Reflections on Life & Leadership: The Politics of Outrage

Operating on the assumption that a writer must believe he has something to “say” before he places pen to paper (or taps words on a keyboard), it has been some time since anything has appeared here.  Hopefully, this piece will represent some thought by the author and challenge the thinking of the few who might read it.

Anyone who watches the “news” today will recognize that terms like “gridlock,” “impasse,” and “staunch” are commonplace amongst commentators and those those who report the facts of the day.  Such words, it seems, are indicative of the politics of outrage that seems to prevail today. Regardless of the source, Fox, MSNBC, CBS, or others, it seems every political view, left, right, and every other political perspective today, seems less interested in winning the hearts and minds of people than they do in stirring up the passions of their constituencies.  In a time when our nation, indeed our world, requires genuine leadership, we get little more than ranting about the shortcomings of those who whose values conflict with our own.

This is not to suggest leadership does not require conviction.  Clearly, having a solid core is essential for an effective leader, be it in his or her home, church, community, boardroom or in Washington D.C.  One wonders how we have bred a generation of leaders that have such conviction yet do not have the ability to recognize there has never been a time in our history when everyone agreed on everything.  Nor will there be such a time.  Indeed, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

If we are to survive, even thrive, as a nation, leaders must not doggedly hang on to recreating their perception of “the good old days.”  We cannot recreate the era of FDR any more than we can that of Ronald Reagan.  Nor should we attempt to do so.  Leadership requires a genuine willingness to embrace the brutal facts, to recognize change and respond, rather than react,  to it.  Leading with conviction does not obligate one to withdraw from meaningful debate.  Yet such leadership must be counterbalanced by a willingness to listen and demonstrate respect.  The man or woman with genuine boldness of conviction is not threatened those with whom they have differences.  They do not shy away from conflict,  yet they demonstrate good faith, compassion, and patience. Such character does not require condoning that with which one disagrees, yet it is from such a position that the genuine leader finds the ability to meet all people of good faith on level ground, to engage them in the marketplace of ideas.

One fears the marketplace of ideas may be “closed” during this age of the politics of outrage. All of us must face the role we play in having closed down the market.  We must recognize the need for leaders who are willing to tell us difficult things.  We must demonstrate a willingness to listen and make the choice to choose constructive, though sometimes spirited, debate.  Failure to do so will only lead us to an even more combative culture in which fixing blame rather than fixing problems will undermine our ability to respond to the challenges of government, business, family, and community.

Keep the Faith!