Don Senechal once said that his only asset was his reputation. The consulting company he co-founded helped North Dakota a great deal. He told durum growers that a farmer-owned pasta plant could be economically successful. It was. He told corn growers they could add value to corn by converting it to sweeteners. It, too, was successful. He told potato growers they could raise, store and process potatoes into French fries in Stutsman and surrounding counties. That happened, as well. Don also said some ideas wouldn’t work, and he didn’t shy away from telling clients things they didn’t want to hear.
Building a good reputation means living up to the ideal image of truth telling, rather than living down to the lowest common denominator of public perception. The axiom that perception is reality is very dangerous. Politicians look at polling numbers like investors watch the stock market. They gamble on what they think will be a favorable public perception and adjust their positions accordingly. They can lose big when perceptions change.
I learned in sales school that people become what you think they are. They live up or down to their assigned reputation. If you think they are mean and hateful, they become that way. If you think they are kind and loving, they are. A poll showed people in the United States becoming fearful and anxious. The poll suggested liberal people are worried that conservative people will wreck the economy, injure the environment, and hurt minorities and disadvantaged people. Conservative people are less worried but still fear liberals will take away their way of making a living, especially in the fossil fuels industries. Both groups justify their fears with polling numbers.
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President Lincoln established the Thanksgiving holiday. Lincoln had a reputation as an honest person. He understood the dangerous political volatility when he told the American people a house divided cannot stand. Lincoln believed slavery was morally wrong and there could be no economic justification for that practice. Other leaders declared public support for the property rights of slave holders (a number of U.S. Supreme Court justices owned slaves) and cited public support for their position.
At Gettysburg and at his second inaugural address, Lincoln reminded the American people of the reputation of our new republic. Lincoln reminded the American people that “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great Civil War, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated can long endure.”
At his second inaugural address, Lincoln urged Americans to start the healing process after the Civil War. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
This Thanksgiving, give thanks for Jefferson and Lincoln and for all the citizens and leaders who have built the American reputation for equality. Divided America cannot stand but can be healed with leadership that holds malice toward none, and charity for all. Let us live up to that reputation and seek, with God’s help, to know and do the right. Our country’s survival depends on it.
Bill Patrie has been recognized for his work as a cooperative developer by the National Farmers Union, the Association of Cooperative Educators and the National Cooperative Business Association.