Photograph from the President of Mexico’s Photo Stream
Dear Mr. President,
There is a word that’s being used often in the last couple of days in regards to you: isolated.
The other leaders at the G20 summit have accepted your turning your back on the science behind climate change, on the Paris agreement, and on the very idea, it seems, of working together. Your obsession with America getting “bad deals” is further distancing you from friends, from allies.
Yes, there is probably satisfaction that you get from standing alone, the Big Man, facing down those smaller than you. But it makes me sad for you. You see, some of the best things I’ve done have come during times of collaboration, and I’m sad that you will miss out on the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to do something far bigger than you could accomplish on your own.
I was recently part of a collaboration of 8 churches–three were majority white, five were majority African-American, from 4 different denominations–to put on a Vacation Bible School (VBS). Together. Each church had done summer programs for kids, but we came together to do something bigger, something new to each of us, something that could show our community that the people of God could work together for the benefit of our neighborhood. Did we start out with more churches and did some leave us as we went through the planning process? Yes. Did we have the occasional 45-minute discussion about something only to discover we’d been saying the same thing but with slightly different vocabulary? Yes. Did the VBS we chose look like anything our churches had done before? No, and this produced some early tension.
But we learned to trust each other and rely on each other, and it was glorious.
The VBS itself was fantastic. The kids had a great time and the volunteers felt like they were part of a well-organized event. But the best thing about it was the churches working together. In this time of deep divisions, especially those based on race, these people of God lead and served together. Every bit of leadership was diverse, from the pastors who called us together, to the planning team that met intensely for two and half months, even down to the people staffing the craft rooms and telling stories in the Bible Discovery rooms: every team drew from multiple churches, multiple denominations. And people noticed. The security guards for the school we met at noticed. The parents noticed. The volunteers noticed. And they all said the same thing:
“This is how things should be.”
Would each individual church have done good work if they’d done their usual summer program? Yes. But we would have missed out on the deep blessing of collaboration, of giving up something good to gain something greater, of learning to trust people who are different from us.
This is what you’ll be missing out on now that the world is taking you up on your offer to isolate yourself. They will get those deep blessings, and they will get to build something greater than they could build on their own. And you will be on your own, with your fellow Big Men, left behind to convince yourself that you were showing strength, while the rest of the world sees you as a fool.
The difficult thing, of course, is that when you isolate yourself on the world stage, when you alienate America’s allies, there will be consequences for the entire country. It isn’t just you who will be left out, it’s our entire country–left out of innovation, of clean energy industry growth, of the sense of purpose that comes from being part of something larger than ourselves (which is what would get us through the frustrations), of the learning and expansion of good will that collaboration brings.
I encourage you to reconsider your isolationist and anti-science tendencies, but I recognize that it’s a tough sell: collaboration is an act of trust. The leap into the collaboration is an act of trust, but then there are hundreds of decisions to trust after that. Your desire to hoard all the benefits (as you see them) for America prevents you from trusting. Your years in business as a Big Man, as a reality show celebrity, and your ascent to the Presidency, have convinced you that the Big Man gets results.
Unfortunately for us, the Big Man and his family and friends of the moment are the only ones who benefit. I’m sad for you that you’ll miss out on the benefits of collaboration, but I’m afraid that American is going to be the big loser.