Where Have Our Leaders Gone?

Not really a big political guy, but here's something I sent to Huffington Post recently (hoping it gets green-lit).  Thought you all might dig.  :-)

The current political landscape is the most divisive time I’ve seen in my short (almost) 50 years. Every political discussion revolves around an “us vs. them” mentality which is great for a marketing campaign, but destructive if you want to govern. Whether we are blaming the greedy rich, the lazy poor, the Muslim, Republican, Tea Party, Democrat, Socialist, Mexican, liberal, Christian, or entitled millennial generation, we are consistent in our belief that today’s problems lie with the groups we don’t like.  The solution is simple - eliminate the problem group in question and all will be well again. Not only is this divisive, it’s destructive.

Collaboration and working effectively with others to find solutions is now considered weakness. No candidate appears to have any toleration to consider (as Dr. Stephen Covey suggests) “to seek to understand then be understood.” We see no evidence of this habit from the candidates in any party and less from their supporters.  

Have a discussion with an ardent supporter of Hillary or Trump (the current leaders). Rarely does the conversation begin or interject with a statement like, “I want to understand why you are passionate about your candidate.” No, the conversation quickly disintegrates into insults like was witnessed at the GOP debates.  Instead of raising our standards to find congruity, we emulate those running for the highest office in the land and accuse and divide.  This is the leadership that has stepped up to take the reins, and they are now current role models.

Slogans and sound bites dominate the political arena.  We’ve stopped asking “why” instead getting consumed by the next sound bite. The media, while not to blame, caters to our 8 second attention span by feeding us sound bite after bite.  We suck each sound bite like mother’s milk while enjoying daily distractions never missing a beat to complain. This is why people say things like, “Trump speaks his mind” or “Hillary has experience.”  Sound bites are easy.  Problems are usually complex and not generally solved with simple fixes. They require patience, understanding, forward thinking, compassion, and the ability to build and nurture relationships.

In addition to serving his country during war time, one of the greatest attributes credited to John McCain is his ability to forge relationships with others who do not share his opinions.  Many Democrats have recognized his ability to reach across the aisle and find moments of agreement giving a foothold to forward momentum.  Where is the next unifier? Does anyone hear a candidate speak of unification?

We need to demand more from our leaders.  It’s great when a leader paves a path.  However, what happens when that path leads to more division and less understanding instead of the higher standard of cohesive problem solving?  We need more from our leaders, but first, we need to demand more from ourselves. 

Maybe it’s time that we pay attention to more than the daily political sound bite.  We need to start working together to, as Dr. Covey said, “seek first to understand.”  We need to build relationships and forge solutions that work for all of us.  These ideals are not just for political arenas and should be applied to daily life.

Responsibility and understanding means we won’t get our own damned way every time. But that’s the cost of being an adult.  Sometimes not getting your way makes you stronger, and makes you come up with a better solution. As long as we continue to aim for the quick, simple fix to our problems, we should anticipate no lasting solutions.

Instead, we, the voters, need to set a new standard and stop acting like petulant children always asking, “What am I going to get.”  We need to start asking, “What will I give?”  To myself, to my peers, to my community, to my family, to those whose opinions I think are wrong and to those I don’t understand.  Not out of selflessness.  But out of the ultimate outcome to create a better system that serves and creates stability for all of us.

Our leaders are not alone in contributing to the societal landscape. I, like many, have sat in silence.  The next time I step up to volunteer for political service will be my first time.  I, like many, have been scolded into silence merely for disagreeing with someone who was more bombastic.  This is my reaction; my small contribution to speak up and encourage us to strive toward a higher standard.

Yes, it's idealistic.  But so was the Constitution.  So was the concept of self government and democracy.  Enough people got behind these ideals and turned them to reality.  

It’s unfortunate that the next President will be chosen from a field of candidates appealing to the current divisive nature; whose standards are set by pop culture and distraction rather than the noble ideal of service.  Ideas like “A house divided against itself cannot stand” or “Ask not what the country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” are now thought as cliche or trite instead of ideals we should continue to pursue. 

We cannot wait for a leader to take the mantle of responsible leadership.  It’s time for us to set an example to our leaders and start making efforts to understand and come together, and show leaders how to collaborate. It’s time for politics to return to the notion of service and stop being the greatest reality entertainment show in history.