The New Year is right around the corner, and it’s time to take stock of where we are, how we got here, and where we want to go. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking in the past few weeks about these ideas and as much as I would like to keep things as positive as possible during the holiday season, the answers seem troubling. We’re not in a good place as a society. Our conversations, public and private are as coarse and unforgiving as I have ever seen. Our focus is completely inward and mostly narcissistic. Technology is exacerbating all of these trends and we are more divided than ever before, even when we’re on the same side! We’re adrift and floating along with no direction or hope that our current situation is going to change. Mount Vernon, like any community is a mirror of the larger society we live in, and what that mirror is showing us is troubling. So, how did we get here?
There are a lot of theories about what happened, when and how we got to this particular place. Some blame certain individuals who have divided us along political, social or cultural lines – a sort of “cult of personality” that is a lightning rod for societal division. Whether it’s Donald Trump or Barack Obama or maybe all the way back to Ronald Reagan as the theory goes, these powerful individuals have cultivated an “us versus them” vision of society where you are either on one side or the other. Deviating from their vision is equivalent to treason and cause for being ostracized from both sides.
Some put their finger on an increasingly technological world, one that tends to distract and separate us more than unite us. Even though information flow and social connectivity are at their peak, we somehow feel even more isolated and alone. In the Information Age, information has become weaponized as conspiracy theories, and fake news is passed off as fact to more people than ever. Online anonymous bullying has become the norm, not the exception and our children are inventing false adult narratives about themselves and, in the process, creating easier prey for predators. For a generation of people so invested in their online personas, the consequences are all too devastating and severe. It is heart breaking to see stories of children driven to suicide by social media criticism. A sad irony runs through those stories of course – the desire for social connection left them hopeless and without even a single person on whom to lean for support.
Personally, I think both of those theories are just symptoms of a much larger disease. The real sickness in society is rooted in the loss of our collective moral compass, our sense of drawing a definitive line between what is right and what is wrong. Without a fundamental moral code, lies are just “alternative truths” and cheating is just “a means to an end.” It probably began with the systematic dismantling of God and religion in public and sadly even in private life. In an ill-conceived effort to not offend and be more inclusive, we have replaced it with a divided civilization built on offense, both giving and receiving. Religion of any kind provides people with a moral code and, by participating in a religious community that code is reinforced and strengthened. When you take that away you produce a vacuum leaving a void that still needs to be filled. Some have filled it with things like “spiritualism”, environmental zeal or some shallow form of self-love that do not provide a moral direction.
This lack of moral compass shows itself in our politics and in our dealings as leaders too, with no exception. Leadership is a team sport, and it’s supposed to be dominated by the word “we.” Unfortunately, the word “I” is too often used in its place. Political traditions that were once the foundation on which smooth transition of government was accomplished is now called into question. Personal attacks are too quickly and too severely thrown around – without regard for the long-term implications. The will of the people has been reduced in favor of the politician’s ego and the resemblance of integrity is gone. When a politician can say something one day and ignore what he or she has said without repercussions whatsoever, the system is broken.
When the system is broken you get gridlock, in fighting, petty squabbling, lawsuits and criminal activity demonstrating a total disrespect for the people you represent. I would love to say that the answer is as simple as “throw the bums out.” But, it may be that we have created the very problems we seek to remedy and we don’t have the tools to easily fix it. For each “offense” to the system there are enablers and apologists who rationalize the offensive behavior.
Let’s start by taking a hard look at our-selves and try to find our moral center. Let’s acknowledge that being right is not a subjective notion and that being wrong is not worthy of praise. Let’s start by listening to each other and resisting the urge to discount others’ viewpoints because it didn’t come out of our mouths. Mostly, let’s hold people accountable for their judgment especially if that judgment is flawed. Doing the wrong things for the right reasons is fundamentally no different than doing them for the wrong reasons. Our politics and life needs to be rooted in a deep sense of fairness, integrity, and trust – all things that flow from a solid moral center.
None of us are above the fray and we all play our part. We each share the blame for the society we have produced which, means we all must play a part in reshaping it for the better. As we look to the New Year, let’s do so with a direction, a purpose, and a promise to not compromise moral values for more shallow and hollow pursuits.
Let’s also agree on a simple plan: the future of Mount Vernon is in our hands entirely and if we hope for greatness, we must demand accountability from our leaders. If we wish for success, we must expect professionalism. And, if we ever want to move forward, we need to stop making excuses for those who hold us back.
I wish each of you a healthy and a happy holiday season, and I look forward to seeing the people of Mount Vernon embrace the New Year and all its exciting possibilities.
If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or any other, reach out to me at ADWCMV@gmail.com.