Losing Our Way

If our nation is to be changed for the better, ordinary citizens will have to intervene aggressively in their own fate. The tremendous power in the hands of the moneyed interests will not be relinquished voluntarily. Bob Herbert in Losing Our Way

 

I just read Herbert’s painful book about the reality of life in America and her decline. This readable book examines crumbling infrastructure, the willful destruction of the middle class, the corporatization of public education, failed wars in which America met evil with evil and shamed our nation, and the disastrous national and political leadership of incompetence and malfeasance by those trusted to lead our nation. The system has become rigged against everyone but the wealthy.

The stories of real people told in raw detail hurt emotionally and demand that we examine our souls; the factual presentation asks us to think and turn our backs on ignorance.

The two sentences I quoted above tell us what citizens must do if we want to renew our nation and our democracy and restore our values and the American Dream for future generations. If we cannot find the energy to intervene in our own destinies, then we will continue the slow and painful decline and will lose our democracy to those who care only about power and money.

The power of the masses lies in demonstration and voting. As people create a movement for equality leaders will emerge. For leaders, we need heart-felt populists like Elizabeth Warren. People who care about everyday people and the involvement and engagement of all in our collective lives.

These leaders can imagine and can articulate a positive and value-driven vision for the future (not just oppose what is wrong) and have the courage to fight for their vision because those who profit from the status-quo will fight without mercy and they will fight dirty to keep what they have even against national interest.

The economic game is rigged against everyday people. Leaders who want to compromise with extremists (always a lose/win negotiation) and avoid conflict, no matter how decent and well-intentioned they are, are not the right people to lead an economic war. Our leaders need to be spiritual warriors who lead from their hearts and values and can also hold people accountable and balance a budget.

Transformative leaders strive to shape the future and mold our collective destiny in a symbiotic relationship with followers. They do not fight to return to a romanticized past that never really existed.

Robert Greenleaf author of Servant Leadership wrote that the problems in the world are not the evil, immature, neurotic, and the irresponsible. They have always been with us and always will be. The problem, Greenleaf wrote, is not them but the good people—people like you and me—who have fallen asleep.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Historian Howard Zinn: “If there is going to be change, real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves. That’s how change happens.”

We are responsible. God will not save us.

The Impact a Single Person Can Have

Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, who famously coined the seminal theory of multiple intelligences, echoes Anaïs Nin in advocating for the role of the individual and Susan Sontag in stressing the impact of individual acts on collective fate. His answer, arguing for the importance of human beings, comes as a welcome antidote to a question that suffers the danger of being inherently reductionist:

In a planet occupied now by seven billion inhabitants, I am amazed by the difference that one human being can make. Think of classical music without Mozart or Stravinsky; of painting without Caravaggio, Picasso or Pollock; of drama without Shakespeare or Beckett. Think of the incredible contributions of Michelangelo or Leonardo, or, in recent times, the outpouring of deep feeling at the death of Steve Jobs (or, for that matter, Michael Jackson or Princess Diana). Think of human values in the absence of Moses or Christ.

[…]

Despite the laudatory efforts of scientists to ferret out patterns in human behavior, I continue to be struck by the impact of single individuals, or of small groups, working against the odds. As scholars, we cannot and should not sweep these instances under the investigative rug. We should bear in mind anthropologist Margaret Mead’s famous injunction: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. It is the only thing that ever has.’

Brain Pickings