In our contentious world, it is wise that we pause and examine some of the foundations of our current chaos. We are assailed with ideological inputs from all sides. The moment someone calls for personal responsibility for social ills they are labeled insensitive, racist, or worse. When another utters the words, “systemic injustice” they are branded a Marxist. Dialogues end in both cases and resolutions are far away.
This essay is not about ideological preferences or even specific public policies. My aim is unveiling a phenomenon that hinders human flourishing: we have many good people trapped in bad systems. For decades I have listened to thoughtful women and men offer innovative solutions in classrooms and over coffee, only to go back into their offices and organizations that stifle creativity and promote conformity.
These bad systems almost have a life of their own. They breed fantasies and fatalism – promising the world with just a bit more money or promoting a bureaucratic apathy of hopelessness that hopes next year’s budget includes them. These bad systems are in private and public agencies and recognizing the signs and refusing to submit to the inevitable are the first steps forward toward liberation.
There are three insights that will help us find freedom. First, we must recognize the phenomena of systemic captivity. These include losing sight of the mission, self-preserving activities, and forgetting that all systems are supposed to serve the mission, not become an end in themselves. Second, we must accept that real change is painful and includes many finding new employment or learning new skills. Effectiveness includes new efficiencies. Institutional systems must be nimble. Transitions can be compassionate, but they will not be easy. Third, advocates of systems change will be marginalized, even hated. The purest motives and the wisest pathways will still meet the inevitable resistance to change.
Here are two applications that can change history. The first is commitment to a balanced federal budget and more local administration of vital programs. We need the universal ethics of federal influence (to ensure fairness) and the efficiencies of local systems for many public programs. Of course, there will be many job changes if we get serious about this. A second application more fun: non-profit and for-profit partnerships that help further flourishing with each bringing the best of their ethos and systems to the particular causes they are working on together. Good ethics and best practices apply to both kinds of organizations.
Before we label or libel leaders, let’s pause and look at the systems in place and see if we can find common cause in reform that leads to better results.
Dear conservative and progressive friends (and those of goodwill who dislike labels):
Throughout history movements for needed change are subverted by agendas contrary to the values of the initial advocates. Criminal justice and police reform, economic and educational change, ridding our souls and systems of racism – all of these and much more are worthy aims.
The well-orchestrated violence on the streets and the agendas of extremists are obscuring the legitimate (and painful) reform movements. When we stop reacting and start reflecting, there are creative ways forward that unite instead of divide.
Ethics are universal, but action begins locally. Better schools, new business opportunities, the end of banking and food deserts, and community-police cooperation…all of these require courage, wisdom, and love for neighbor, not burning buildings and refusing to listen to reason.
All of this begins with women and men who are thoughtful and refuse entrapment by ideological purity tests, Left or Right. Conservative friends unsparingly renounce racism and extreme nationalism and join with local leaders and foster conditions for flourishing. Liberal friends, renounce Antifa and other forms of violent overthrowing of government and honestly work with others for a more just world in the neighborhood.
Too many folks are paralyzed by fear of being seen as unpatriotic or unwoke. When this fear is replaced by faith in the Almighty, the courage to work toward justice, and the humility to discover pathways with others different from us, hope awakens, and communities thrive.
Pause. Breathe. Pray. Love your neighbor through your good work and acts of kindness. Read history. Stay alert to opportunities to serve. Foster justice. Turn off the media for a day and discover normal blood pressure.
Freedom of conscience is the first freedom.
Yes, I do want all around me to place their faith in Jesus Christ. This is an invitation, not intolerance, a voluntary act welcoming a believer into a new identity and sociology, not a political party or enslaving ideology.
And I affirm the liberty of those of other philosophies and religious to debate, share and digress from me. While we dialogue and evangelize, let’s make our neighborhoods flourish and be friends even with our deep differences.
Breaking free of generational oppression (cultural, economic, racial, social, spiritual) is a work of divine power…most often expressed through healthy relationships. As people of faith, hope and love, we have huge social capital – and when we intentionally make friends, the world changes. Every transformational story includes at least once inspiring relationship. Perhaps we are that person for someone.
2 challenges for today:
Libertarians: will you consider the common good and advocate for ethics and unselfishness as part of true liberty? You cannot unite Ayn Rand and Judeo-Christian values.
Socialists: your compassion must be united with economic sense. Removal of incentives chases creativity and innovation away and a large government class is no substitute for entrepreneurship.
There are better paths than these extremes.
Endless federal deficits. Porous borders and immigration chaos. Selective enforcement of oversight laws and regulations in the EPA and IRS. Health care for all that includes 2400+ exemptions, including government employees. A foreign policy without direction. Serious scandals dismissed as phony and a media that is rarely investigating those currently in power.
These and other problems are not five years in the making, though the current Administration has done little to resolve and much to exacerbate this state of affairs. Our current crises are a century in the making, beginning with some of the unintended consequences of the Roosevelt Administration in the first decade of the 1900s, continuing through the elitism of the Wilson years, accelerated by the policies of FDR and codified by LBJ’s Great Society in the 1960s. Neither Democratic or Republican leaders have been able to reverse the trends that are presently carrying our American experiment toward oblivion.
The fundamental issue for over a century is the disempowerment of individuals and local government by the Leviathan of ever-increasing federal power. It is important to note that this essay is not a nostalgic foray into a mythical past. We need federal agencies for everything from protecting civil rights to decent food and a clean environment. The ethical and social oversight that ensures freedom and opportunity is a vital part of the original intention of the founders. What was never in their minds and must be altered in ours was the federal administration of so much public money! The corruption, bad stewardship and inefficiencies of federal power hinder the good intentions of most citizens that want compassion, safety and reasonable public services.
We must begin a reversal today and re-empower local and state governments and restore the dignity of personal virtue as the critical foundation for liberty. This will not happen overnight and will call upon every moral and spiritual resource we possess. We can begin by taking ownership of our decisions and votes and calling upon public servants to serve rather than be enriched at our expense. We must not allow collectivist or libertarian extremists or social elites to control the public conversations critical to our future.
We can reverse a century of malfeasance in less than a decade if we will find the courage to stop over-promising and under-delivering largess and call upon the better natures our citizens to contribute to the common good through their business and charitable enterprises. We must welcome people of all faiths (or none) into the civil-political discourse and stop pretending that religious values have no place in public life. Coercion of conscience has no place in a free society, but faith convictions are not restricted to the private sphere. Polite and robust debate is good for freedom and we must not permit one political party or religious tradition to impose their will and stifle dissent.
Wealth can be created while caring for the environment and compensating employees fairly. The tax code needs complete transformation – and some folks will need to find other employment. Military readiness and care for veterans are important priorities. Our policies must stop rewarding irresponsible behavior. Our management of the public purse needs an overhaul, releasing some local, state and federal workers to the private sector. Immigration policy requires courage and decriminalizing drugs is a social folly.
All these words are easy to write – and extremely hard to practice because our system discourages disrupting current norms that might displace voters. When enough citizens find courage and their elected officials discover integrity, we can reverse the tides and uncover new wellsprings of potential and prosperity.