Recycling: On making a difference, engaged leadership, and a New American Dream

From the archives of this blog, cogitations for change agents:

1. Advice to Young (and Not So Young) Folks Who Want to Make a Difference (October 2009) — “If you want to make a difference, find something you care about and stick with it. Look around you: Most of the difference makers have staying power. They are driven by heartfelt commitment and a desire to do something meaningful.”

2. Wheatley’s call for fearlessness and engagement (July 2009) — Organizational change expert Margaret Wheatley: “If leaders took the time to engage people instead of clamping down on them, not only would employees perform better, they’d also be more innovative and focused.”

3. Greider’s New American Dream (May 2009) — Journalist William Greider: “Here is the grand vision I suggest Americans can pursue: the right of all citizens to larger lives. Not to get richer than the next guy or necessarily to accumulate more and more stuff but the right to live life more fully and engage more expansively the elemental possibilities of human existence.”

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[Editor’s Note: In addition to maintaining a list of articles that have remained very popular on this blog — see the Popular and Notable Posts page — every month or so I’m recycling relevant posts from more than a year ago. Hopefully they will be of interest to newer readers.]

5 responses

  1. These all sound great IF you are rich or near rich. Most working families find themselves worried too much about keeping a job – any job – to keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. They are not interested in “larger lives”. Many of them are now depressed. They are working brutally long hours — a friend of mine is working 50 hours ( that is his minimum work week) with overtime on top of that). Another is underemployed with little or no health insurance and is on the pasta diet — she eats pasta once a day. “Fearlessness and engagement” is no longer in their vocabulary and these people are becoming a larger and larger part of our population. The rest of us wonder when, not if, we will be next so we are no longer interested in engagement either. We despirately need change but the very people who would vote for it are in survival mode. I know several — formally middle class – who have said they aren’t even going to vote any longer because they feel neither party gives a damn about anyone but the wealthy.

    • Trish,

      I agree wholeheartedly with you on the economic desperation facing millions of people, but the logical conclusion to where you’re going with this is to simply give up, and I think it’s worth explaining why:

      The new vision that William Greider calls for is a reaction to some of the very excess that got us here in the first place. For example, how many middle class people would not be so struggling today if they hadn’t bought homes with little/nothing down and run up credit card debt buying stuff they didn’t need? Do we really want more people to go down that path?

      As for leadership, Margaret Wheatley is challenging the kinds of management practices that leave workers stressed out, exhausted, sick, and abused. Sure, most managers earn more than their subordinates — sometimes a lot more — but does that mean we stop encouraging better ways of running organizations?

      Most of the folks demonstrating a sustained commitment to difference-making work are not wealthy — they are toiling away in non-profits, small businesses, schools, and volunteer capacities. While I concur that someone facing eviction may not be in a position to think and act this way, aren’t there still plenty of others who can?

      As for the major political parties, they’re a lot more the same than I’d like, and too many elected officials sell out in the most disappointing ways. But to say there’s effectively no difference between parties is to ignore past and current realities concerning unemployment benefits, medical coverage, Social Security, minimum wage laws, worker protections, civil rights laws, and so many other basic safeguards.

      Overall, I am not terribly optimistic about our future. But if we throw in the towel, then there is no hope whatsoever of pushing back the powerful forces who have been using divide-and-conquer tactics in such a brutally effective manner.

      David

  2. Trish,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your points (and with David’s) but there are a lot of us who would give anything to be able to have a job — 50 hours a week plus OT is a terrible load — but there are many of us who would really appreciate the income.

  3. I haven’t given up the fight ( I am sure my national and state reps think I am going steady with them due to the number of letters they receive from me)– but we need to understand why so many people have given up and why that will get worse as more and more people are thrown out of the middle class. In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ( http://www.abraham-maslow.com/m_motivation/Hierarchy_of_Needs.asp ) — a higher and higher number of people are finding themselves at the bottom of that triangle. IF his theory holds water ( I believe it does) they will not advance to the next level until the needs of the lower ones are met. Until we can somehow provide them the support so that they can re-engage, democracy is in trouble. The rich will get richer and the rest of us will tear each other apart for the scraps ( which is already happening).

    I partially agree with Mary that any job is better than none — but it is negatively affecting the health of my friend – high blood pressure, migraines, depression and anxiety. Will he live to 66? 62? You have to wonder. I can’t imagine he would make it to 70 and with work weeks like that and no sick leave and little vacation time by the way. The fact that so many peoploe are willing to sacrifice thier health for a job indicates how far we have regressed in terms of the labor movement that created the middle class.

    We need shorter workweeks, by law if necessary; paid sick leave and vacation time(some small businesses are being brutal to thier employees in this area), and safety nets without all the holes, as well as getting workplace bullying legislation on the books.

    • Trish,

      For me this highlights the critical importance of a strong, inclusive labor movement. It’s the only mechanism we have that takes these individual struggles and puts the power of the group behind them.

      Regardless of whether one buys into Maslow (I’m a qualified believer — I don’t think that human responses/needs fit the model so uniformly, but the general idea is sound), meeting basic survival needs is a heckuva lot more likely in a communal setting rather than a completely individualistic one.

      Greeks are in the streets right now protesting their economic situation. Americans, however, are more likely to deal with these survival challenges in a desperate, lonely struggle. Some of them who do vote opt for candidates whose supported policies are against their interests. (No doubt there are people facing cut-offs of unemployment benefits who voted for the very officeholders who believe they are lazy and unmotivated.)

      Labor unions gave us the idea of a weekend. They turned lousy jobs into good jobs by bargaining over pay and benefits. Today, more and more unions are supporting workplace bullying legislation, while the Chamber of Commerce and Society for Human Resources Management vehemently oppose it.

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