Ever look back on your childhood and recall a moment that made such an indelible mark that it shaped your life path? I do. As a boy in the 1970’s, a chance encounter in a nursing home left a lasting impression. As I meandered down white-tiled hallways and braved unpleasant smells, and less than friendly staff, I heard an elderly gentleman crying. I glanced in his doorway. He was alone and uncomfortable. And what I witnessed next was – nothing. No one was responding to his cries. There seemed to be a complete absence of empathy for this vulnerable human being.
Quite by chance, as a young adult I found myself following an unlikely path – a career working for senior housing companies. Over time, I dreamed that I could build a better and kinder company. And the memory of that poor and lonely old man continued to haunt me.

To an outside observer, it seemed unlikely that this poor kid from Idaho would amount to much. I was raised by a single mom who really didn’t have time or energy for her youngest son because she worked three jobs to feed us and pay the rent. But the American Dream was real to me and I grabbed opportunity at every turn.

And now I sit back and see what is happening to hundreds of thousands of others in this country with similar dreams. It pains me to see all the stories of divisiveness that are tearing us apart. As the founder and CEO of Aegis Living, a company of 2,200 employees from diverse backgrounds, I had to hold a companywide conference call in the earliest days of this new administration because our staff was fearful, distressed and anxiety ridden – thinking they or friends or relatives would be taken to the border and tossed out of this place of dreams and dreamers.

While the last months passed in a degree of relative calm, recent edicts have again roused concerns. As a symbol of solidarity with my team from every walk of life, I have joined renowned peace activist Ken Nwadike, known as the Free Hugs Guy. Ken is amazing. He walks in the middle of fiery protests around the nation promoting peace, offering free hugs. I am joining him in organizing the March for Civility in Washington DC. Nearly 100 of my employees will travel across the country to join me on September 23rd to march along with thousands of others to unite in peace and love. It’s a non-partisan and inclusive demonstration. Why is this important?

Today’s caustic political discourse creates radical separation between people. It is becoming so toxic we can no longer civilly disagree. Our differences are beginning to divide us. I strongly feel our culture will be poisoned if we make our differences a barrier. Where has our civility gone? We need to hold onto it. Cherish it. And share it.

The word civility means many things – but is most importantly about listening to understand. It’s about humanity and seeing the other person as an individual. It’s about mediating differences with an open mind.

No matter what your age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political affiliation or homeland, we have a lot in common as one human race. To explore that notion, I recently commissioned a series of short stories, called “Wisdom Diaries.” Part one captures the real emotion from a diverse group of Aegis Living employees and residents sharing their life experiences. The stories exemplify how we are more alike than we are different. I believe when you know a bit of a person’s story, you open the door to empathy—and this leads to civility.

I encourage you to join the cause to restore civility. Attend the March for Civility in Washington, D.C. Watch and share “Wisdom Diaries.” Or simply, show respect and civility to one another, regardless of your or their point of view. Join the movement at www.RestoreCivility.org.

  • Saturdays with GG

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    “I am confident this book will aid so many people traveling through this confusing and painful life journey.”
    Barbara Van Wollner, whose father “Big Al” experienced dementia in his final years.