2011 – A Year of Renewal

Do you know anyone who is not happy to see 2010 fade away? In fact, do you know anyone who is not happy to see the whole past decade recede into the sunset? There seems to be a collective sigh of relief as we enter not only a new year, but also a new decade. Why is that?

Yes, we have had 9/11, two wars, an economic disaster, the housing crisis, unemployment, and a few other setbacks. But something else is wrong. The Gross National Happiness has gone down. When we entered the new century in the year 2000, most people were full of hope and anticipation for a better future. Now, those hopes have been dashed. Why is that?

Most people today are preoccupied with surviving the challenges of the moment, like keeping or finding a job, paying for health care, education, or food, or even overcoming the weather. We’re anxious about our own situation, and we’re terrified about our children’s future. Why is that?

We’ve been living in a fantasy world. We believed in our dreams, and we ignored our reality. Yes, a few people did get wealthier or otherwise became better-off in the past decade, but for most people the situation became worse. The rhetoric on all levels has now been exposed as wishful thinking, or worse, by the reality of our lives today. The fantasy cannot continue. We must face reality.

Our democratic system of government is broken. The greatest challenge of leadership is not to articulate grand visions for the future; it is to form the many consensus agreements required to get us there. That’s democracy; many ideas must be fashioned into actionable plans. The public must support the overall directions and the small details. Yet, we’ve lost the ability to agree on much of anything these days. It’s all arguing and shouting, which in the end will get us nowhere.

Probably, the hardest notion to accept is that our leaders cannot do this for us, and they cannot do it alone. Our leaders cannot forge a consensus, when the public opinion, the body politic, is so fractured. If our friends and neighbors, now including our Facebook friends and virtual neighbors, cannot agree, how can we expect our leaders to agree?

Civil dialogue, fact-based discussions of complex issues, respect for the opinions of others, putting labels aside, and even compromise, are the only way to make democracy work. No person or group can always prevail. No particular point of view is always right. As the song said, nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.

We must start with ourselves. As many have said, we must be the change that we wish to see in the world. We must be what we want the other person to be. We must resolve to find common ground.

2011 can be a year of hope and renewal, for ourselves and our nation, for our friends and the world. We can do this, and our leaders will follow. In our democracy, We, the People, have the power.

America Isn’t Easy

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

Movie Speech from “The American President” (1995)