You don’t have to take the bad

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Print this page by Bernie Niemeier
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Photo by Mark Rhodes

At one time or another we’ve probably all heard the phrase, “You’ve got to take the bad with the good.”   It’s a saying that’s generally offered as unquestioned wisdom. Such seemingly simple truths are often worthy of a challenge.  A few years back, I used this exact phrase with a friend, who immediately shot back, “No! You don’t have to take the bad!”  At the time, this turned out to be pretty good advice.  Let’s not take the bad.

Unfortunately, this conundrum is highly prevalent in our current political landscape. As tempting as it may be to take bad with good, this apparent tradeoff is one that not everyone is quite ready to swallow — and rightfully so.

This dichotomy manifests itself in a variety of ways, the most common of which can be identified as “false equivalence.“ 

Take gerrymandering.  If one party crafts voting districts in their political favor while in control of the General Assembly, does that make it right for the other party to do the same when control changes? Of course not!  If Obama or Hillary did it, does that make it OK for Trump? Of course not!

False equivalence is more than an easy way to justify taking the bad; it’s weak logic.  Take Trump’s statement after the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville last year, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”

The presence of extremes does not mean anything goes.  You don’t have to take the bad.  Right is different from wrong.  Truth is not the same as a lie.  Real news cannot be replaced by fake news.  Good is not the equal of evil.

If this isn’t already obvious, think back to when you were a teenager.  How did your mother react when you said, “Everybody does it”?  Call this the mom test.  Most likely, her reply was, “You’re not everybody!”

Another popular rhetorical device is deflection.  It’s similar to false equivalence.  If you can’t justify one candidate or party’s actions, just pivot to the real or perceived faults of the other side, “They did it, too. Right?”  Put that to the mom test. Wrong!  No, let’s not take the bad.

It really doesn’t matter if the perpetrators are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or whatever.  Our moms were right.  False equivalence and deflection are poor excuses for ethical lapses; they are weak logic.

From a business perspective, justifications such as these inevitably lead to failure.  No business owner can expect to get away with poor service or shoddy products on an excuse like “Everybody does it.”  Customers respond speedily to an ethical lapse, and it’s rarely a good response.

In Virginia, what a difference a year makes.  For one weekend in August 2017, Charlottesville was crawling with Klansmen, Nazis and various other Alt-Right types.  U.Va.’s Lawn and the city’s downtown mall were under siege.  Lives were lost.  A year later, even for a march in Dee Cee, it’s hard to find as much as a busload of such reprobates.  That’s a good thing.

The business community knows this, and voters are most certainly recognizing it.  The General Assembly saw massive change last November, foreshadowing numerous tumultuous party primaries across the country.  November’s general elections are unlikely to be much different.  Perhaps we are moving past the blithe acceptance of the bad.

Business is different from politics.  There’s not a lot of difference between knowing your niche and playing to your base.  But a business only needs enough customers to be profitable.  Most companies are well aware of the pitfalls of trying to be all things to all people.  Values like being genuine, authentic, knowing your craft and your brand are important.

Politicians would do well to take note of this.  Whether they need to be profitable is debatable.  But, they do need to win by a majority, and voters can always choose not to take the bad.

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