“Mudslinger” is a word that originated at the end of the nineteenth century, specifically to describe politicians or a political strategy. It is a noun used to describe one who uses offensive epithets and invectives especially against a political opponent. So says the Miriam Webster dictionary. Its actual origins may date back to ancient Latin advice, ‘Fortiter calumniari, aliquia adhaerebit,’ or ‘Throw plenty of dirt and some of it will be sure to stick.’ It has, on occasion, been used to describe the press. Regardless of its origins, its purpose is clear...to attack a rival, discredit, to malign... for character assassination.
It is very difficult to see clearly through mud. So, even if it isn’t effective at destroying another’s chances of success, it can easily obscure truth and distract from facts. And, painfully, yes, leaders do engage in this activity. All these months after the attack on our embassy in Benghazi and the loss of American life, the pursuit of truth continues. Why? Of course, it’s because the Republicans want to be sure that Hillary can never run for President and because they want so badly to discredit the President of the United States. But, its energy also arises from those who maintain there seems something fundamentally wrong with the fact that we did not, or could not, get help to these stranded and vulnerable Americans. In the interest of transparency, why didn’t the President, himself, tell us what went wrong? Something surely did. Are we naïve to believe that an open and honest, thorough investigation and report would have silenced this? Is it simply the bad blood between the parties that will not clear the air enough to see the truth?
Now, here comes the IRS, volatizing the age old dislike for the IRS and basic American principles of right and wrong. Is the President as outraged as the rest of us? It is hard to tell. Has the leadership lesson been learned? If the President does not get out in front, with facts and feelings, with truth and an investigation, it will fall into mudslingers’ hands and take on a lifetime of its own.
Give us rivals with ethics and good intentions, interested in building our communities rather than tearing them apart. Rivalry creates tension, invigorates competition; it is the American way. It attracts attention. It can cause every participant to be most resourceful. Though it is a given in our culture, it is rarely the motivation for honesty or the environment for collaboration.
In our own work, we have had much to say about the new tests and policy makers who are not listening. But the intention must be pure. There should be no interest in making dirt stick to those who see things differently. We ask for consideration about what is good and fair. We are standing up and voicing our concern for our students. We may not have been invited to the table to be part of these decisions, but we are on the front lines implementing the decisions of the politicians who made them. As educators, we have the opportunity to lead our schools and teach our students how to behave in our democracy; not to throw mud, but to learn to ask for divergent views, to include many at the table, and to consider all eventualities. Our faculty and Board meetings, our committees, our classrooms - all can be models of diversity and listening. It is important that decisions are made when all parties understand the facts, limits, and reasons, surrounding the problems and solutions.
Let us learn from our nation’s leader. We should be stepping out in front with the truth before, during, and after decisions have been made and during or after incidents have occurred. We cannot afford the appearance of secrecy. What happened in Benghazi? What happened in the IRS? If the President doesn’t step out in front of these issues...well, the mudslinging has already commenced. If we do make a mistake, or if we do make a decision without satisfying everyone, at least we must be public, transparent, honest, and clear. We must be respectful and compassionate of those who do not agree with us.
In the case of this testing, we have heard back from those who have hurled this Behemoth upon us with orders to march on. Yet rather than mudslinging, we stand up, speak out, and still carry on. However, we do have mud slung at us. Every leader knows there is a critic just around the next corner or behind the next door. And so we must invite differences of opinion to the table. Hearing an opposing thought before we make a decision makes the decision stronger. It certainly makes it more informed. It likely will minimize the interest anyone has to join the mudslingers. Then, everyone benefits. After all, mudslinging is not a pursuit of truth. It is an attempt to bring focus to an issue and destroy a rival. Facts and clarity make it transparent. We call it by name - mudslinging. It is not what leaders do.
The Phrase Finder
Engage with Ann and Jill on Twitter!
The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.