The Age of Grand Gestures

We live in an age of grand gestures. They’re all around us, a mile wide and an inch deep.

They don’t require forethought or deliberation. Grand gestures fulfill their potential simply by being offered. A sweeping statement. A gratuitous gesture. They are seemingly instantly magnanimous…noble…jaw-dropping…provocative…yet devoid of deeper examination.

One size fits all…but differently…because we each respond to grand gestures based on our own expectations and understandings. Are you pro-something? Then this grand gesture is for you! Anti-something? The same gesture confirms your beliefs! With their hard-to-nail-down ambiguity, we are free to fill in the blanks to suit ourselves. Grand gestures pander to our most base instincts.

You see them everywhere: feel-good memes, attention-getting sound bites, coy dog whistles and cynical tropes. We cheer, jeer, resist, protest, laugh, cry, poke, prod, celebrate, negate and gloat in self-fulfilling reaffirmation of whom we want to be.

Grand gestures address anything, everything and nothing all at once. They require no effort to look beyond our own inference. They reinforce our personal biases, beliefs and passions, giving us license to be lazy…listening for what we want to hear…reinforcing our reality. “I’m right, I know I’m right, and since I’m right I know I’m not wrong, so don’t burst my bubble!” Mindless, feel-good free-floating bubbles, rising like easy answers…seemingly ascertainable…but ultimately endlessly elusive…

It can be very comfortable in the age of grand gestures, making it harder to effect change…in business…in education…in the community…in our selves. To overcome this easy answer allure, we need to push beyond feeling and believing, digging deeper…to watching, asking and seeking out facts…keeping us grounded in the work at hand.

Deeper thinking is the bubble-popping gesture-stopping antidote to grand gestures.

Administer the antidote by asking:

  • What response does this gesture seek to elicit?
  • Why does it seem to have such broad appeal?
  • Does our response move us forward, or hold us back?  

Grand gestures aren’t going to change, and neither is human nature, but we can stop being so easily influenced.

Grand gestures are easy. Grand actions are hard.

Walter McKenzie is Senior Director for Constituent Services at ASCD, leading its affiliate, connected community, professional interest community, student chapter and emerging leader programs.

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