On Tuesday, June 19, President Donald Trump spoke before an organization that often purports to represent small business, attempting to gin up support of the small business community for his policy of separating immigrant families. As someone who has worked with small businesses across the United States for more than two decades, I know this reprehensible policy doesn’t represent the values of most small business owners I’ve met.

One of the most important, often overlooked, components of success—for small businesses, big corporations, communities, countries—is the importance of living up to a core set of values. Right now, we are witnessing a shocking assault on American values as US government agents rip children as young as four months old from their parents’ arms. All of us, including those of us in the business community, cannot afford to be silent. Regardless of one’s political persuasion or belief on immigration, this is a shocking assault on American values.

In 1998, I spent a year working on my second book, researching, interviewing, visiting great companies to see what made them great. I examined huge corporations and small businesses. What they had in common was that the best businesses aimed to live up to a core set of values and they had integrity. And for over more than two decades, I’ve consulted with hundreds of small businesses. What makes a company strong and resilient is what makes a country strong and resilient—having a compelling sense of purpose.

One of the things I observed in all the companies I studied was that they had an “origin story”—a compelling narrative of how and why the company started that helped define their current values.

For example, 3M relishes their origin story of having been started with a failure. The middle “M” in 3M originally stood for “Mining” because the company was founded to run a mine that proved worthless. Instead, they learned to innovate. The value of allowing experimentation and embracing failure has been a critical component of 3M’s success, and they now have more than 50,000 products—as diverse as Post-its (a failure at first) to health care products to electronics.

America’s origin story is celebrated every year at Thanksgiving. Native Americans helped persecuted Pilgrims survive and thrive in new harsh conditions. Our origin story is of immigrants being welcomed in a new land. Americans embraced the value of being a “melting pot,” of welcoming people from every corner of the globe.

The picture—the reality—of Americans tearing children away from parents seeking refuge in our country flies in the face of our origin story. The picture—the reality—of children being kept in chain link pens, basically cages, at the hand of American government officials is more than shocking. It is shameful.

When we lose our values, we lose our voice. The family separation policy the Trump Administration initiated lowers America’s ability to be a force for good in the world.

There are other—humane—ways of enforcing immigration laws. This Administration has willfully chosen to take this harsh measure as a means of forcing Congress to bend to their will. They are taking children hostage.

“We’re not going to make America great by making America mean,” said Thomas Wenski, Archbishop of Miami. “…In deciding to separate children from their parents, (the Administration) are trying to weaponize children, using them as a leverage against the parents applying for their asylum applications, a right that they have both under the national law and under our own United States laws.”

As we approach America’s anniversary—the Fourth of July—it’s time to remember our values. America has long been described as “exceptional.” What made us exceptional was not our military or economic strength—other countries had been stronger. Nor our natural resources—other countries had even greater resources. America’s exceptionalism was borne out of our values—of pursuing liberty and justice for all. Those values made America great.

Let us remember: each child, each parent, is a human being. We can enforce the law without losing our humanity, without sacrificing our core values. If we don’t, if we lose our humanity trying to defend a border, what of value have we actually left to defend?


Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2018

This article originally ran in USA Today on June 20, 2018