The Creation and Healing of Community:
The guided and guarded messianic presentation of now President Obama in the 2008 election ultimately met with the laws of physics, the laws of Marxist philosophy, and the laws of reasonable common sense. The principle in common goes something like this:
When you raise expectations to the inanely and seductively impossible, when you manufacture a message based on a cult of personality, one that obscures all divisions, traditions, and practicalities (including fiscal realities), and when this is done at a time when expectations have been at a multi-generational, all-time low, the “blowback” will be harsh.
As many, including this writer had predicted, the principle has come home to roost, as has its protagonist and his team. Moreover, and sadly, the entire western world, if not the entire world, is paying for the neediness, naivety and hunger that defined the population that voted for mere tones and half-concepts, for their own dreams, articulated and projected onto a figure manufactured by skilled image-makers who knew them better than they knew themselves.
Electing anyone to the “presidency” is an exercise in manipulation, obfuscation, even one of outright dishonesty. This does not mean that well-meaning people do not run for office, but they are quickly weeded out by image-mongers and message-manglers. When Walter Mondale alluded to the necessity of raising taxes in 1984, he was ousted from the race within 24 hours. But he was telling the truth. The winner, as well as subsequent winners, learned to keep their mouths shut about doing anything but virtually eliminating taxes until they were elected. Then, they all raised taxes. An exception was President Bill Clinton who remained neutral on the subject and at least (and obviously) dodged the question. One has to wonder if the latest fall from grace – one experienced on a visceral level by the North American population after the midterms of 20101 - has taught a flaccid populace anything at all? Judging by history (including Weimer Germany, 1933), I think not. Hand a human being a way out of hopelessness, isolation, and a loss of identity and purpose, not to mention house and home, and he will do almost anything and choose almost anyone over the unbearability of hopelessness.
Wisdom and the Private Sector vs. Antiquated Political Cynicism
Increasingly resigned to doing most of my consulting and speaking work in the United States, I am, however, benefitting from seeing (and feeling) first hand, a quiet, as yet unsung and hopeful theme arising from the dust of a virtual and so far sustained American and global economic crash.2 Admittedly, one major Canadian bank – one of the best places in North America to be employed, a recent study of employees indicates – is exhibiting the same heartening tendency. And the tendency is becoming an as yet isolated trend, one of truth-telling and a request for sacrifice.
When did the political and sociological sages forget the other side of the psycho-emotional human coin? It is true that, particularly western, historically entitled human beings want easy answers and vote-worthy “idols”- whether they are related to tacky talent shows or political leaders. But it is equally true that people, human beings, want and need to know the truth, to look at the facts, and to do the math about where they stand and what is in store for them. In fact, the effect of both delivering the truth and asking for involvement, for assistance in protecting and re-building a “whole” is the most powerfully and healthily intoxicating tonic there is. Particularly in times of confusion and fear, people yearn for involvement. As a species we need to act and, ideally, act with others in accordance with/to a collectively beneficial, shared objective. The developing nations are getting a handle on this. China, India, South Korea, Turkey, and a re-fledgling Japan (after missing the mark by doing “American better than America”) have involved populations in building economies and, as a result, in creating a sense of “State”, of viable nationhood. While North America including, so far, Canada, misses this invaluable social, fiscal, and political opportunity, a number of recovering private sector organizations are applying the principle of truth and involvement to increasingly healthy and productive employee populations.
Ask Not What We Can Do For You, Ask…
Several (and maybe more) American corporations (that answer to stockholders) and one Canadian bank of which this writer is aware, are not fretting over expelling employees, but rather over how to involve employees in both cost-cutting and innovation. Sacrifice is both a theme and a reality at all levels of the corporation. As a result, innovation comes naturally, in groups, on the job, without interruptions in production. Competition of the perfidious, “time-wasting” variety is virtually nil. Everyone is in the same boat, the strength and buoyancy of which are measured and known by all. Everyone paddles the same rough waters and celebrates the passing of another coordinate. The calculus of survival, floating, and moving forward is a living, moving formula, understood, lived, and committed to by everyone. There is only crew, no passengers awaiting a presumed and privileged destination.
The corporations, human organizations that have taken this fundamentally human tack, are “balance-sheet” solid and slowly moving toward increased profitability. By recognizing the basic human needs for truth, meaning, self-worth, identity and a sense of belonging and purpose, and by openly addressing the mere sanity of debit and credit, of what is spent, to what is brought in to re-invest and produce, leaders have seduced employee populations with…truth.
Truth never disappoints, not the way lies and cunningly perpetuated illusions do. As human beings, we know the difference. It is just too easy sometimes to allow the professional, social-psychic magicians to supplement easy and ubiquitous fantasies. Especially when we are afraid - fearing everything, including the universal fear of diminishing worth. It is not, however, a new, real or imaginary super-leader we need. We need each other, in sacrifice, changing and growing with a shared sense of process and accomplishment. This – truth and the rest – heals what ails us and promises fiscal change and renewal– a new reality that will not come tumbling down to hit us in the heart, the pocketbook, and with respect to our very security on the planet.
1 Studies show that President Obama was “the most popular President” to Canadians, after the 2008 election. Neat.
2 I strongly believe that the role of the “speaker” is an antiquated one. A speaker should have the knowledge base, the hands-on experience, and the accountability of a consultant. If the “speaker” is going to “address” a group of managers and employees, he or she had better be at least up to par for cable, if not for network television. Otherwise, look inward. Hire your own.