United Outside: Post-Election Remarks From REI’s CEO

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Editor’s note: We are sharing a verbatim transcript of a conversation between our CEO, Jerry Stritzke, and employees who asked him for his views on the events this week. They asked him, what, if anything, the REI community should do.

“Today we asked someone–a veteran–to come in and talk to us and our veterans at a lunch… and the subject really was about how the outdoors played a critical role in healing him… and the role that played in his life. He is working with the University of Washington (UW) medical staff to document the healing effects of the outdoors.

It occurs to me that, as we move past the election, we have a nation that needs to heal…

That’s a role that the outdoors, I believe, plays for many people—myself included. It’s where we are our best selves, it’s where we experience life at its fullest. And it’s when we go outdoors with people that I think we break down barriers and have deeper relationships…

And when you think about a country that is deeply divided, it sounds like a prescription for what we need in order to move forward–as our best selves – as a country.

I know that as I went through the day after the election I really did reflect upon and think about… you know… should I, could I… would it be helpful to really say anything.

I did go to my experience as a CEO. A lot of times, how you respond and what a productive response looks like [is so important]. That influenced me to pen a letter [to employees] focused on being a positive force for the outdoors… the role that REI could play… why it was important and why that was a productive response to an election that was, you know, so divisive.

On the tension out there.

Debates about “what” are almost always productive, in the end. [They are] an inherent part of what being a democracy is about… What is the right answer? What should we be doing? You really have to celebrate and embrace that difference of opinion.

I think that part of the thing that made this election process particularly hard was the “how.” That, at times, it became very personal. And that is more difficult.

I really do believe that’s the place where there’s an opportunity to create a more productive conversation. And for me, personally, that starts with assuming positive intent.

And, as I look at the breadth of people [in this country], there’s more positive intent than might meet the eye. If I start there, then how do I create as productive a conversation as I possibly can?

The election has clearly demonstrated that our country really is divided in big and real ways and that there’s enormous passion and angst, regardless of which side you’re on. [There is] uncertainty about how do we work together as a country to get to a place which is us together versus us apart… healing will have to be a part of that.

On the role of the outdoors.

I do believe the outdoors is a place where that “crisis of the moment”–that thing that is so big today–comes into a different perspective. You know, it’s calming. It gives you a different perspective, I think you realize that is where we are our best.

[And] I think that–almost by definition–being outdoors with somebody–I think puts you in a better posture to understand what you’re aligned about, what you care about… so I do believe in the idea of being United Outside… that the outdoors is a place for all.

And I really do believe that it’s not about sides. There are people who are dyed-in-the-wool red who love the outdoors just as much as someone who is dyed-in-the-wool blue.

Any time you can find commonality it’s a pretty powerful place to be… and it’s probably the start of a healing process or the start of the ability to have a productive dialogue.

[Because] finding common ground is at the core of a productive, properly functioning process in a political democracy and finding common ground gives you the basis for stability and then to have the conversations about where there’s disagreement and maybe even create permission for there to be compromise, built from that common ground.

Well intended people, trying to chart a path… to the future.”

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