When he first became the executive director of Bloomington’s Shalom Community Center, Forrest Gilmore didn’t use his clerical title very often. The Unitarian minister was apprehensive that his religious background might alienate some prospective community partners. Although its name has a Judeo-Christian association, the resource center for those experiencing homelessness is a secular non-profit organization. In time, however, Gilmore started introducing himself as “The Reverend” at work. “It brought values into the conversation,” Gilmore explained at a panel October 26 at the School of Global and International Studies.
“And in doing that it helped me advance the cause,” Gilmore revealed. “In the work of combating homelessness, a values-based approach to changing minds and opening hearts and transforming society works.”
Acknowledging the core values that undergird policy is vital, according to Congressman and SGIS Distinguished Scholar Lee Hamilton during the panel discussion, “Ethical Leadership in Government, Business and Not-for-profit,” hosted by SGIS and the Kelley School of Business. “It’s hard for me to imagine value-less policy,” Hamilton asserted. A basic driver of American policy, he said, are the values espoused in our charter documents. “We believe the values the founding fathers talked about are worth promoting,” Hamilton said – “a serious commitment to the common good, support for the rule of law, liberty and justice for all, all men are created equal, basic integrity and honesty — those are our values and we believe that the policy that is marked by those kinds of values will be better policy and will produce better results.”
Having worked alongside nine presidents, Hamilton noticed how frequently the same question lingered at the end of many high-stakes meetings with the nation’s chief executive, “I’ve been struck by how often all of them — with one or two exceptions that I’ll not name — how often they will ask at the conclusion of a meeting, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’”
Doing the right thing is rarely a clear-cut endeavor, especially in a pluralistic society, the panelists acknowledged, and especially in a polarized political climate. From her work on the board of directors of Denmark-based Ferring Pharmaceuticals, panelist Alexandra Christina the Countess of Frederiksborg reported a culture of “robust discussion.” Countess Alexandra, the Poling Chair of Business and Government at the Kelley School, co-authored The Sincerity Edge: How Ethical Leaders Build Dynamic Businesses with Tim Fort, Eveleigh Professor of Business Ethics at Kelley and the moderator of the panel. “I think it’s important for board members not to mirror each other, but to be diverse. In my board we come from six different countries, we are men and women, of different age groups.”
In his work at Shalom, Gilmore encounters some members of the community who believe in providing assistance to those experiencing homelessness and others who identify solutions to the problem through the channels of criminal justice. “I don’t know if there’s a clear, concrete way to ever make a good decision. But I know I’m always in that creative tension. The power of being in the work I do is to remember that I may have some serious disagreements with people and I still may be able to find a positive alliance with them on things that help.”
Coming to consensus amid conflicting world views is the hard part, panelists acknowledged, whether representing the underrepresented, stakeholders, or constituents.
“It seems like our society has difficulty talking about contested values without just raising the decibel level as we yell at each other,” Fort suggested. “I think we’re having that experience a lot these days How do you talk to someone who you think is just flat-out wrong?”
“I think you follow Isaiah’s advice: ‘Come, let us reason together,’” proposed Hamilton. “The public dialogue has to be marked by civility, by consensus-building, by negotiation, by compromise, by pragmatism. The public dialogue has to reach a conclusion on the problem. You can’t just debate it all day long. What is politics all about? Politics is fundamentally a search for a remedy to a problem. And there’s a lot of noise that accompanies that process. It is an easy thing to exacerbate differences. What’s hard is to come into that room, and to bring people together. That’s political skill at its highest. And it’s needed in the church, in the NGO, and we certainly need it in government.”