Bob Schutz, AP
In this June 22, 1963, file photo, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, left, speaks with civil rights leaders, beginning second from left, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP; and A. Phillip Randolph, president of Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, on the White House grounds, in Washington, DC. Civil rights lawyer Joseph Rauh stands in the background at center.

American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks has been trying to persuade conservatives and liberals to have a different kind of discussion for several decades. He tells individuals and organizations to “Go where you’re not welcome. Get out of your comfort zone! Expand your horizons, and engage with true believers, persuadables, and even hostiles.”

He isn’t saying go into places and pick a fight, but he is saying that preaching to only your own choir is no longer an option. He is suggesting that leadership requires the willingness to go into unconventional places, the courage to share principles with those who may disagree and the confidence to stand up and speak out even in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Finding leaders willing to go into hard places is increasingly difficult. Far too many leaders prefer to stay in the safe and sanitized spaces where consultants and staff can control everything and prevent the leader from having an uncomfortable or potential gaff-producing moment.

On the night of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, against the advice of his handlers and security team, went into an inner city ghetto to address an already angry, weary and devastated crowd. Standing in the back of a pickup truck, in a hostile environment and reading from scribbled notes, Kennedy delivered the news of Dr. King’s tragic death. Then he powerfully issued an inspired call to unity. It remains one of the most powerful speeches ever given because Kennedy was willing to go into a difficult spot.

While moments such as Kennedy’s speech are rare, the opportunity to go where you, or your principles and ideas, may not be welcomed, physically or virtually, are plenty. Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns this paper, said that “The truth … will go forth boldly, nobly and independent." That is a good model for leaders to follow.

Truth should be declared boldly — meaning with confidence, passion and energy. The nation is at its best when principles and policies compete in the marketplace of ideas.

Truth, even when not popular or counter to the whims of society, can be shared nobly — meaning with great humility and in the spirit of understanding.

Truth must also stand independent — free from prejudice, malice, bias or contempt. Independent truth, based on a rigorous examination of the facts, is the foundation for maximum influence.

Utah is fortunate to have examples of leaders and organizations willing to engage with those they disagree with, partner with those who may believe differently from them and forge relationships in innovative ways. Often, such efforts are misunderstood, and the importance is underestimated.

Sen. Hatch’s legendary relationship with Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy has received both criticism and the highest praise and produced important legislation. Shortly after Sen. Mike Lee was sworn in, he went across the aisle to speak with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin from Illinois to begin work on criminal justice reform. Interestingly, when liberal Sen. Corey Booker from New Jersey was elected, he too walked across the floor of the Senate to talk to Sen. Lee about joining the fight for criminal justice reform.

Rep. Mia Love is the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus. The LDS Church recently announced a new partnership with the NAACP to provide programs around self-reliance, entrepreneurship and continuing education. Such engagement may be head-scratching for national pundits, but it is the essence of leadership.

William George Jordan described how “going where you’re not welcome” can be perceived. He said, “The reformer in morals, in education, in religion, in sociology, in invention, in philosophy, in any line of aspiration, is ever a pioneer. … The reformer must realize that he must face injustice, ingratitude, opposition, misunderstanding, the cruel criticism of contemporaries, and often, hardest of all, the wondering reproach of those who love him best.”

14 comments on this story

It is time for leaders and citizens to not only “go where they’re not welcome,” but to go where they might be most uncomfortable. Solutions and understanding on issues including immigration, integrity, religious liberty, LGBT rights, addiction, homelessness, health care, national debt, terrorism, truth, hate speech, teen suicide and a host of others will require all of us to go into new spaces. It may be the road less traveled, but it is the best road to understanding and influence and the only way forward for the nation and its communities.