Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Penn State and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. He is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion. Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
Courage. It has been on my mind a lot lately. So many critics out there, so many people who are great at being a part of the problem but don’t have the courage to be part of the solution. Why? Because it’s easier to talk a big game than to actually make a difference by having the courage to work with others and to get things done — especially if it means communicating and possibly compromising to “move the needle” of progress.
I get so discouraged trying to find unbiased news sources and when I do watch or listen to the news it’s almost always negative. We are so good at playing the blame game and we will do just about anything to convince ourselves that our own point of view is correct without doing our due diligence. Oh yes, we do need to take a stand on some issues we believe in, especially involving your core values. That takes courage as well. But more and more often it is misguided courage for one reason: We have lost the courage to listen to and discuss issues with those who have a different opinion.
This country seems to be more and more polarized politically at the very moment in history when we need the courage to come together. I believe that part of the reason we are in this current state of angry and often hostile rhetoric is because we have lost the ability to debate without being debatable. When someone disagrees, we too often want to take our ball and go home. This inability to have crucial conversations about serious topics ends up hurting everyone.
So, I get back to today’s topic: courage. The courage to have the tough, intentional and meaningful discussions with loved ones, friends, managers, co-workers and those who are simply different from us. The courage to be open minded, to have respectful and dignified dialogue with people who come from a different point of view from your own. The courage to act on your ideas in a meaningful way to get things done. In the end, you may not have changed your position based on those discussions, but you will have more information, a better understanding of why the differences exist, and I hope you will leave the conversation with a foundation of common courtesy and mutual respect.
When you come across people who are closed off to discussing the pros and cons of topics, especially the polarizing ones, it can be so frustrating and feel like the weight of the world is on you. There are those who are so set in their ways that they will ignore the hard data and evidence staring them right in the face. Grace Hopper, the first female rear admiral in the Navy said, “The worst phrase in the world is ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” But for those people who have dug in their heels and are stubbornly determined to ignore the obvious, sometimes you do need to simply remove yourself, especially if tensions begin to mount and you both cannot resist making it personal.
But there are also those who expect you to believe every new idea that comes along simply because it’s new. Trust but verify, folks! Especially true these days when misinformation and disinformation are spread by so many people within our country and from outside as well. Oh, and by both of our traditional political parties who keep pointing their fingers at each other about spreading fake news when they both do it repeatedly. Personally, I wish they’d all grow up and act like reasonable, commonsense adults more often. I am embarrassed by the behavior modeled by so many of our “leaders” these days.
I am fortunate to be back in Idaho to teach two weeks of hockey camps for the fifth year. Once again, the Sun Valley Writers‘ Conference is also in town. My wife and I met retired Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, last year and were fortunate to speak with him again this year. His new book, “To Risk it All: Nine Conflicts and the Crucible of Decision” is a book on leadership and decision making from real-life situations, not from Marvel Universe or a Star Wars reboot from Disney Plus.
It is, at its core, a book about courage. In his inscription when he signed my wife’s copy of his book he wrote, “Leadership matters. Especially in the first 10 seconds.” He talks about the ability to make good decisions being like a muscle, “… it must be exercised carefully, trained to perform at peak readiness, and treated with respect.”
We heard Heather McGhee, a dynamic speaker, advocate, lawyer, economic policy expert and author of a new book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.” It’s about how racism and the policies of exclusion have hurt everyone, and how our nation and the world would be a better place if we’d get past our own biases. She talked about how we went from a football shaped economy with a bulging middle class to a bow tie shaped one with tremendous wealth on one side and desperate poverty on the other.
We heard Heather speak at the main pavilion and she had the courage to speak from the heart:
“Our collective economic progress is being held up by a lie. The ‘zero sum’ world view that, if someone gains, someone must lose, is a myth. We are not optimizing our economy. We are told we are not on the same team.”
She emphasized that everything we believe comes from a story, but who’s telling the story? She was the only woman and the only person of color at her job. She felt a growing sense of frustration at the data and policy “blind spots” that are less accurate about the real world than what she saw with her own eyes. She had the courage to quit her dream job at her economic policy think tank to hit the road to help solve an increasingly difficult problem to spread “Radical Empathy.”
As my time to complete my article reached its end, Arthur C. Brooks, an acclaimed “commonsense” conservative and libertarian, was about to speak about his new book, “From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life.” A subject rather near and dear to my heart these days as my wife and I enter the “encore” stage of life. His talk will focus about the science of happiness, which he teaches to his MBA students at Harvard Business school. This new book sprouted from what he calls “me-search.” He did a deep dive into himself. That takes courage. I will share what I learn in a future column.
Listening to these passionate speakers once again raises my passion for a movement toward a more centrist, commonsense party. A fellow speaker told me if you want to maximize your profits as a speaker you have to pick a side politically. Hmmm. But what if I want to pick “None of the above?” I guess the older I get the more I believe in the power of collective action. The most important things can only be achieved together. Common people coming together for the greater good.
I have personally become so tired of the radical left and the radical right. I worry whether our democracy can survive without people of common sense speaking up and saying, “enough already.” But that would take courage.
I am tired of some of the so-called experts, at least the ones with massive egos, many of whom come from think-tanks, government policy organizations, C-suites in corporations, the snobby halls of certain academic institutions, professional sports teams and the entertainment industry, who have very little in common with the average person in this country. They make the recommendations and rules without walking in the shoes of the people they supposedly care about and attempt to represent.
You may disagree with me, and I hope many of you do, but I hope you will consider my perspective and be willing to have intentional discussion about the topics and we can find a way to actually “move the needle.”
I am all about getting the right people, around the right table, at the right time. I am about working together to find commonsense solutions that make sense. I hope others will be inspired by this column and the messages from these authors to be more courageous about being intentional and getting things done.