I enjoy idioms and the richness of our culture that creates them—and none seems more apt for our current situation than “it is time to face the music.” We have long since passed this point and the current litany of woes facing our country can be traced back to our collective reluctance to face the consequences of the conflicting views we hold about ourselves, our communities and our government
Our country was founded on the belief of individual freedom. The cornerstone of The Declaration of Independence, that each person has a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” provides us with the government underpinnings of individual privileges and yet, we often overlook the emphasis on our responsibilities to fully participate in creating a society that supports all of us. We are not a country of 307 million individual beings, rather we are an amalgam of communities, neighborhoods, towns, counties, cities, etc., in which we live our lives. No one is able to completely separate themselves from others.
We get into trouble when we think about government, community and individual through the lens of separation. Despite the technological advancements that propelled us into the 21st Century and have connected us in ways unimaginable only a few short years ago, we seem to have adopted a fear-based mindset that “what is mine is mine” and there is no way we are going to share it with anyone. The challenge with the individualistic mind frame of fighting for our survival is that we end up fighting the very people whose help we need to survive. As our society has grown more complex, the interconnections may be a bit obscure and are none-the-less as important as ever. Nothing illustrates this point as clearly as a natural disaster.
With the recent earthquake and Hurricane Irene bearing down the on the heavily populated East Coast we can see the incredible need we have for support from a variety of people. From the meteorological forecasters that supply information to multiple news organizations, to local and state governments and utility companies that work the front lines, to service, health care and religious organizations that support health and safety, each has a critical role in saving lives and quite literally helping people to weather the storm. What person would have wanted to go through the storm without the resources, professionalism and dedication of these groups and organizations? And yet, how often do we bemoan having to pay taxes to support these efforts and how many times have you offered to help?
What too few people take time to fully understand is that nearly all meteorological information comes from government satellites and offices that provide the data to news services; that most emergency preparedness is coordinated by a variety of government organizations that bring together utilities and other essential services to ensure that public safety and related needs are met and that when individual and private efforts fail or are not enough to meet the needs, it is government that backs them up.
There is no question that there are plenty of areas where government has run amok and can be run more efficiently. Yet, as we face the current economic and governing challenges no one is addressing the root issues that have brought us here. Why? Because it will force us to fundamentally shift our perception of the rugged individual that has dominated our consciousness and ask us to create new models of government, commerce and society that take into consideration the needs of the individual and the group. The era of everyone struggling against each other for their slice of the pie must now come to an end—otherwise we will destroy not only the pie, but also our ability to create it and all we will have left will be the crumbs.
In truth can we really sustain businesses where executives are paid thousands of times more than the hourly salary of the average laborer? After all, who are the people who buy the products these mega-millionaires’ companies produce? Can we create health for ourselves when millions of people can’t afford access to health care while others squander billions of dollars a year on wasteful procedures? And how safe a world are we creating when we spend endlessly on destructive wars in other countries while our own education system crumbles? Remember, one of the greatest predictors of violence, crime and terrorism are uneducated and unemployed youth . . . ironic that the thing we are fighting on foreign shores is the very thing we are creating on our own.
Bill Gates has said, “businesses don’t succeed in failing societies.” I would amend that quote to say nothing and no one can succeed in a failing society. If we are truly serious about changing our future trajectory, it is time for each person to reevaluate their role in their community. Leadership is not an endeavor for a chosen few in marbled buildings; it is for each of us to see what it is that we have to contribute to the betterment of our society—and then to do it. If each person took just a few hours a week to give to their community, many of the issues we are currently facing would shift in profound ways that money and political rhetoric never can or will.
The future is truly up to us—the question is are we simply going to face the music or are we prepared to play a new tune?