Those are fighting words

The shift to adversarial discourse in the U.S. needs to change so we can grow

I want to talk about fighting. We all know what the word means though it may mean something somewhat different to you than it does to me. It also might take on a different level of importance depending on who you are fighting with and what you are fighting about.

Sometimes, I fight with people I love, like my wife or children, and other times with people I don’t even know or care about. Regardless of the adversary, I know how fighting makes me feel, which is mostly bad. Maybe I feel bad because I often lose the fight or, more important, I lose something about me I would have rather kept.

For the past several months, we have watched both political parties claim they are going to fight for us. Fight for the country. Fight socialism. Fight for preexisting condition coverage in health care. Fight for lower taxes. Fight for less debt. Fight for or against abortion. Fight for more stimulus. Fight for less stimulus. Fight COVID-19. Fight to hold a majority in Congress. Fight for the White House. It seems all we do during any election year is fight and, lately, fighting seems to be the only way to win a particular result.

By the time you read this, you will know who won some of these recent electoral fights. But I am confident this type of fighting will continue for the next several years or even decades. It is becoming a way of life in America.

In many ways, we have picked up on the language of politics in our daily lives. Recently, a member told me he feels good about his membership because he senses NRCA is fighting for him and his business. I hear the same language from some of our staff. “We need to fight for the roofing contractor!” or “We need to fight for the industry!” But I wonder: Is anyone winning these fights? And is there a better way to find or, more important, define success other than having the fight itself become the measure? Is constantly fighting all that effective?

I am weary of all the fighting. I also am tired of using the language of war to win some psychological battle where neither side benefits. A few years ago, NRCA went through a deliberative process of drafting a new strategic plan. That plan’s vision statement reads: “Since 1886, the National Roofing Contractors Association has been the home for generations of entrepreneurial craftsmen and enterprises who shelter and protect America’s families and businesses and each other. Our vision is the recognition of our members as professionals and to unite the industry to that purpose.”

At the staff and volunteer level, we have been laser-focused on the idea of a unified roofing industry where collaboration is honored and professionalism is the focus. So how does all the fighting help us meet this objective?

There absolutely is a time to fight for the needs of roofing contractors, especially when government imposes policies that negatively affect us. NRCA will continue to fight for better, more effective government and to make sure to the degree we can that building codes, the insurance industry and government agencies treat the roofing industry as fairly as possible.

Yet some of the fighting I am seeing and hearing entails us fighting with and against each other. My father always taught me that if I win someone over to my view because I won an argument, someone can always win them back with a better argument.

Winning people over to your point of view only works when others adopt your point of view as their own. I have never seen that happen as the result of fighting per se. Fighting often comes across as a callous indifference to someone else’s ideas or beliefs. So maybe it is time to change tactics. Let’s vigorously and, when needed, forcefully, debate our positions. Let’s win the day by finding places of agreement rather than focusing on disagreements. Let’s start from a position of respect and with the idea of trying harder to understand someone else’s viewpoint before trying to impose our own. Maybe if we take that approach, we can create a much better future.

Reid Ribble is NRCA's CEO.

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