Make kindness a verb. The simplest, quickest, and most efficient ways to break down walls between yourself and anyone else is to show them kindness. If you lead with kindness, you are almost guaranteed to help people lower their defenses.
As part of our series about 5 Things That Each Of Us Can Do To Help Unite Our Polarized Society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Harrison.
For over thirty-three years Eric worked in, managed, and eventually owned his family’s wholesale women’s shoe company with his brother and partner. Eric began helping his dad sort and pack shoes from the time he was an adolescent and never lost his passion for the shoe business, the people he worked with and led, and the customers he got to serve.
After the death of his father in the summer of 2017 and the near death of his wife six months later, Eric began a soul-searching journey which led him to decide to sell his interest to his brother and retire from his lifelong career in the fall of 2019.
Immediately after that, Eric finished writing and self-publishing his first book, Mustard Seed Faith in February 2020. The idea for the book was birthed out of the mounting negativity and vitriol that was building throughout society even prior to the events of 2020. The motivational faith-based book encourages people to embrace their similarities, rather than to focus on their differences.
In addition to writing his book, Eric began publishing a weekly blog, created a YouTube channel and other content designed to help people discover their WHY. Eric likes to refer to himself as the “Why Guy,” and tells people enthusiastically that he is in the Why Growing business. He believes that the bigger your Why, the greater your chance of creating an eternal legacy. Eric is also a licensed Ziglar Coaching System Personal Development Coach.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was very fortunate to be immersed in my family’s business from an early age. When I was ten years old my father resigned from his corporate job and he and my mother started a wholesale manufacturer’s rep company. Over the years we sold all sorts of consumer goods but all related to the fashion industry. There was jewelry, hosiery, headwear, scarves, handbags, and shoes. Shoes was always the focus, as my dad’s career after college and before they started our company was always in the footwear business.
Growing up watching my parents, how hard they worked, how they treated and respected other people, especially their customers, gave me an early education on the importance of building relationships and finding common ground with people from all over the world with different beliefs and points of view.
I have always been a people person and have gone out of my way to serve others and respect them unconditionally. When I was in school, I was friends with everyone. I’m sure there were people that didn’t like me, but I didn’t know about it because if I had I would haveworked to figure out why and how I could change it.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Well, as I said, my parents showed me how to work hard, have fun, and help people accomplish their goals. I like to say I went away to college for four years to mature a little bit and have a good time because there was never a doubt in my mind what my career was going to be. I worked with my parents after school all the way through high school and during breaks from college. When I graduated college on Saturday, I was in the office the next Monday morning and never left until a year and a half ago.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
What I love most about what I’m doing now, is that I am still using my gifts and talents to serve others and am doing it in a way that brings tremendous value to the people I get to work with and fulfills me completely. The best part is I am not running a multimillion-dollar company with dozens of people who depend on me for their livelihood. This affords me the flexibility to work as much as I want from wherever I want while working to achieve success in all of the other areas of my life. Physically, financially, relationally, and spiritually, I am in the best shape of my life
Everything that I have done for the last year and a half has been focused on recognizing our similarities and setting aside our difference for the good and betterment of everyone. In doing that, I am encouraging, leading, and coaching people to become the best versions of themselves and to focus on leaving an eternal legacy rather just focusing on their own short-term success.
I am hoping to continue to selectively add a few clients to my coaching business and have an idea for my second book that is swirling in my head that I might publish in time for the Holidays this year.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Certainly, I have been fortunate to have a number of people in my life who have made me the man I am today. Too many to mention. When I get asked a question like this, however, I can’t think too long without thinking about my mother and father. That may sound strange to some, but you have to understand I grew up literally in the middle of the business. As much as they taught me, I “caught” even more by just being around them as they built their business.
I remember one time in particular that my dad took me on an overnight business trip with him. I’m pretty sure we were in Tulsa, Oklahoma, although it didn’t matter where we were. I was no more than 11 or 12 at the time and getting travel and stay in a hotel room with my dad was all I cared about. I will never forget the lessons I learned from him on that trip. First, you work as hard as you have to until the job is done — right. Second, you do whatever you have to do for the benefit and success of the customer. Third, and most importantly, your reputation is the most valuable asset you can ever own. My parents were respected and loved by everyone that ever did business with them. My brother and I benefited from that, taking over the business from them in 2008, more than we will ever know
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Wow, that’s a scary question! I certainly have had my share over the years. I think the thing that resonates most with me is realizing several years ago that I could not run my business by my gut and if I was going to do it well, I needed trusted advisors who were smarter, and more data driven than I am.
I am an entrepreneur and a positive thinker to a fault. I always thing everything is going to turn out better than I even plan for. The problem in my business was the one and only success driver was inventory. I used to tell friends jokingly that I was a professional gambler. If I had the right amount of inventory, I could have an incredibly profitable run. The converse is also true, as I learned way too many times.
I learned at least a couple of lessons by letting go of control and trusting other people. Data doesn’t lie. It’s also not ruled by emotion. Second, hire people smarter than yourself who are not afraid to tell you when you’re wrong. And even on the times where I did what I wanted to in spite of their advice, I was accountable. Accountability is a huge factor no matter what you are trying to accomplish in your life.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Another tough question, because I have so many that I love, and I would be hard pressed to think of a book I read that did not have at least a small amount of impact on me. If I’m picking one, I’m going with “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie.
Although the book was first published 85 years ago, the principles and lessons in it are timeless. It is the foundation of how I was raised, how I learned to meet people where they are, and how to this day I build and leverage relationships with people around the world.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
I love quotes and my two all-time favorites resonate because they have served me my entire life, even before I was aware of them.
“People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
“You can have everything in life you want, if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.” — Zig Ziglar
The story I can share is that these were two driving factors that led me to write and publish my first book and they motivate me today as I seek to help people build legacy in their own lives.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
My definition of leadership is very simple. It is inspiring people to do things they are afraid to try to help them get results they never imagined.
Everyone has doubts, fears, and limiting beliefs, but a great leader helps another person or group of people find courage and strength they didn’t know they have to accomplish things they never would until they discovered how gifted they are.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The polarization in our country has become so extreme that families have been torn apart. Erstwhile close friends have not spoken to each other because of strong partisan differences. This is likely a huge topic, but briefly, can you share your view on how this evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
How we got here is difficult to pinpoint. It is not attributable to one source, or one event, in my opinion. Unfortunately, I think it has been building for a long time and certainly with a worldwide pandemic, social unrest, and divides along every demographic and psychographic category imaginable.
In my opinion, the proliferation of media and especially social media has aided the evolution of this process. There is at least a fair amount of people who are able and willing to express themselves in ways never before available that are more offensive than would be acceptable in a face-to-face setting.
I have no pretensions about bridging the divide between politicians, or between partisan media outlets. But I’d love to discuss the divide that is occurring between families, co-workers, and friends. Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your experience about how family or friends have become a bit alienated because of the partisan atmosphere?
I certainly can share that this has affected my relationship with my wife in the last year. We have argued and disagreed more in the last year than in the other 30+ years that we have been together and 99% of those arguments were based around politics. Obviously, we are able to set our differences of opinion aside, but I certainly can see how this could create divides that are difficult to close based on my own experience.
In your opinion, what can be done to bridge the divide that has occurred in families? Can you please share a story or example?
Well, I will tell you that one of my goals for the first quarter of 2021 is to become a proficient listener and questioner. I think the greatest dignity we can show anyone is to ask them how they think and feel about something and then be interested enough to listen with the intent to understand rather than the intent to respond. I think if we all do that, we can break down walls that divide us. It applies to any situation but the best place to start is within your own family.
How about the workplace, what can be done to bridge the partisan divide that has fractured relationships there? Can you please share a story or example?
This is a much more difficult task. My intuition tells me that we should try to avoid conversations that would create divide in the workplace, but I am sure that is somewhat wishful thinking on my part. In my mind, the best way to bridge divides is to create safe places for people to interact with one another but to set ground rules that will control the emotion and disagreements that are likely to erupt. It has to be done in a much more controlled environment because the goals and mission of the company still take precedent over individual’s opinions on politics, etc.
Obviously, a company that can learn to work together and support viewpoints from diverse sources is likely to be more successful in the long run than one that causes people to suppress who they are and what they believe.
I think one of the causes of our divide comes from the fact that many of us see a political affiliation as the primary way to self-identify. But of course, there are many other ways to self-identify. What do you think can be done to address this?
In my opinion everything comes down to how you think about other people. My goal in any interaction or relationship is to practice the Golden Rule. We have to value people over our own interests. That doesn’t mean we change who we are or become a chameleon, it just means that we are willing to consider other people, and their values, opinions, and ideas. The best way to solidify what we believe is to measure against what other people believe that is in opposition to what we believe.
Much ink has been spilled about how social media companies and partisan media companies continue to make money off creating a split in our society. Sadly the cat is out of the bag and at least in the near term there is no turning back. Social media and partisan media have a vested interest in maintaining the divide, but as individuals none of us benefit by continuing this conflict. What can we do moving forward to not let social media divide us?
Stop hiding behind it. And stop letting it control so much of our mental input. The problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic because all of us are more isolated but that is no excuse to not connect with others. Stop hiding behind it and stop letting it occupy so much of our mental bandwidth. If we’re honest, we are different people on social media than we are face-to-face. Obviously, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem, but we should still make every effort to connect with people directly. Until we can do that widely in-person we can use the telephone, video chats, and online meeting rooms.
I can share with you my experience last year where I made a conscious choice to limit my time spent in mainstream and social media and spend that time in real and genuine connection with people. At a minimum, the benefits were more peace, less stress, less worry, and perhaps most importantly, less conflict.
What can we do moving forward to not let partisan media pundits divide us?
My answer is largely the same here as it is for social media. I curate my own news and do much more reading than I do watching. I think it’s important to note that I read sources from “both sides” and then use my own cognitive reasoning to make my determinations rather than allowing others to tell me how to think. It works for me, and I think it can work for a lot of other people too.
Sadly we have reached a fevered pitch where it seems that the greatest existential catastrophe that can happen to our country is that “the other side” seizes power. We tend to lose sight of the fact that as a society and as a planet we face more immediate dangers. What can we do to lower the ante a bit and not make every small election cycle a battle for the “very existence of our country”?
Recognize that throughout our history we have been through times of struggle and times of prosperity, no matter which party was in control of government. Obviously, the government plays a critical role in the operation of our country but our “very existence” is not at stake. I think this thinking is part of the alarmist mentality pervading media, as we have discussed.
Ok wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
Number 1: Make kindness a verb. The simplest, quickest, and most efficient ways to break down walls between yourself and anyone else is to show them kindness. If you lead with kindness, you are almost guaranteed to help people lower their defenses.
The example I love to use here is in the show Ted Lasso that came out on Apple TV last year. It is a beautiful example of how through kindness you can break down walls and forge meaningful relationships. If you’ve watched it, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t, do whatever you have to do to watch it as soon as possible.
Number 2: Change your gold to platinum. This is all about how you think about, interact, and act with other people. Especially those that are different from you in any way. We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule, but I would challenge you to go straight to the Platinum Rule.
The Golden Rule says “do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Platinum Rule says “do unto others the way they want us to do unto them. Which rule do you think works best? I’m going with the one that focuses on the other person’s interests rather than my own.
Number 3: Develop a Habit of Gratitude. It is said that gratitude is the most powerful of all human emotions. Zig Ziglar famously said, the more you are grateful for what you have, the more you will have to be grateful for. It is a mindset, not a goal. We all struggle with what success is and what is enough. Gratitude says I am thankful for what I have and where I am now.
The best way to develop a habit of gratitude is to start a gratitude journal. It doesn’t have to be fancy or take a lot of time. I use an app on my phone called the 5-Minute Journal. In five minutes at the beginning and end of every day in puts me in the proper mindset to maximize my efforts in every area of my life. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Number 4: Instead of fixing others (you can’t), work on yourself (we all need to). I would challenge you to think about how much of your time is spent thinking (worrying) about other people versus how much time you spend thinking about yourself. We cannot change other people, even people we live with. While this may be upsetting to some, take heart in knowing that you can always better yourself. The best and healthiest way to impact other people is by showing up as the best version of yourself. It still likely will not change them but it will absolutely change you and how you think about yourself.
Of course, I am biased, but I believe all of us could benefit from a coach and a mentor in our lives. Both serve a distinctly different purpose, but both can help us recognize where and how we need to improve and hold us accountable to making the changes that will help us achieve our deepest, most significant outcomes in our lives.
Number 5: Give sacrificially. This can take many forms. The reason I use the term sacrificially is to encourage you to do something that makes you uncomfortable. Volunteer to serve people in a neighborhood that you rarely go to, find community projects that involve people from all neighborhoods wherever you live, or give a donation that stretches your ability to afford it but goes to others that need it more than you do. One final suggestion, I wonder what you have laying around your place of residence that is no longer of use to you but that would be incredibly useful to others?
The good news is that most people that do the things do so in anonymity. The better news is that people who do this are not only fulfilling this suggestion, but they are accomplishing all 5 of the aforementioned objectives.
Simply put, is there anything else we can do to ‘just be nicer to each other’?
Everything that I have suggested is based on self-evaluation and self-improvement. We are not going to change anyone by yelling at or arguing with them. If we change ourselves, we may influence and impact others and that is the best we can hope to do. In the process we will become a more complete, kind, loving, and caring person ourselves.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I am an optimist and always believe we can improve. In this case, I know we can. It starts with individuals making an impact, however small it may be. As Helen Keller said, I am only one, but still, I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can still do something.
If you could tell young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our society, like you, what would you tell them?
We are all much more alike than we are different. Rather than focusing on things that divide us, seek to find similarities you can rally around and make your small corner of the world a better place.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’m sure I should name a famous author, athlete, politician, or thought leader, but honestly, I’d love to have breakfast with anyone right now. For several reasons. I love breakfast, I haven’t been out to breakfast with more than a couple of people in the last year, and I love starting my day sharing thoughts and ideas with other people. Can I meet you tomorrow?
How can our readers follow you online?
Everything is at my website, www.eric-harrison.com. Information on my book, my coaching practice and all of my social media contacts. I also have several free resources that people can access or download to help them live without regrets. I would love to add you to my followers and inspire you to build a lasting legacy with your life.
This was very meaningful, and thank you so much for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success on your great work!