Friday, March 24, 2006

Leadership deferred

Often, it’s difficult to focus the laser of critique on one cause for the current myriad of problems besetting America. While there are obviously many that choose to wear rose-colored glasses in looking at the world, a realist doesn’t have to look long, or hard at these issues, to recognize that something just isn’t right.

At the risk of sounding simplistic and incurring the charge of playing the nostalgia card, I think one of our core deficiencies as Americans is the dearth of any kind of leadership, whether we’re talking about politics, business, sports, or any other sphere of American life.

The current culture of corruption that appears to be a pandemic has overtaken every aspect of our daily routines. From the very top, flowing downwards from D.C. to Peoria, Poughkeepsie and Portland, this lack of leadership is exacting a heavy toll in the present, but more importantly, the ramifications concerning our future are infused with greater gravity.

Last night, during question time after my presentation to a small, but spirited audience at the public library in South Portland, the subject came up concerning the changes in our towns that have led to the loss of community and connectedness. One gentleman talked about how youngsters today, have every aspect of their lives organized for them. Unlike the past, when sandlot baseball games and other childhood pursuits forced children to learn how to deal with conflict, our present day finds childhood overly structured and totally controlled by parents and other adults. As a result, young people never experience real-life crisis management and don’t learn how to resolve differences and conflict.

By extension, this leads to an entire generation who not only haven’t acquired leadership skills, but also, the current crop of so-called elders, who should be modeling leadership, are instead teaching our youth that pragmatic corruption is the way to go.

Here is just one more example of how our current president, says one thing and when the cameras and microphones are turned off, resorts to his usual duplicitous ways. How can we expect and exact honesty, integrity and ethics from our youngest citizens, when at every turn, they see corruption, greed and cruelty applauded and handsomely rewarded?

This culture of corruption and greed is a national crisis and unless we corporately find a way to correct this downward spiral, I can’t see much hope at all for the future. I’m obviously not a believer in Social Darwinism. To hold to that philosophy leads to a race to the bottom, which is the direction we are headed as a nation.

How do we correct this and right the ship? I’m not optimistic that we can, unless we see a radical re-engineering of society. We are way beyond the ability to put Band-aid fixes on our problems. From the crisis of peak oil, to the devastation of our environment and extending to our increasing gap between the rich and everyone else, our fixation on military solutions over diplomacy and ultimately holding the belief that technology can save us from ourselves, is delusional thinking at best and potentially apocalyptic, at worst. Putting our faith in “bling, bling” violates the most basic tenets of religion and it certainly heaps manure on aspects of any kind of meaningful social contract.

Hyper-capitalism, paired with our belief that technology will ride in on a white horse to save us, is a fairy tale. Many pride themselves on their rationalism when it comes to believing in a deity, or higher power, yet they are worse than the most rabid fundamentalist when it comes to recognizing that the gods of money, power, and technology are just as powerless to save them, as is pie-in-the-sky religious belief.

Like any trouble-shooter worth their pay, Americans need to trace our way back to a place and time when things worked. At least a time when democracy hadn’t become a national joke and the defining measure of a man (or woman) wasn’t the size of their bank account (or cup size), or the prestige derived from the automobile they drove, or the house they lived in.

Personally, I don’t have to look back that far to remember people that I knew growing up, who modeled to me the kind of bedrock values I’m talking about. I’m not nostalgically hearkening back to some golden age, either. My late father-in-law, a member of the last great generation of Americans, the WWII set, was a daily example of an American who possessed integrity and carried himself with dignity. He didn’t live a life of glitz and didn’t rely on conspicuous consumption to define who he was. He regularly gave many hours to his community, church (Unitarian Universalist), and family, asking nothing in return. There were tens of thousands of others, just like him, members of a generation that’s disappearing. I fear that no one is willing, or even capable to step forward to fill the void that’s left with their departures.

As I mentioned to my audience last night, I could name countless men and women that I knew personally, growing up in my small town of Lisbon Falls, who modeled integrity to a young lad like me. Many of them were my paper route customers. From the quiet dignity of their lives lived, shaped by Yankee frugality and the golden rule, these people left an indelible mark on me that’s impossible to ignore.

Lately, I find myself thinking a lot about those days of yesteryear. Of living in a place where the size of your home, or the car you drove didn’t matter to your friends, or your family. A place where you knew your neighbors and regardless of what was happening in other parts of the world, your little corner seemed secure and in capable hands.

At the present time, I don’t have any faith that anyone’s at the switch, whether it’s here in my hometown of Durham, at the state house in Augusta, or in our nation’s seat of power, Washington, D.C. Neither am I confident of others I see in charge of our businesses, banks, or our churches.

We are truly up a creek, without a paddle, as the saying goes, and the current keeps pushing us in a direction that some of us do not want to go in.

1 comment:

No6 said...

Wonderful post. It is difficult NOT to sound like a codger when we "romanticize the past" isn't it? One just does not see kids even getting into little adventures anymore. Everything's 'concretized'.

Isn't sort of strange how white, middle-class mentality dictates that kids not get dirty (in more than one way). I'm thankful to have been raised by wolves!

If you get a chance and haven't, check out Ernest Becker's book "The Denial of Death" and it pretty much sums up (albeit in a neo-Freudian way) the current state of affairs in a very interesting way.

As always, keep up the great work.