We are living on the borderland of time, hinged between 20th-century institutions and structures, and a 21st-century world yearning for fresh vision. Two paths diverge along the border: one honors the natural human quest for certainty as it circles around the status quo. The other follows a path into unknown spaces, spaces where a transformed, life-giving world can be formed.
Those who follow the latter path will become modern-day revolutionaries, loved and supported by some while despised and feared by others. They will encounter a journey of twists and turns, winding through the complexities and struggles of our culture as they cross the border. These revolutionary leaders will employ new ways of approaching the seemingly intractable problems that confront us, risking the loss of what they have known in order to find promise in transformation. Perhaps their biggest struggle will be with the keepers of the status quo, those whose power is rooted in complex institutions and practices that are revered but obsolete. These old institutions, programs, methods and thinking might offer short-term remedies. They might even succeed in temporarily preserving power for the existing hierarchy, but they will eventually lead to disintegration and decay.
This old order is girded by lobbyists and action groups whose vision is focused on today. It spans the political, social, business, media, education and economic spectrum of American life: from teachers unions to proponents of school vouchers, from universal health care advocates to the insurance industry, from corporate-size farms to advocates for food stamps, from the business/industrial complex to environmentalists. Ours has become a nation of factions and competing interest groups, and our government is frozen and polarized, a purveyor of incrementalism rather than an agent of visionary change.
The new leaders will be lobbyists for the future, the agents of new vision. They will move beyond applying bandages and splints to broken structures and seek healing for our nation. To do this, to cross the border and walk through the hinged-door of time into the promise of transformation, they will need to redefine both problems and solutions. They will need to seek collaboration across political and ideological boundaries, and they will need to be open to new ideas.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about America in the 1830s, but he knew then what faces us now: after a nine-month journey through the country he observed that “ A new political science is needed for a world altogether new” and that the first duty imposed on leaders of nations is “to adapt its government to time and place, to modify it according to circumstances.” We did that as a new nation, and it is time to do it again.
My view is that the USA is atrophying from lack of imagination and hopefulness. We are compulsive about being “right”, and we define everything through the prisms of social, political, religious or organizational affiliation. Regardless of the issue, we retreat into our ideological cocoons and prepare to do battle with those who disagree with us, rather than work together to find common ground.
The problems facing us are large, and often don’t have unassailable right or wrong answers: war and peace, international relations, health care, social security, decaying infrastructure, economic disparity, environmental degradation, global warming, immigration, fiscal responsibility, and education. If we are going to successfully engage these and other crucial issues our leaders must draw us into a national conversation instead of defending an ideology or personal bias. Our goal must be to reach a consensus around the common good, rather than responding to organized pressure groups with a vested interest in the outcome. We need to learn how to listen to one another with an ear toward finding consensus, instead of for the purpose of finding a weakness so that we can level a counter argument.
So please join in the conversation: pick your issue and share your vision.