Here's Where We Agree
Let's agree that there should not be any scapegoats, and there's nobody evil here. Let's also agree that there is a problem.
The division and disillusionment we see today is the result of policies that have been in place for almost exactly five decades, like a deep festering pimple that's finally made an explosive appearance. Because in 1971, we allowed corporate dollars to influence our politics, and it turned the government into the mutant institution we see today, prioritizing power over people, and spouting ideals so grossly inconsistent with our reality.
People are worried about their jobs; they're worried about their healthcare; they're worried about their education. Nobody in our society, the richest nation in the history of the world, should feel as frightened and anxious and insecure as so many people do today.
People, parties, politicians and constituents continue to deflect and project culpability onto anything (real or imagined) they possibly can. All sides feel justified in their outrage. Blaming, demonizing, and scapegoating have become the biggest tools in their political arsenal. But that's not leadership.
The Marks of a True Leader
Real leadership is about taking responsibility. And responsibility is simply the 'ability' to 'respond' to a situation constructively, so we can all move forward, together. And every single person in this country can exercise leadership, take responsibility, and help forge a way forward.
Democracies flourish when the largest numbers of citizens have the capacity to shape and participate in civic life. To the degree that a significant percentage of the population - not just appointed oligarchs or elected elites - are engaged in real efforts to address real problems, and to the extent that we know how to be effective in creating positive change, we will feel more confident and powerful as citizens, and the society will be more adaptive, creative, and resilient.
Our role as citizens go beyond merely paying taxes and casting ballots. Citizenship is the responsibility to serve society, and assume responsibility for the well-being of those far beyond our immediate families. That’s not socialism; that’s democracy at its best. The Founding Fathers of the United States did not just look after their own interests; they built solutions to realize their vision for a new nation.
Our greatest leaders illustrated the power and responsibility of citizenship. Hands-on problem solving, in the trenches, is the real expression of citizenship. It is the opportunity to take the lead in creating solutions to systemic social problems. A strong, adaptive society requires that as many people as possible collaborate and construct new solutions.
Let's Forge a Better Future
The reality is that our system can reflect our values. Capitalism and democracy are what we make of it. The way we implement them can either expand opportunities, and widen the circle of prosperity, or narrow opportunity and cause division.
Democracy is a process of continual adaptation. Citizens experiment in the building of solutions and institutions to meet their needs at different moments in history. And the "American Experiment" is a brilliant example of social entrepreneurship, harnessing the enterprising mind to create positive social change.
Tackle Problems Not People: There are problems that affect all of us. And real, sustainable solutions recognize the rights and dignity of all humans. Because ultimately, we all want the same things: life, liberty, and purpose.
Turn Opponents into Partners: Real solutions require that you work across divides and turn your ‘opponent’ into your problem-solving partner. Collaboration always creates better, more sustainable solutions than competition.
Bake a Bigger Pie: We’ve been conditioned to believe that life is a zero-sum game. That is false. The ‘scarcity’ mindset is a lie sold by consumerist culture to cultivate fear and drive more consumption. Rather than fighting over slices, we can always bake a bigger pie. And working together, in unlikely ways, often unlocks the most groundbreaking solutions.
So let’s resolve today to leave the goats alone, and put our pointer fingers away. Because the responsibility is yours and mine. That’s the mark of leadership. Titles and positions are superficial badges; but they don’t make leaders.
So whatever your tool, your talent, your gift - whether it's art, or medicine, or fashion, or math - use that tool to create positive social change. And each time an individual like you stands up and acts to address a problem constructively, others are emboldened to do the same. People will start to believe that change is possible, and eventually they’ll learn how to advance change themselves.
You don’t have to wait for politicians or policy to change. You can create positive change, now.
"Society is not like a machine that is created at some point in time, and then maintained with minimum effort. It is being continuously recreated, for good or ill, by its members. This will strike some as burdensome responsibility. But it will summon others to greatness.” -John Gardner, Self-Renewal