Friday, November 20, 2009

"When Was the Last Time You De-Learned?"

Thinking about leadership and how different the challenges of the 21st century are from the 20th. Here is a piece I ran across from the Harvard Business Review that made me think even more. We have a vacuum in wise political leadership for sure in so many ways and at so many levels.

We also have a vacuum in business leadership too as elites become more distant and disconnected from the daily reality of ordinary people.

We need a renewed sense of citizenship and leaders with skills to deal with a more integrated consciousness so our institutions, society and culture can begin to cope with the complexity and growing urgency of the human and ecological condition.

Our institutions are anemic and we are dragged into diversions like the circuses of celebrity culture and the stylized rituals of reality show silliness. This is what our culture is offering us as a substitute and distraction so we can avoid facing up to the serious challenges of being human.

I am haunted by Chris Hedges words in his enormously provocative book "Empire of Illusion" when he says: "A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death."

How much will we have to de-learn about the modernist and traditionalist mindset of our conventional culture before we can begin to grasp these progressive imperative for survival not merely sustainability?

Jared Diamond in his book “Collapse” list many contributing factors to social decay but what resonated with me was the dislocation between the short term interests of elites and the longer term concerns and needs of a society. Albertans are seeing a general rise in casual corruption, mismanagement and political inertia in the business and political elites in the province. Be it resource royalties or reclamation resistance by the energy sector or the indifference and ineptness of government to have the political will to enact and enforce laws for the greater good with a long-view politically.

Hedges notes these conditions, that are prevalent in Alberta today, “…almost always result in widespread cynicism, disengagement, apathy and finally rage. Those who suffer the consequences of this mismanagement lose any loyalty to the nation (province?) and increasingly nurse fantasies of violent revenge.”

One has to wonder just how far the average American is from this latter stage when you read headlines in the Globe and Mail Report on Business today “U.S. Housing Crises Hits New Levels.” Almost 1 of every 7 home owners in the States faces foreclosure, including many with good credit ratings.

This is happening while the Wall Street elites are back on the bonus track, gorging themselves using borrowed taxpayer money to pay the bonuses. Labour is still shedding jobs on Main Street. Politicians act like they are immune for a few years, until the next election. And companies like Goldman Sachs are on “image-repair missions.” They cancelled their Christmas Party this year to show their sincerity.

Such futile superficial gestures will do nothing to stop the criticism of Wall Street or to mitigate against the image of pure greed that still seems to be the primary motivation for the elites of the US financial sector.

According to Hedges this “…collapse is more than an economic and political collapse. It is a crisis of faith.” I wonder how this reality will play out in Canada and in Alberta in particular.