The Required Sea Change Shift in Leadership & Culture
We live in a chaotic, confusing time filled with a muddled, mongrelized view of culture, leadership, and the human race’s relationship to itself, its institutions, its economy, its businesses, and its environment.
Sufficiency for Sustainability (S4S) requires more than an economic policy for its sustenance.
For prosperity to flourish for all, the aim of Sustainability must be implanted in fertile soil – a culture of cooperation led by enlightened, trusted leaders committed to a long-term greater-good for all.
For the Sufficiency economy to function, governmental policy must be supported by a universal shift in thinking and beliefs – a shift away from the chaotic disorder brought about by a generation of “greed is good,” self-interest focused leaders.
A shift toward a compassionate, collaborative culture, away from a tactical, transactional & adversarial, authoritarian culture is needed. As noble as the cause may be, S4S, cannot evolve, prosper, and grow in a callous or cynical environment. No policies or studies will foster S4S if people view it through a cynical lens.
Unless we capture the hearts and minds of people -- from rich to poor, from highly educated to highly intuitive --with a powerful message of collaborative excellence and build a world on collaborative (holistic, synergistic) beliefs, we are doomed to the fate of roller-coaster, up-and-down, upside-down world.
The Stirring Call for a Re-Enlightenment
Our institutions are no longer trusted (see State of Distrust). This creates a perturbing social angst: betrayal, fear, hurt, anger, anxiety, disillusionment and helplessness. The breach of distrust is burdened with the penalties of dire consequences.
Like a stick of dynamite thrust into a fault-line, authoritarian leaders manipulate large chunks of citizens, exploiting their yearning for security, sowing fear, uncertainty, divisiveness and doubt, while at the same time posturing as saviors if they only pledge loyalty.
Across the globe, democracies are led by faltering leaders with little vision, poor values, and lack of character.
Culture is the Device for Transmitting Knowledge & Wisdom
Leadership, exercised through institutions, more than any other factor, creates a civilization’s culture. Culture, when ordered and inspired creates the stable ground for wise decisions in times of change.
Our leaders are failing us. By not rebuilding trust in institutions, we are throwing open our gates to the barbarian authoritarians storming the walls of civilization.
Yet these are also exciting times. As Charles Dickens said in the opening sentences of the Tale of Two Cities (my rendition):
It is the best of times, and the worst of times. It is the brightest of days and the darkest of nights. It is the morning of our hope and the twilight of our despair. It is the birth of our dreams and the struggle of our anxiety. It is the spring of our glory and the winter of our discontent.
On the one hand, we are caught in the iron grip of divisiveness, conflict, and distrust. Authoritarianism is gaining an ignoble ascendency across the globe. Its leaders are dark. People are asking if we are cruising headlong into another Dark Age?
On the other hand, as we learned in physics, every force creates counter-forces. Trump’s negative force is causing a positive reaction by some. It’s time to capture the high ground in these times of dynamic change.
We as a human species hold the best and the worst of outcomes in our hands. The choices we, and a multitude of others, make from here to the horizon of the future near will determine the fate of millions, if not billions.
After the bubonic plague decimated half of Europe’s people in the Middle Ages, there was widespread despair. Thought leaders broke out of the malaise with the "Renaissance" -- the rebirth of values and vision, derived primarily from the Greeks, and secondarily Romans.
The Renaissance then evolved into the 18th century "Age of Enlightenment," which produced America’s Founding Fathers, and inspired scores of leaders to create the resilient structures that now constitute the foundation of our modern civilization.
The Enlightenment energized leaders to think and act rationally, to build morality and character into community decision-making, to provide a full, well balanced education to all, to explore new lands, to invent breakthrough technologies and advance scientific progress, to question and create, to unify in diversity, to ensure basic freedoms and liberties, to secure religious expression with separation of church and state, and advance constitutional democracy with checks and balances to avoid extremes.
We have strayed far off the mark from this vision and these values. We have lost our “north star” that guides leaders and culture to produce extraordinary results.
Today we need to create our own "Age of Re-Enlightenment" -- taking its cues from the enlightened thinkers and leaders of the 18th century -- to embrace a sustainable, peaceful, and prosperous world that is socially, economically, and environmentally friendly.
In the 18th century Enlightenment, much of the thinking expounded on the basic rights and freedoms, such as liberty, thought, religious belief, expression, press, peaceful assembly, and association. By contrast, the 21st century Re-Enlightenment must embrace its predecessor’s values, while also enjoining basic responsibilities every human has to each other, their community, and to their environment.
Disintegration of Trusted Culture
With limited exceptions, trust in the institutions that form the backbone of culture has declined precipitously. Since the First World War, institutions have been under assault. In the mid 1960s, the inner core of trust in institutions began to fall away rapidly. Since then the decline has been a steady drip, drip, drip of erosion. Generation after generation has been gradually losing their grasp on the future.
Now, after a century of slippage, things are quickly sliding beyond our reach.
The prophetic words of William Butler Yeats, written at the end of the Great War nearly one hundred years ago, are more revealing than most of us want to admit.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, And everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, While the worst are full of passionate intensity.
The dearth of trust leaves people empty, anxiety ridden, angry, fearful, and helpless. Astute manipulators prey upon the lack of institutional trust, tapping into the emotional void, posing as false gods, promising security to fill their yearning.
Too often, fateful decisions at the crossroads of destiny are left to chance, by a cast of the dice, rather than by conscious choice and careful consideration of the underlying design that can weigh the dice heavily in our favor.
Yes, we can beat the odds of chance, if we so choose. But destiny requires clarity of mission and purpose, and leadership to fulfill a shared vision.
The Need for Collaborative Leadership
The right type of leadership has been known for centuries; Mount Rushmore symbolizes their spirit.
Some have earned their stripes in war; others have championed causes in inner cities or in rural communities; others have honed their skills, committed their souls, and made massive sacrifices for seemingly impossible causes against insurmountable odds.
They demonstrated collaborative excellence.
Leaders of the Re-Enlightenment will exhibit the same collaborative excellence in their strategic thinking about vision and mission, in their building a culture of values and trust, in their operational ability to get results through teamwork, and in their mastery of adaptation to change by using diversity of thinking. Collaborative leaders do not hold a Pollyanna view of the world; rather they are enlightened realists recognizing the duality of human nature – ranging from the heights of greatness when led well, to the grey ground and dark depths when led poorly. The collaborative leader is not fearless – that would be abnormal; rather he or she is courageous (from the old French “Coeur”– meaning to have “Heart”).
Collaborative leaders do have fear, but conquer their fear by having a powerful vision, strong values, personal integrity, and commitment larger than their fears.
The Future of Civilization is at Stake
Historian Kenneth Clark, musing across the wide expanse of Western Civilization, saw the Greek period – the inspiration for the Age of the Enlightenment – as one of the most remarkable in human kind:
At certain epochs man felt conscious of something about himself – body and spirit – which was outside the day-to-day struggle for existence and the night-to-night struggle with fear; he has felt the need to develop these qualities of thought and feeling so that they might approach as nearly as possible to the ideal of perfection – reason, justice, physical beauty, all of them in equilibrium.
Western Europe inherited such an ideal. It had been invented in Greece in the fifth century before Christ and was without doubt the most extraordinary creation in the whole of history, so complete, so convincing, so satisfying to the mind and eye, that it lasted practically unchanged for over six hundred years.
In the larger sense, Rome fell because its people could trust neither their government, nor their fellow man, nor their culture for its lack of vision and ideals. When Rome finally crashed, its leaders had no more will to fight the evil barbarians at their gate; instead they made a Faustian bargain, and ultimately sold whatever semblance of their souls to an evil even greater than they. Fear drained their energy; fear is the greatest destroyer of trust. Ultimately the Roman culture lacked a conscience, which put Rome on a pathway to perdition. We are now following the Romans. Kenneth Clark observed:
Thinking about the almost incredible epoch of the Roman Empire tells one something about the nature of civilization. It shows that however complex and solid it seems, it is actually quite fragile. It can be destroyed. What are its enemies?
First of all fear – fear of war, fear of invasion, fear of plague and famine, [I might add fear of cruelty and injustice] that make it simply not worthwhile constructing things or planting trees or even planning next year’s crops. A world of fear and darkness [was] ready to inflict horrible punishment for the smallest infringement of a taboo.
It is the lack of confidence [distrust], more than anything else that kills civilization…..
Confidence [trust] in the society in which one lives, belief in its philosophy, belief in its laws, and confidence in one’s own mental powers… [along with]a vigorous belief in law and discipline.
Vigor, energy, vitality: All the great civilizations .. have had a weight of energy behind them.
People sometimes think that civilization consists of fine sensibilities and good conversation and all that. These can be among the agreeable results of civilization, but they are not what make a civilization, and a society can have these amenities and yet be dead and rigid.
We can destroy ourselves with cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as bombs.
Understanding how to create trust in a world of fear will be one of the great achievements of this next generation of the ReEnlightenment. We must not despair, but rather chart a courageous course into the future. As Clark concludes:
Western civilization has been a series of rebirths. Surely this should give us confidence in ourselves.
Ultimately our success as a civilized culture -- from the individual to the institutional: ourselves, our families, our communities, our religions, our government, and our businesses -- will depend on having the courage and vision and commitment to resurrect the Greek ideals reintroduced during the Renaissance and Enlightenment, taking them to an even higher level – the evolution of our cultural destiny dreamt by our Founding Fathers brought forward into the modern age.
The Re-Enlightenment and a Sustainable Planet – Our Noble Quest
Flourishing societies are filled with vision, purpose and direction – their “quest.”
In America in the 1700s was a quest for liberty, equality, and fair representation in a system of governance that could counter-balance extreme forces.
In the early 1800s, America’s quest was “manifest destiny” to signify our dream for the United States to hold all the territories from Atlantic to Pacific.
In the latter half of the 1800s it turned to a “techni-quest” as we discovered the secrets of electricity, telephones, automobiles, skyscrapers, and airplanes.
The Greek quest was a “metaquest,” meaning they were seeking something “above and beyond” what was known; an exploration of the nature of things.
The Roman quest was clearly a “conquest” of people and territory, often plagued with disastrous “inquest” which carried the roots of its own destruction.
The idea of seeing the world, its history and its future, in terms of a “quest” is important, for it dynamically directs, places value on, and focuses human energies.
Modern civilization has no real quest; we are without a grand vision, a deep purpose. Is this nihilism signifying the end of revelation? or the beginning of a new future?
Sustainability in a world of collaborative excellence and sustainability is a worthy quest of the emerging Age of Re-Enlightenment.
The future of our civilization is dependent upon our commitment to a renewal of vision, of energy, of values, and of trust.
The alternative – staying the course in a storm – is as bleak as a shipwreck.
The choice depends upon our resolution to create a bright and better future.
Choose now and choose well, before the bright future dims.
 Clark, Kenneth, Civilization, Harper Row, 1974, p 3.