“tank man” in Tiananmen Square

Crisis of Courage: Seduced by Mediocrity

“tank man” in Tiananmen Square

“tank man” in Tiananmen Square, 1989, AP photo used with permission

Do you wonder why things are so mediocre today? Do you wonder why our leaders seem to be playing it safe, unwilling to risk, stick their necks out, or take a chance based on principle? Is this a crisis of courage or what some might call a lack of bravery?

Indigenous cultures have long talked of the value of bravery in their leaders, possessing the courage to take bold steps in leading people, being bold and confident. These leaders stood by their values and were unwavering and consistent, allowing their tribes, villages or communities to rely on them, trust them and follow them.As I look around at the adolescent society we have created in the last couple of centuries, I don’t see much courage in our existing leaders. Few take strong stands based on principles and values that reflect the well-being of the whole society. Special interests might gather some loud voices but few seem to champion “the good of all.” Almost all seem to be compromised, co-opted by some conflicting set of values.

Rather than stand out as individuals, adolescents tend to simply “go along” in order to be accepted by their peers. They conform with the crowd because they are afraid of being branded “weird” or “odd,” or labeled in some other way suggestive of someone “not fitting in.” So it isn’t any great surprise in an adolescent culture like we have that our leaders are all going along with their party lines, remaining loyal to their clique and fitting in to a fault.

Never mind that the people aren’t getting what they expected from their elected leaders; never mind that the needs of the country have been subordinated to their adolescent whims; and never mind that they aren’t doing what they are getting paid to do. It all pales in view of their need to get reelected and to be loyal to their party, even if this loyalty is perverse and goes against the best interests of the people.

In 1955, a book by the name of Profiles in Courage won a Pulitzer Prize. It was a volume of short biographies describing acts of bravery and integrity by eight U.S. Senators. The senators crossed party lines and defied the opinion of their constituents – in today’s world that would also include lobbyists – to do what they felt was right. They suffered severe criticism and losses in popularity because of their actions. I would think anyone would be hard pressed to find eight legislators who could stand up to this kind of scrutiny today.

The result of this lack of true leadership today doesn’t even rise to the level of mediocrity. Mediocrity infers something is being done, even if it is not being done well. Near as I can see, nothing meaningful is getting done while legislators fiddle away our hopes and dreams and expectations that they will actually produce something for their paychecks. Almost all of them have been seduced by the power of their office and some of them cannot even see how ludicrous things are – how lacking in courage they are, how immature they are behaving.

If we don’t object, they will continue for they have no reason to grow up unless we insist they do.