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What Do You Stand For – and Do You Have the Right to Defend It?

What do You Stand For

 

Freedom.

It’s a basic tenant of “the American Dream” and a universal need in the human psyche.

We crave the freedom to express our personal style in the way we dress, to express our spirituality in where and how we worship. We expect to have the freedom to choose our country’s laws and leaders through democratic process and the freedom to move across the nation without impediment.

But perhaps the freedom we guard most passionately is the freedom to stand up for what we believe is right.

But let’s say you are a business person, or maybe you’re a decision maker for a mega-brand, does the individual’s freedom of expression trump your right to take a stand? And how much influence does or should public opinion have in the determination of “right.”

There have been some interesting examples to learn from. Phil Robertson caused an outcry from A&E, the network that carried his family’s reality show, Duck Dynasty, when he made statements that the network found unacceptable.

But following the network’s announcement that they planned to suspend the outspoken Mr. Robertson came an outcry from viewers. A&E, they said, was violating Mr. Robertson’s freedom of speech by penalizing him for stating his beliefs in public. Mr. Robertson was reinstated.

Cracker Barrel found themselves in a bit of a predicament over that incident as well. The company first said that it was concerned about offending guests by carrying products with the Duck Dynasty brand, and then reversed that decision in the hue and cry that followed.

End result; all was restored. Mr. Robertson went back to his show and Cracker Barrel went back to selling duck calls to people who probably use them to torment the ducks that land in the water feature of their city park.

By contrast, when PR executive Justine Sacco sent a last minute tweet before her flight to CapeTown, South Africa left the ground she unleashed a tweetstorm of disbelief and fascination. While she was in the air and incommunicado she gained an enviable number of twitter followers – but it was more of an angry mob than a social interaction.

By the time she reached Africa she was infamous and unemployed. Public opinion supported her employer, InterActiveCorp, who had made their decision before her flight touched down.

In both cases the organizations faced a decision – align with an individual’s publicly aired personal views, or terminate the relationship.

They had to decide what they would stand for.

Then there is the case of The Los Angeles Clippers and the comments made by Donald Sterling. This time it wasn’t the public or the brand who took the most dramatic stand, it was the team. They took a stand without needing freedom of speech, because they didn’t say a word, they simply turned their game jerseys inside out so that they would not display the logo of a team whose owner they could not feel proud to play for.

The silent mutiny was followed by Mr. Sterling’s being fined $2.5 million and banned for life by the NBA.  The ownership of the team, and the NBA’s right to force Mr. Sterling to relinquish it, is currently in contention.

Public and legal opinion over the NBA’s right to impose these penalty seemed divided. But, while Mr. Sterling’s comments were not intended to be public, the NBA wanted it understood that, as an organization, they did not approve of their franchisee’s position.

They had to decide what they would stand for.

In each case, an individual utilized their freedom of speech to speak their mind.

In each case, their relationship with an organization from which they stood to benefit was threatened.

Is that a limitation of freedom of speech? Or is it an example of the freedom to stand for something?

Regardless of the legal answer to that question (which I am not informed enough or remotely qualified to answer) I can give you this personal truth:

When you, as an individual or an organization, put yourself in a position where you cannot afford to socially, contractually, legally, or ethically, control who you buy from and sell to, who you hire as a contractor or employee, who you partner with or otherwise associate with, you have abdicated your right and ability to control your reputation, your culture, and your brand.

Furthermore, if the misalignment of values goes deep enough you have also lost your ability to respect yourself or earn the respect of others.

We will, more and more often, stand at this intersection of the freedom of another to express their views, and our right to respect ourselves.

Each time, we will, whether we mean to or not, answer the question, “What do you stand for?”

 

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