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Why a ten-year-old is giving advice to Congress

Posted Monday, April 11, 2011, at 8:21 PM

"Why do Congressmen say such mean things about each other? We're not allowed to act like that in my class. We have rules about respecting each other. Do you think something like that might help you?"

He was only 10 years old, but his question made several Congressmen squirm.

His name is Colyne. He's from Gwinnett County, Georgia. He, his mother and his older brother were part of a group of private citizens who went to Washington DC with me to meet with several members of Congress.

We had one goal: Get Congress to establish best practices for civil discourse.

I've utilized best practices to stop turf wars in other organizations, and I can promise you, it works.

Getting a group of bickering leaders to agree to guidelines like, "We're going to attack problems, not people," provides you with a framework for holding people accountable.

People agree to the guidelines thinking that it will make the "other side" shape up. But once they've agreed to them, they have to adhere to the same principles themselves.

It works in business, it works in a classroom, and we believe it could make a big difference in Congress.

Colyne's teacher might not be a CEO or Congresswoman, but like any good leader, she clearly understands the value of establishing guidelines for the way people treat each other.

Here are the Class Rules Colyne shared with members of Congress:

Don't say bad things about each other.

Listen when the other people talk.

Don't mess with other people's stuff.

Can you imagine the look on a Congressman's face when a 4th grader innocently asks, "Do you think rules like this might help you all stop fighting and get more work done?"

How can they possibly justify NOT following principles like that?

Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that every has."

It's funny how when you decide to do the right thing, the Universe has a way of helping you along.

Colyne came to Congress as the result of a sales meeting and a Facebook group. His mother runs a sales team. After I did a program for her group, she took home a copy of my conflict resolution book, The Triangle of Truth, where Colyne read it.

Around the same time, people started a Facebook group - The Book That Will Fix Congress - and they got Penguin to donate a copy for every member of the House and Senate.

When we decided to hand deliver the books, Colyne and his mother offered to come along. Newspapers ran stories about it. People started calling their Congressmen and Senators. More people came forward - Republicans and Democrats - offering to pay their own expenses to DC, because they desperately want Congress to stop fight and start solving problems.

The week before we leave, The Washington Post picked The Triangle of Truth as a Top 5 Book for Leaders. Suddenly we're able to get appointments with several offices.

Colyne and team were so effective that the 16 Republican and Democratic Congressmen who represent Georgia agreed to call a meeting to discuss establishing best practices for civil discourse.

If a 10-year-old and a group of private citizens from Georgia can get leaders from both sides of the aisle to come together to talk about civility, who knows what might happen next?

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Angst is in the air: Be careful it's catching
Lisa Earle McLeod
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I can't take any more. The economy is tanking, the election is endless, and now it looks like I might have to sell my blood if I want to keep my kids in mac 'n cheese. Oh, and did I mention that, thanks to falling house prices, I probably owe more on my home than it's actually worth? I want to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and have somebody wake me up when my 401(k) bounces back. I don't know about you, but I'm finding myself so jittery about, well everything, that it's all I can do to surf the net. Kind of ironic, isn't it? I should be working more, but I'm so anxious about my finances that I'm actually working less. Alas, such is the world of grown-ups - stress, anxiety, depression. And to think that I wasted much of my childhood wishing I could be in charge of my own life. Why in the heck did I ever think that was a good idea? Give me a few cookies, a blankey and a nice place to lie down and I swear I'll never complain about an early bedtime again. These are tough times indeed. Even if you're still OK, you'd have to be one cold, hard, rich person to stay immune to all the angst in the air. So how do you cope? How do you get through today when you're so worried about tomorrow that you can't see straight? I overheard a news commentator say that people are thinking twice before they go out to eat or buy new clothes. I'm guessing that those are the people who still have jobs. Because the people without jobs aren't spending a nickel on anything except cheap carbs and keeping a roof over their heads. Yet as depressing as our collective and individual situations may be, the last thing we need to do is let our fear get the best of us. If you spend all day quaking and anxious, guess who wins? The fear. Yes, I know FDR had a roof over his head when he said "we have nothing to fear but fear itself," but he was right. Every moment you waste paralyzed with fear is a moment you could be doing something, or resting up so that you can do something tomorrow. It's been said that there are only two emotions, love and fear, and all the other emotions are derivatives of those. So I'd like to make a suggestion. Let's chose love. Let's decide to love each other and to love ourselves, no matter what happens. And if you're really a Pollyanna, perhaps you'll join me in deciding to love the fact that this crisis is serving as a call for us to become our better selves; a call for us to look within and rid ourselves of consumerism, greed and the need to keep up with the Jones; and a call for us to have more empathy for those who are struggling. Maybe this is a chance for all of us - and I include myself - to decide that we love our country and we love our fellow human beings more than we love our stuff. Yeah, I know it sounds hokey. But you don't change your circumstances until you change the thoughts that created them. Cowering under the covers in fear may feel safer. But in a crisis, the truly powerful response is love. (c) Copyright 2008, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved. Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author and nationally syndicated columnist. Her books include "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her at www.ForgetPerfect.com.