A few years ago, all hope by people seemed lost in government. The last great bastion of social services, social security, seemed to be on the chopping block. There were going to be cutbacks on how much any person might get in cost-of-living adjustments. People on fixed incomes who had worked their entire lives for this money, who had had their pensions lost or stolen in the stock market, were now going to have to worry about what would happen to their income again.
In the midst of this, Elizabeth Warren stood up and said, “We’re going about this the wrong way. Instead of cutting social security, we should be increasing it. People need this”. People were stunned. Prevailing wisdom, and the mood of leaders was that either a) we should cut every social program, including this one or b) we should prevent that from happening. The idea of increasing funding wasn’t even on the table. While I like Elizabeth Warren, I tell this story not so much as support for her, but as a parable of sorts.
As this week’s news of Palestinian and Israeli fighting continues, as someone in Ukraine shot down a plane with AIDS researchers on it and considered that leadership, it seems to me that we are aiming too low when we think about leaders these days. As any parent can attest, a five-year-old can destroy things. Destruction takes no creative genius at all. It takes no intelligence, or thought, or patience, or creativity anything we would think of as mature, adult thinking — and yet we strive to become adults in our personal lives. Is it too much to ask for our organizations to do the same? Is it too much to ask for government, or military, or business leaders to do the same?
Building friendships takes work, patience, coping skills, forgiveness, and other skills we wish to impart to our children. Building communities — a larger extension of building friendships — requires the same things of us. Building lasting relationships between nations or companies or citizens and government requires these things in spades. Why should we hire or elect or support a “leader” for anything who can only do what a five-year-old can do? Shouldn’t we be demanding more from leaders? Shouldn’t we be looking for diplomatic, caring, and practical who can build a lasting peace or roads or programs or even just safe neighborhoods?
I don’t expect we’ll ever get it totally right, but what we are doing isn’t working because we’re not even asking the right questions of our leaders. Instead of asking them not to make things worse, let’s ask them to make things better. Instead of watching candidate after candidate strive to make the most outrageous statements, let’s ask them about their skills to build something. Let’s ask them about their skills as diplomats. Let’s ask them to prove their intelligence. Let’s ask for their vision of a better world that offers more support to people. Let’s ask them to prove their maturity. Is that really too much to ask?