President’s Perspective – recognizing, accepting and celebrating difference

By Todd Iveson, 2017-18 President

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability
to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

– Audre Lorde

I’ve been thinking about this quotation ever since I saw it in Molly’s monthly message in the October Searchlight. It has significant relevance to my life right now in two particular ways.

First, this is the first time I have served in a leadership position under an elected Republican. Many of you know that I am the Director of the Taxation Division of the Missouri Department of Revenue. This is not generally a political appointment but rather a position filled by a career civil servant. Nevertheless, I had some concern after the election whether I would continue in this role with the new administration. I was even more concerned that I would not be able to support the new policies.

As it turns out, I did stay on and am finding that I have much more in common with the current administration than with some Democratic administrations I’ve served. Let me be clear that I’m talking about tax administration here and not the policies of the current administration more generally.

The political appointees I’m reporting to are generally conservative Republicans, but at least as far as I have seen, not the radical kind. (There I go adopting another either/or distinction. Oh, well.) Don’t get me wrong: My parents were Republican. In my early years I considered myself a Republican and was proud of the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisenhower. Then came Nixon and Reagan and Newt.

Like many in today’s world, I don’t hang out with many people that have differing political viewpoints. So I was somewhat surprised to learn that the Republicans I work with share the same core vision of the role of the Department of Revenue: To help Missouri citizens comply with their obligations. While we definitely have differences on tax policy writ large, they have been far more open than I ever would have expected to balancing tax cuts (they’re Republicans after all) with ensuring sufficient revenue to provide necessary services and with making sure that tax cuts are more fairly distributed outside the 1%.

The second way in which this is relevant to my life right now is in my service as President. Any group process presents challenges, and I think volunteer groups are some of the hardest. As I’ve mentioned in a past message, our Board of Trustees has been going through a process to develop strategic goals for the ministry teams and board committees. In this process, we are considering the aspirations we have heard from you in the various visioning exercises we have undertaken as well as the practical need to ensure our vibrant future. We intend these goals to identify the areas of focus to put our mission and vision into practice so we’re all rowing in the same direction. These goals are not set in stone, but will evolve as we do.

As you no doubt can imagine, there are differences among board members that are sometimes passionately felt and expressed. The discussions can be lively, to say the least. These differences and passion are our strength, but they could be destructive if each member of the board were not committed to “recognize[ing], accept[ing], and celebrat[ing] those differences.” Because our board is committed, the discussions have been passionate and respectful – and an opportunity to know each other better.

I am thankful for that commitment from my fellow board members and for my opportunity to serve with them. I hope I can repay them with the leadership they deserve.