Apply Euclid’s First Axiom to work with people with different views

Over the past few weeks, I have joined many across our country as we process and consider the result and future brought forth from our recent presidential election. I have seen a variety of news accounts, many depicting deep levels of emotions of many people from across our country, ranging from great pride and celebration to a seemingly unprecedented form of fear and anxiety.

Of course, this election is not the first in which the popular and electoral college tallies support different candidates, or that the elected candidate was a remarkable surprise. And certainly, this election is not the first to have highly polarizing effects upon the voters.

But what is slow to happen during this time of transition is the reaffirmation by many among our communities that we can and must find ways to all progress together.

In a somewhat poignantly illustrative moment, I was reminded of our current social and political climate through a scene from the Academy Award–winning movie Lincoln. In a scene in which Lincoln is alone with two War Department telegraph officers, he learns that one of the young men is an engineer. Lincoln shares with him his discovery of a postulate proposed by the Greek mathematician Euclid.

As the president explains to the two officers, Euclid’s First Axiom states, “Things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other.” Lincoln then further elaborates that even some 2,000 years ago, Euclid rightly identified that the statement that things that are both equal to another thing are indeed equal to one another is “self-evident.” He completes his thoughts by openly referring to equality, balance, fairness, and justice. In sharing this theory of mathematics, Lincoln goes on to stress to the two junior officers that like mathematics, history and society have proven that people—like things—are indeed equal. Each of us is best informed if we can assess all other perspectives with Euclid’s First Axiom as a means of measure. Perhaps Stephen Covey described this best when he included within his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People the importance of “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Those who have taken the time, and had the courage, to ask and listen to the marginalized have contributed greatly to closing the unnecessary and artificial barriers that have divided us for far too long, and compromised us far too greatly. And when we find ourselves on a particular side of an issue, our viewpoint and the people we hold it with are — if we measure ourselves by Euclid’s First Axiom — equal to the viewpoint and group of people on the other side of the issue.

This I believe is true as we consider the many things that the leaders of organizations throughout our communities and great nation are tasked with bringing lasting solutions to. I also believe that the fears, desires, goals, and limits any of us know are dynamics we share in a world we share and a world we must provide to everyone.

The highly complex questions of today cannot be solved by the simple solutions of the past, and we are wrong to attempt to force such ideas in today’s advanced and far more informed society. The nuances of our own neighborhoods are just as intimate and important to the communities on the other side of the country and the opposite side of the world.

For leaders who have been entrusted with organizations designed to serve, it is imperative that service is responsive, effective, inclusive, and accurately delivered to every person — for the choice to fail to accomplish this goal damages not one, but all. Not unlike the leader of a nation, the leader of a campus law enforcement agency must have a perspective that is wide enough to recognize all constituencies, and clear enough to accurately determine how to serve them all. During this most challenging time, the choices a chief or director makes in policy, programming, and personal engagement with all members of the campus community will speak volumes of the values and commitment to all those they have been called upon to serve and protect. This will likely include finding solutions for problems we share that perhaps were not considered as solutions to the problems of the past. And we as leaders must find ways to actively demonstrate the power available to us all, as described by Euclid’s First Axiom, in a manner that is indeed “self-evident.”

Opposing views need not pave the path to us becoming the opposition, and our differences must not be the means by which we find ourselves divided from one another. Our time and place in this current era of change should be clear to us all as we face the opportunity to rise and succeed together.

In the unique environments we primarily serve, our campuses, we must be among the most-prepared contributors to the facilitation process. We must be willing to participate in the candid dialogs that will continue to come, but our participation must be orderly, and it must begin with listening and seeking to fully understand the layers of concerns expressed by those we serve.

We are very familiar with the longtime lament that many of society’s problems have been left for public safety to fix.

If so, now is our time to shine.

This article was first published by Wiley & Sons. For more information, visit