Politics, Culture, and Compassion

With the turbulent U.S. election coming up, there’s been a lot of discussion around the ways that companies should, or shouldn’t involve themselves in various aspects of politics. Some companies have come out declaring that they want to steer clear of politics entirely, largely to backlash, as abstaining is generally understood to be a vote in favor of the status quo. Other companies choose to prominently declare a side. For instance, Expensify’s CEO wrote a poignant letter in support of Joe Biden, sent to their entire customer base (not to mention, I suspect, to their team.) I personally found that letter to be well-written and thoughtful, but as I read it, I realized that I saw the role of companies as falling into a third category.

Nobody has the right to abstain from politics, but neither do I believe we should be taking advantage of the weight of our companies or titles to force our preferred outcomes. I participate in politics as an individual citizen, but when it comes to my role as CEO, I see it as something simpler – reinforcing the core values that Modulate was built on, including improving the world and showing compassion to one another, and which run deeper than any particular political party.

So I drafted a letter for my own team, outlining how we think about these issues at Modulate. I hope that, by sharing this letter publicly, I can help to communicate the nature of our culture, and maybe even provide a tool to other leaders struggling to figure out how to engage with these issues while remaining deeply respectful of the different context each unique team member is grappling with. Any questions or feedback are more than welcome.

Without further ado…

Subj: The next few weeks…

Hey everyone,

I’ve been debating recently whether or not I should send an email about the upcoming US election, and the intense questions and issues it brings to the forefront. As many of you know, I’m pretty against the idea of executives using their corporate platform to weigh in on politics, for a couple reasons. Firstly, if democracy is about each person having an equal vote, then wielding the (unequal) influence of a company to push one cause forward feels like a corruption of that. But more substantially, it’s because we don’t know your circumstances, and I know that your political alignment and behavior is the complex result of a lot of different social, ideological, economic, and personal angles. So rather than judging you on your party or who you vote for, I’d rather continue to judge you on Modulate’s core values of respecting each other and making the world better than it was when we started.

Some of you might argue that those two things – your compassion and your party – are correlated. You may even be right. But the reality is that political alignment is still a noisy signal – and that assholes and jerks tend to reveal themselves pretty quickly, even if you ignore which party they support. Overall, I believe Modulate is much better off if we avoid rushing to judgement, giving us the opportunity to find people who genuinely share our root values, whatever their circumstances or current team colors…even if that means taking slightly longer to become certain that someone is acting maliciously.

So I’m not writing this email to tell you who to vote for. I’m not even writing it to tell you to vote. I voted, personally, but I don’t like the idea that just because I happen to be CEO of a startup, I know more about how you should express your civic rights than you do. You’re all adults – I trust you to figure out the right thing for you, and if you ever personally want to hear my perspective, as another individual citizen, my door is always open.

No, I’m writing this email just to reiterate a few points about what our culture pillars of respect and impact mean.

They mean that “I need time to vote, or work at the polls, or join a rally, or otherwise fight for what I believe in” is always a valid reason to miss work.

They mean that “I’m feeling really anxious about the situation in the country or wider world, so I’m unable to focus” is exactly what our unlimited vacation policy is for.

They even mean that “I don’t know why I’m not able to work, I’m just feeling exhausted or freaked out or off somehow” takes priority over any work you’d planned for us.

If we actually want to make the world a better place, that has to start with Modulate itself. You don’t improve the world on the back of exploitation, anxiety, or misery. You do it with a team of adults who believe in what you’re fighting for – and who are given the freedom to take care of themselves and those around them while continuing to push forward.

It’s going to be a bumpy few weeks, at minimum. Please continue to have each others’ backs, lend support or a listening ear when needed, and equally be willing to give your colleagues the space they need. I’m proud to be working with a team that takes the idea of respecting each other seriously – thanks to all of you, and if there’s anything I, or we, can do over these next few weeks, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

All the best.

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