Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Inflection Point

It seems to me that we're at an inflection point in history: the shape of the future is unsettled. Our civilization hangs on the decisions we make now. Do we move forward to win the peace? Or retreat and cower before the thugs of the world? Do we give up hope and doom millions to misery? Or should we dream large and work to achieve a bright shining future?

If we want to change the world, I say it's time to dream large. You think that's too hard? Consider the story of Alex Scott. A mortally ill little girl with a lemonade stand raised more than $1,000,000 for childhood cancer research before she died at age 8. How could a mere child accomplish so much?

A success coach would encourage you to practice visualization, being very specific about the sensory input associated with achieving a given goal, such as running a race. Then you have to add emotional overtones, imagining how you'd feel when you've achieved your goal. The third step is taking action to acheive your desires. The theory is that you are what you think about. Think depressing thoughts all day, and your life will be miserable. Think inspiring thoughts and you can achieve amazing things.

The jihadists have it all over Westerners in the visualization department. They know exactly what they are trying to achieve, and have oodles of religious fervor adding the emotional punch. They definitely believe "Where there's a will, there's a way." And they are willing to persist in their quest over decades, if not centuries.

Western leaders, on the other hand, tend to blather platitudinous goo. They do not enlighten, or encourage, or inspire. They speak of Iraq as a problem to be solved and prefer "realism" to idealism. However, Michael Rubin writes that, "Realism promotes short-term gain, often at the expense of long-term security." He continues,
Both realism and progressivism have become misnomers. Realists deny reality, and embrace an ideology where talk is productive and governments are sincere. While 9/11 showed the consequences of chardonnay diplomacy, deal-cutting with dictators and a band-aid approach to national security, realists continue to discount the importance of adversaries' ideologies and the need for long-term strategies. And by embracing such realism, progressives sacrifice their core liberalism. Both may celebrate Mr. Rumsfeld's departure and the Baker-Hamilton recommendations, but at some point, it is fair to ask what are the lessons of history and what is the cost of abandoning principle.

The Christian church is not immune to fuzzy thinking about its identity and mission. When the newly ordained Episcopal presiding bishop is loathe to proclaim her own faith as the route to salvation, we have a problem. When Europeans wonder if the Catholic Church is committing slow suicide by enabling those that would destroy it, we have a problem. In their quest to avoid being judgmental, PC Christians forget the need for discernment. Discernment requires making distinctions, to recognize the difference between good and evil, truth and error. Discernment leads to clarity of thought and action.

Westerners need to create a clear and compelling vision of the future world we want to inhabit, one that we can fervently and enthusiastically join together to make a reality. Setting the agenda, not just reacting to world events, requires a well-developed sense of how we want to improve ourselves, our cities, our states, our nation, and our world. Presidents Reagan and Clinton both understood the need for aspirational leadership, conveying their visions with consummate story-telling.

The stories we tell ourselves say a lot about what we want to do, and what we think of ourselves. Stories help us tether abstract ideas to the real world, providing concrete examples of the principles the leader wants us to consider. The language we use is important, for it can inspire us or depress us, encourage us to find new answers or chastise us for trying to change the system. We can imagine the best of all possible worlds, or worry ourselves into a pit of despair.

Fortunately, we don't have to wait on our politicians or prelates to tell us what to aspire to. If a little girl with a lemonade stand can change the world, imagine what each of us can accomplish!

Food for thought:
[Update 11/17/06] Follow-up post: Changing the Conversation