Over the last few weeks, as we are knee deep in midterm election season, I have noticed that my Facebook timeline is filled with political ads and articles trying to make us all more voter conscious. Many of my conversations with friends have been focused on the candidates and local politics.
I cannot tell you how many of my individual clients and I have talked about running for political office. For many, politics seemed like a far-away concept, then it became a dream and for some, now a reality. Invariably, the conversation turns to personal ethics and how it shows up in politics.
In my Yoruba tradition, a person’s “Iwa” is their destiny. “Iwa” means “character.” You can have all the money in the world, position, status, and anything else, but if you do not have character, you are poor in every sense of the word.
Iwa is more valuable than gold. Iwa is what makes a person an “omoluabli.” This is a person (usually a man) who has taken care of himself, his nuclear family, his extended family and his community. The earmark of an omoluabli is empathy as expressed in kindness and consideration for those to whom he has no familial obligation towards. This person would send neighborhood kids to school and leave a legacy in the community in the form of a school, an orphanage or a tangible resource that will live on after the omoluabi dies.
Iwa, character, is the foundation of personal ethics and is rooted in kindness and consideration for others.
I think it is also important to note that a person’s sense of personal ethics does not mean that they get it right all the time. Of course, they fail. They are human. But how they handle failure is an even greater reflection of their sense of personal ethics.
These concepts apply in any culture in the world, but I often feel that it is overlooked in our electoral system.
Politics? Let’s start at the top.
Some of the folks I talked to over the last few weeks were supporters of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC, whose name shall not be mentioned in my writings. Initially, they called him “a smart businessman.” Now, they agree that they do not like what they have now discovered about him.
I am very intrigued about this perception of him as “a smart business man.”
What makes him smart?
Now, a cursory google search will disclose that he inherited wealth, leverages bankruptcies, does not pay his obligations and lies about his purported wealth.
Now, many business people do this, but usually on a smaller scale. Yet, that does not make it right. Smart cannot mean that you have found a consistent way to leverage loopholes in the system to make money for yourself.
I have been in business myself and I get the need to hustle. Money does not just automatically flow into a business, just because you built it. It takes a lot of work and sometimes when your back is against the wall, you may even make some questionable calls. Everyone wants ease and shortcuts are often tempting and maybe even necessary. Yet, to build an “empire” on the weaknesses of other people or in the law, or to exploit broken systems, simply stinks in my opinion.
Character matters, more than ever. And especially in business, and most especially in politics. Your character reflects your personal sense of ethics. Your ethics are guiding blocks that anchor your beliefs and how you process life itself. When something is hurled at you, your ethics determine how you react or respond to the crisis at hand.
What I love about both business and politics is that it moves you out of yourself into entering the lived realities of other people. Or at least, it is supposed to. You position yourself as a leader and you provide solutions and relief to others.
That is why your character matters in business and in politics. If you are selfish, and you are more concerned about yourself than you are about other people, then you have no business being involved in either pursuit. In fact, when you open a business, if you are doing it because of the money, you will eventually fall flat on your face. This is why you must love what you do.
We all have, and are, suffering from too many politicians and business people who are in it for their own pockets, their own egos, and their own private agendas.
The climate is asking for great leadership: Omoluabis that have great iwa.
When I first got into business as a lawyer, I heard a statement I will never forget: “The purpose of a business is to get a customer and keep a customer. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.” That is how you build a business and grow a business. I don’t know who made this statement. But I live by this mantra. The focus is on the customer: What do they need? Am I providing great quality? Am I meeting their need? How can I improve myself to meet their need better?
Character in business says: “I must try to do business legitimately and meet the needs of my customers.” It means that you do not treat your customers as dollar signs walking your way. It means not abusing and leveraging laws just to profit. It means not being a shark as a business person but looking for win-win situations.
If, as a business person, your model is one-upmanship, you will find yourself empty and lonely for the one minute you may be at the top. If your model is to outsmart everyone else, you will find that you cannot create trust with your customers. If your model is to put money first, you will find that your business will be short lived as people will not invest in you.
Same with politics. It is about representing the constituents and not just your personal interests. It is about being truly qualified to lead others to a better life, more prosperity and more security. It is also about being open to accountability and knowing that people are counting on you.
To that end, I went to a fundraiser last night for Stacey Abrams put on by my podcast partner, Jennifer. She is the first black female major party gubernatorial nominee in the United States. She served as the Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017. Reading her Wikipedia entry exhausted me. She has done so much with her life and she is 8 years younger than me! She has written romance novels! (I love that about her.) She has a Master of Public Affairs degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a law degree from Yale Law School. In addition to practicing law, she is also a serial entrepreneur and has served in the Georgia General Assembly since 2007.
You can go to her website and read all about her, but we know that is carefully designed to lure us in, right? I wanted to hear her in person because I do not want my support going to someone just because she is female and African-American and is the first person nominated for such a position, right?
Well, wait a minute.
That is a good reason. Even though it is not enough for me. Let’s explore that. Although I am firmly committed to diversity, inclusion and equity in all strata of society, I do not believe in handouts and I do not believe in superficial accountability. I believe that many marginalized folks are incredibly competent but are not given a chance to perform and excel.
The reality is that often, a minority may be more qualified than her counterparts for positions because of what she has gone through to get to that position. So that gives me a ton of respect for Stacey Abrams.
For instance, just this past week, we breezed through Tuesday, August 7th, which is also known as “Black Women’s Equal Pay Day.” This date is used to highlight the economic disparity between white men and black women. The pay gap means that a black woman has to work for 19 months to make the equivalent of what a white man makes in 12 months. So, on August 7th, a woman like Stacey, and millions of them in the United States, would just be catching up economically to her white male counterpart for income he made last year.
This speaks to the tenacity and ability of a black woman to stretch her dollars, make fewer investments, have fewer savings and also have more debt, especially over her lifetime. According to the National Women’s Law Center, this translates into median annual earnings of $850,000 less for the black woman over a 40-year career.
In April, we have “Equal Pay Day for All.” Although overall, women earn 80 cents for every dollar that men make, black women make 63 cents for every dollar white, non-Hispanic men make. according to a study published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, this means that black women also make 38% less than white men and 21% less than white women.
Let that sink in.
Good enough reason to see that this candidate is clearly a shining star among her peers. She has excelled in spite of the economic disparity that she has faced.
However, the real reason, I support Stacey is that she is competent, and she is smart. She has a heart for others as I saw how she treated a little child at this fundraiser.
Always watch how the politicians treat children – and those who cannot vote. This child wanted her attention and she simply gave the child her attention, mid-speech, and then took a couple of seconds, regrouped and got back on track.
She gave two poignant stories that spoke to the “why” of her leadership.
She showed her inclusivity by talking about the work she did with Nathan Deal on criminal justice reforms. She is the second of six children. Two of her siblings have Ph.Ds. She and another sibling have Juris Doctorates and that other sibling is a federal judge in Georgia. Another sibling is a social worker and the last sibling, Walter, is a bi-polar, heroin-addicted, incarcerated black male. Stacey Abrams openly talked about her brother and the compounding effect of non-diagnosis of a mental disorder due to lack of proper healthcare, the self-medication by abusing opioids that occurs with many in his condition and recidivism and repeated incarceration. Since she has seen the effect of this and its impact on her family, she is close to this lived reality to offer solutions that bring genuine relief to those affected and not the pockets of the private prison enterprise.
I felt that this candidate would have true empathy and concern for a population that cannot vote, and that tells me a lot about her character.
She also told the story of how she attended Avondale High School in Decatur, Georgia and was the class valedictorian. She and her family were invited to the governor’s mansion for a formal event for all the valedictorians in the state. Her parents were working class people but did not have a car. They took public transportation to the governor’s mansion and the guard saw them get off the bus. The guard did not ask for her invitation but promptly dismissed them and told the family to leave as “You do not belong here.”
They did not leave. Her father handled the situation and they all attended the formal event.
So now, she is running to occupy that same house that she was told she did not belong to. Her platform is based on her belief that everyone in Georgia belongs in that house. Beloveds, that was a powerful story.
I was blown away by this woman. She talked about every single issue that this state is facing competently and fluidly: Gun violence, mass incarceration, taxes, Medicare, health insurance, education, the Hope Scholarship and many more subjects. She also addressed the issue of her personal debt and owing IRS taxes and the fact that she got into debt as a result of paying for cancer treatments for her father.
I felt such deep hope because of her character and the integrity with which she spoke. She displayed, in many ways, Iwa that shows she is an omoluabi, a person who will care for her community beyond her personal interests. She was accountable about her personal finances, her personal family situation and about her experience and competence. She is a dynamic and awesome leader and I am excited about her governing the state of Georgia.
Please, get a sign if you are in Georgia. Put it in your yard. Go to a fundraiser. Go hear her speak. Send money. This campaign needs money. Her opponent is the Secretary of State of Georgia and is in charge of the voting ballots that have repeatedly been hacked. I smell a huge fish there! It takes money to win big and we need a big win in Georgia. She is getting a lot of support from people in other states. So, if you are not in Georgia, your support is most welcomed. Go here to read more about her and support her. Thank you!!!!
She has my full support!
We must hold our leaders accountable as we develop our own leadership skills. We must ask for character as we continuously challenge our own character. We must evaluate their personal ethics as we also explore the growing edge of our own personal sense of ethics. No one gets it right 100% of the time. We are human, and we cannot. But if you are not engaged with developing your personal ethics, you are missing out on the best version of your life.
Tell me Beloveds, how do you develop your personal ethics? What are you doing to be an omoluabi? What value do you place on iwa?
Let me know your thoughts.