Sunday, July 3, 2011

Courage Has Nothing to Do with It

Clausewitz, King Arthur and Our Founding Fathers Weigh in on the Debt Crisis
I'm rereading Clausewitz (the 19th century Prussian general who, many agree, is the father of modern strategic thought) in preparation for teaching the Strategic Communication class at NYU this summer and see a link to the current debt ceiling issue.

As we approach the cliff, we hear politicians and pundits say, "We must have courage to do the right thing for the American people." The problem is that courage has nothing to do with our current situation.

Let's face it. The impasse has much too little to do with being right or about logic or about serving the broad interests of the population. It's much more about power and control. Clausewitz wrote, "Obstinacy is not a defect of the understanding. Rather, obstinacy is a defect of the emotions. The unwillingness to bend, a resistance to judgments not one's own, only have their basis in a particular type of selfishness, which places above every other pleasure that of using one's mind to exert control over oneself and others."

Our Founding Fathers and the generations of leaders who followed didn't take us on a straight line to success. Our history has been a bumpy path but one that always led forward. Yet, we stand on the brink of moving backward in a really significant way for the very first time. The health of our economy (and our society, not to mention the impact a default might have on global markets) is caught up in positioning, gratification and selfishness.

This ties back to my blog post of April 8th (How "Camelot Wisdom" Can Address Our Political and Budget Woes). We need more understanding, mutual respect, empathy and a willingness to accept incremental change -- and fast. I don't know where the much needed wake-up call will come from. Can a nation so divided come together and shake the tree of government to demand positive action? I hope so. But with so much posturing, with such heated rhetoric and message spinning, it's easy to understand that many citizens are dazed to the point of paralysis.

As Congress comes back after the Fourth of July holiday, I hope they can channel even a tenth of the character of our founders and set us back on a positive course. They were the ones with courage. They risked their lives and invented a great nation. Our leaders today must not squander that inheritance.

Between blog posts, you can follow me @pauloestreicher.