Monday, January 16, 2017

Job #1 Before and After The Inauguration: Courageous Idealism

Inaugurate (verb) 1. to make a formal beginning of; initiate; commence; begin.

How to begin a new job? 

We’ve all faced this question: first day in the office, first time as the boss, first moments as a leader in an organization or on a team.  How we start, how we begin, how we inaugurate: it matters. It sets the tone.  It indicates to those being led, what the future might bring, and reveals the character of a leader.

Some leaders start with a dramatic flourish to say, “I’m in charge now.” A friend of mine, lifelong military, witnessed such “flagpole” leaders. A new commanding officer would arrive on base and within a day or two, the flagpole was moved from its old spot to a new spot, to remind the troops that there was “a new sheriff in town”.  In my work I’ve received plenty of advice about starting a job. Change everything that you can as soon you can. Change nothing and instead listen to folks and lay the groundwork for change. 

How to begin a new job?

That’s the question facing our President-elect, who this week arrives “on base” to begin his new job for the next four years. The political and social atmosphere within which he takes office is in the toughest of shape: more divided, angrier, and so red hot in the fiery caldron of partisanship.  On Friday he’ll take the oath before hundreds and thousands of his raucous, adoring fans. On Saturday he’ll look out a White House window and see in the distance a crowd of hundreds of thousands of his raucous, abhorring opponents.

How to begin his new job?

Here’s some of my hopes and prayers for January 20th…that we as citizens will be called to be our best, and not our worst. Please appeal to the better nature of our humanity, our angels, and not our more mean spirited impulses. At this profound pivot point in the story of our nation, ask us as citizens to give and not just get; to sacrifice and not just seek self interest. Make us the kind of country other lands might wish to become as well.  As citizens inspire us to build up and not merely tear down.

He’s got a job to do and I will absolutely pray for him.  But as citizens, we have a new job to do as well, from January 20th onwards.

How to begin our new job?

With idealism: that's what I'm praying and hoping for. To have the courage and commitment to still believe in the promise of democracy.  To roll up our sleeves and organize and do the job of citizen, no matter where we find ourselves on the political spectrum.  To think nationally and globally and act locally: in towns and cities, neighborhoods and states, houses of worship and workplaces. To listen, really listen, to those whom we are tempted to dismiss as the opposition. To protest when we must, but then to put down the signs and do the work of community building: compromise, negotiation, and coming together to create and renew our shared home.

Some, perhaps most folks, will see such civic ideals as too unrealistic, especially in 2017, as we live into a political reality unlike any before. To have any idealism about the United States or the state of this world may seem naive at best, Pollyannaish at worst. Add to this the tone of current social discourse--snarky, accusative, divisive, and ugly, exponentially magnified by the craziness of our social media—and it is very tough to be idealistic.    

But as a person of faith, a human being and a citizen I am still idealistic. I still trust in the basic goodness and best intentions of my fellow Americans.  This idealism is the lifeblood of free and hopeful people.  This idealism rejects apathy which says, “I do not care.”  This idealism defeats cynicism, a spiritual cancer for any group of people. This idealism is the only way to live, at least for this citizen.

We’ve all got a job to do come January 20th, from the Oval Office to Main Street.  How will we begin?  Let’s start with idealism.