forgive yourself. You can be more empathetic with people, understanding what caused them to do certain things—because you did it yourself, or know you are capable of doing something similar. And then you can more authentically be who you want to be.
Use these mirrors that other people hold up to you as the gifts they are to self-correct, so you don’t keep doing those nasty things—or try not to—and then, eventually, you won’t.
This is where the path to live united gets tricky, because the hard work starts inside us before it goes out, into our relationships and the world.
We all want people to see us in a certain way and, if they don’t, we get offended.
This is silly for two reasons:
Number 1: If you trust your inherent value, then no one can define your worth (and no one can offend you).
Number 2: You can’t convince people you are something you aren’t.
You can’t just tell people you’re honest, or kind, or brave, or talented. You have to be those things—and consistently be those things—that’s what proves it to them…not the way you sell it.
The same is true for companies, right? They can’t convince us they’re international if they are only in one country. They have to be international.
I like to tell companies, “You have to do what you say before you can say what you do. This is the first rule of trust relations, a term I coined to replace public relations—which many perceive to mean “spinning the truth.” Trust relations, on the other hand, is about earning trust based on who you are—not who you pretend to be—and making sure that your storytelling and storydoing are one and the same.
At the end of the day, whether we’re an individual or a brand, what we really need to focus on is whether our actions resonate with our true selves—that’s what’s going to create the coherence in us we need for others to trust us.
Because until you trust yourself, you can’t trust anyone else—and no one can trust you.
If our sense of self blows with the wind, no one knows what we’ll do next or how we’ll respond—including us. And we don’t trust others not to hurt us, because we are vulnerable to external criticism.
But when our values are clear and we act on them consistently, people trust us, because they trust our integrity and that we will behave consistently.
I’d like to leave you with this:
Trust your real value, but not your fragile ego.
Don’t let other people let you question your worth—and don’t question theirs.
But do let other people let you question your coherence. Are you who you say you are?
Are you fixing in yourself what you dislike in others? Self-correct at every opportunity, whenever you see something in them you don’t like.
And then go out and create the world you want to live in—with them.
That’s the big picture.
What will you build in a world where you accept the creative tension other people bring into your life? What masterpiece will you write with them in the future?
April White is a leading public relations veteran who has nearly 20 years of experience counseling and implementing campaigns on behalf of clients across various industries, from Fortune 100 companies to startups. She has worked at the world’s best PR agencies in New York City, including Weber Shandwick, Edelman and Rubenstein Public Relations before starting her own firm, Trust Relations, and has represented an impressive roster of clients and their executives over the course of her career.
White is a former award-winning journalist and current contributor to Forbes, Newsweek, Entrepreneur, PRNews, and PR Daily. She is also the co-host of several industry podcasts including The PR Wine Down, Hype Busters and the newly debuted Trust Relations: The Podcast.
You can connect with April on LinkedIn if you’re interested in booking her as a speaker or podcast guest.
Trust Relations Team