As we celebrate our nation’s birthday on July 4th, the future may feel bleak. We are divided politically, unemployment is too high, racial injustice remains a challenge and our communities are battling a virus with no vaccine. Nevertheless, consider the following as we contemplate our collective future.
This is not the worst time – Our country was built during a window of unity towards an outside foe, but a degree of division is part of our social fabric. There have always existed diametrically opposed views of how to conduct the business of government and who should have a seat at the table. It is one of the reasons we cast votes every two years to have a say in how those views are represented. At its best, it is a release valve that holds the promise of a better day, regardless of your political view. At its worst, the pressure builds to the point of going to war with ourselves to resolve debates on the battlefield that could not be settled in the halls of government. We are nowhere near that now.
Our democracy was built to handle this – To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms.” Our democracy was built for public debate, for citizen input, for accountability. We get frustrated when it seems like conversations cannot be had, when our voices are not heard by those in power, or when wrongdoers are not held to account. Sometimes that means forcing the conversation, sometimes that means raising your voice until someone listens, and sometimes that means pushing until our leaders do what is right. Because the levers of democracy at all levels are pulled by men and women who, like all of us, must contend with their flaws and imperfections, government is messy. Sometimes exceptionally messy and unpleasant. But examples of patience and persistence winning out abound. The mechanisms to effect change are there if we are willing to do the hard work.
Leaders will emerge – We are facing serious problems that require thoughtful, levelheaded, and tough leaders who can shine when the pressure is high. Some of the strongest leaders emerge from challenges such as those we are addressing now. Leadership is an action, not a title. We naturally look to those in positions of power for leadership, but sometimes we find it lacking. We would do well to remember that leaders and leadership often come from unexpected places. Leaders who promote negative messages and divisiveness usually burn out early. People with the courage of their convictions and the ability to craft a positive, unifying, and forward-thinking vision are better at bringing together supporters from across the lines that usually divide us in our daily lives. Keep your eyes and ears open. The next leader you meet might be standing right in front of you.
Happy Independence Day!