Get over ourselves. We see all events through our own bias. The other side are not idiots for believing what they believe. They are just seeing the world through their own bias.
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 Rich Schaus
Rich was born and raised just east of St. Louis Missouri. In 1997 he graduated from Central Bible College, married his wife Cara and was commissioned into the United States Army, Field Artillery. Since then he has added three children and two grandchildren to his family. Also along the way he has become a distinguished Toastmaster, author of Hero Quest. In 2001, Rich left the Army and began a career helping those living in poverty rise up and out of poverty. Everything in his life revolves around his key Bible verse, Micah 6:8 He showed you oh man what is good. To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
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?
There really is not too much to say. I am just the son of a hard-working steel factory crane operator. Any drama that I experienced as a child was typically of my own making. I had a terrible temper when I did not get my way and often lashed out at whoever was closest when I was frustrated. Maybe due to a near-constant level of frustration (again usually of my own making) I began to medicate my hurts with alcohol. Relationships and jobs were marginalized until I finally found healing for the frustration at 21.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I got into my current career purely accidentally. I had been in the US Army and when I got out I thought it would be easy to get a job. I was a college graduate with experience. Unfortunately, it was difficult to make the transition to civilian life. Over the course of four months I applied for hundreds of jobs a week and had very few interviews. As I began questioning my choice to get out of the Army I found an ad for a job with the Union Gospel Mission. I applied and was offered the job of working with women who were experiencing homelessness. That was supposed to be a temporary job just to pay the bills. However, I discovered that these women and their children were remarkable. A nine year old boy named Nick was there when I was being trained and I wanted to help him. Later I also found that the men who were experiencing homelessness were pretty awesome too. While there have been ups and downs my experiences with these women caused me to dedicate my life to be their defender. (sometimes from themselves) I learn from them, teach them and advocate for them.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am working on a concept that will take a building that has 8 floors or so and turn it into a garden in the sky. The building has sat idol for many years because it was built on a drained lake but the water table is still high. The concept in short is that a solar powered pump would draw water to a tank on the roof throughout the day. The water would be used to water plants on each floor. At night water would be released to run hydroelectric generators that would also give power to the building. The plants would be sold and vegetables sold and some given to those in poverty). All profits would be used to fund programs to serve those that are in poverty. I call it Success to the Power of 4. (4 Bottom lines, profit, social benefit, positive environmental impact and a Spiritual benefit.)
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?
My wife Cara keeps me grounded. I tend to dream big and keep running until my personal engine simply runs out of gas. She forces me to stop, take pictures and enjoy the journey.
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?
There are so many mistakes to choose from! Maybe the most impactful mistake that I remember happened at the women’s program where I got my start. We were in the process of changing from a rules base to more of a grace based system. The idea is that instead of punishment for mistakes we would take opportunities to teach and evaluate choices. Part of my responsibilities included the cleanliness of the shelter. Under rules based this was fairly easy in that if a person did not do chores there was a consequence. In the new system I really didn’t know how to get it done. All I knew is that my tools of discipline were taken away and I was expected to get the same results. There was a great deal of pressure on me to get things cleaned up. One day I just blew up because it seemed no one was doing their basic chores. There was a consequence for blowing up and that included what we called Self Evaluation. I had to sit in a meeting with the ladies staying in the house and answer questions about what was going on in my heart around the cleaning. I shared the pressure and apologized publicly and later individually to those that I had hurt with my words. There was no blame given accept on myself. I had always prided myself on keeping my cool and here I had lost it. I then took the rest of the day off. On the following Monday when I had arrived the entire house had been deep cleaned by the ladies. They put on a short skit and proudly showed me around about how clean it was across the board. The entire house of ladies expressed love to me and encouraged me. I cried. I learned to share my frustrations and challenges (only more peaceably) and trust that others will help me.
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?
Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Initially I almost gave up on it as the first 80 pages or so did not seem to have anything to do with what the 7 Habits were. I just wanted to know what the habits were and get started. However, all that set up was needed. Since then I have absorbed that book consistently. For the past seventeen years or so I have applied the habits to all aspects of my life and accomplished more than I could have ever imagined. The principles show up in nearly every personal and professional book that I have since read just repackaged or defined differently. I teach it to any who will take the time to listen.
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?
“Some want to live within the sound Of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, Within a yard of hell.”― C.T. Studd
I love people and want to help them find freedom from addiction and even more to find freedom from their past hurts. Sometimes this includes the barriers that society places on people like poor education, a lackluster justice system and more. It would be easier just to give a bed and meals to the people that I serve. There is little pushback on that element. There is much push back in trying to help our community get better so there are fewer people in poverty and very few that are homeless.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
True leadership is being a defender of the oppressed and marginalized. Sometimes this means speaking the truth in love to the oppressed who are making bad choices. Leadership is committing to making the world around you better than it was when you arrived.
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?
Up until recently I thought this was a somewhat recent phenomena. I now see that this really is a cycle of history. Think Revolutionary war, we look at our history like everybody on our side of the Atlantic thought this was a good idea. There was high levels of division and the victors wrote our history. Newspapers (media outlets) at the time were partisan and opinionated there was division in families as some sided with Britain and others with colonists. Fast forward about 80 years and again we were divided this time over slavery. Papers for and against were brutal. A US representative nearly beat a senator to death in the capitol building and was applauded. WOW! Fast forward 80 years and we have the two world wars and division over women’s right to vote and more extreme race issues. We are now about 80 years from that season and the divisions are again upon us.
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 am somewhat trapped in the middle in my family. Each side only listens to news and other outlets that back up their side of any pressing issue. Depending on which side I am looking at our national leaders can do NO right or NO wrong. In one of Bill Clinton’s biographies (Even quoting him might make someone in my family on one side quit listening to me.) he basically said, “I am not as bad my detractors make me out to be nor am I as good as my supporters make me out to be.” Both sides of my family hit me with FACTS that they have gotten from their side and it mostly makes me silent. Because in nearly every case those are exaggerated facts at best and lies at worst. Even if the FACTS make no sense they will hold onto them beyond reason. Debate is pointless so now I just smile and nod.
In your opinion, what can be done to bridge the divide that has occurred in families? Can you please share a story or example?
We have to deliberately defend ourselves against confirmation bias. Everyone has to first recognize their leanings and what is important to themselves. Regular self-assessment and evaluation can keep your mind freshly aware of your biases. We must get honest and admit that we are biased people and maybe how we hear and respond to any phrase is compromised.
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?
At the workplace it requires patience and polite conversation. Conversation must be a two way street. People must feel free to politely disagree. I remember being part of an organization that was voting to support a public statement. I had some problems with the ramifications of the statement. The vote was done with secret ballot. There were over 100 people in attendance. The ballots were counted and there was only one vote against the statement. Somebody stood up and demanded to know who it was that would oppose the statement and said so with a great deal of anger. Someone else politely shut down the demand saying there was a reason we did secret ballot. But I knew from that moment that generally disagreement with this organization was not ok and I limited my activities with them though I agreed with 99% of what they were doing.
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?
We spend way too much time working to self identify who we are with the intent of creating a difference between us and them. Self identification in itself is not really the problem. But where we get into trouble is to say that we are of a particular party and we generally align with their principles and ideas that the other side is evil and they are other. I love the fact that we have two differing opinions and actually I would love it more if we had more than just the two main parties to choose from. Both parties know their base is basically loyal so they can do what they want to do. But if there were more parties that were better represented they would have to work with others more often.
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?
Less time on social media sites is always a good start. But if you feel you must be on there than work to diversify your friends list. Then really get to know those people who are likely to disagree with you as people not just positions.
What can we do moving forward to not let partisan media pundits divide us?
The best option would be to take out the profit factor of division. Our ad dollars should go to any network or media outlet that has a balanced (not just say balanced but actually be balanced) format. Have reporters from different points of view, cultures and races giving us the news from many angles.
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”?
Read history and realize that the sky is not falling and you are not a total victor because your party won. Just prior to the Civil War the states that left the union felt that the sky was falling because Lincoln was elected. Those loyal states felt that they were superior. Most Americans love Lincoln now. Much of what we love or hate changes with the times. Hoover was actually a brilliant president who was slammed by the press that supported FDR and the immediate history painted him as the ultimate American villain. But reading history shows that he was largely responsible (but not as president) for the success of the Roaring 20s and also for making sure that Europe was well fed after World War 1. In many ways he was a hero. Many of those we support or oppose today are likely in those camps too.
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.
Step 1: Get over ourselves. We see all events through our own bias. The other side are not idiots for believing what they believe. They are just seeing the world through their own bias.
Step 2: Deliberately listen to other news sources: We tend to only listen/watch news that we already agree with and then that becomes truth. There is more to the world than that.
Step 3: Quit worrying so much about what everyone else is doing and saying but instead look at yourself. Are you a person of virtue? If not stop and work on that first.
Step 4: Deliberately spend time with people who look, think and act differently than you. At the very least read books of other view points.
Step 5: Study the cycles of history and honestly assess where you would land. Example: Most people I know would say that if they were alive in the early 1800s they would be abolitionists. But ask yourself if I was taught that the slaves were inferior because of their race and if I was raised to fear and hate people based on their religion or race how would I overcome that?
Simply put, is there anything else we can do to ‘just be nicer to each other’?
It is a daily choice. Choose to love deliberately.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
Studying the cycles of American History we will get through this but it is likely that we will have some incredible disaster or even more significant event first. Once that passes we will enjoy 10–20 years of relative peace before we are at this stage of history again.
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?
Be the change that you want to see first. Ask yourself if you are listening to your own sermons.
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. 🙂
Vice-President: Kamela Harris. I believe that she will be president at some point. She has many of the character traits and strengths of FDR and I would like to talk to her about the cycles of history and how not to make the mistakes that FDR made that have caused us trouble even up until today.
How can our readers follow you online?
@grmmuskogee on Facebook
@grmmuskogee on Twitter
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!