Recently, Baltimore was rocked by riots. This isn’t the first time in recent history that riots have hit our newsfeeds like clanging bells. This isn’t the first time there’s been disagreement as to whether those bells were the sounds of freedom ringing or the blare of war sirens warning us to duck and cover. This isn’t the first time that ire has been raised, whether it is the ire of people who are sick of injustice or the ire of people who are sick of looters who wreck their neighbors’ businesses. Unfortunately, it will not be the last time either, because the terrible truth is that both sides are—to one degree or another—right.
Businesses step into the fray at their own risk, particularly those businesses that operate on a national or an international stage. The more widely you operate, the more diverse the viewpoints your customers and clients are likely to hold. Assuming you do not serve, either by intent or by a fluke chance, a homogenous clientele, you are likely to interact with people on both sides of the proverbial fence when you interact with your customers. In fact, if you are attentive to their reactions, you’re almost certainly bound to discover that there are more than two sides to displays of this nature.
On the one hand, we may feel that it is not ethical or respectful to keep silent. We are all entitled to our own opinions and our own positions. At least, we are if we live in a free nation. Truth be told, we are so entitled even if we don’t live in a free nation. Though there may be stringent consequences if we exercise that right either way. On the other hand, we may feel that it is not ethical or respectful to take sides in a battle we know relatively little about. After all, riots don’t happen when the truth is known. Riots happen when the truth is in question and when people decide what is true and what is false based on their own feelings and experiences, regardless of the facts.
It’s not an easy decision, especially when the consequences you face may not be rational or logical or natural. After all, those business owners who are being looted out of their livelihood probably had nothing at all to do with the sparks that set off this blaze. They almost never do. There’s nothing rational, logical, or natural about the consequences they face just by being in the near vicinity of the flashpoints. There’s no way to tell whether you and yours will come out unscathed, regardless of your distance.
Whether you decide to share your opinions, the key is to be respectful even in the face of irrational backlash. Remember, as you have a right to your opinions, feelings, and outrage, your customers and clients and stakeholders have a right to theirs. It’s a taut tightrope to walk. But it is the world we live in and it is the world we do business in. Perhaps if we set a respectful and ethical example, others can learn that from us, too.
p.s. Next week I’ll be posting a big announcement, so stay tuned!