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Reviving the Republic – The Spirit

I have become convinced that entitlement has become such a huge problem in the US and developed countries in general, only a strong doze of the republican virtues on which the United States was founded could revive us and usher in a new era of prosperity for ourselves and our children.

 

No, it won’t come from the Republican Party, at least in its current form of radicalism. Republicans are just as guilty as the Democrats for creating the entitlement mess in the first place. In simplest terms, extremists among Democrats believed that every human impulse is good and justified while their counter part Republicans believed that only select ones, especially those proven virtuous in the past, are worth trying. Pushed to the extreme, as the current state of American politics are, both beliefs become dysfunctional: ‘absolute’ democracy leads to chaos in the face of larger reality than humanity itself; ‘pure’ republicanism results in despotism when innovative and unconventional ideas are deprived of existence.

 

A true republican believes in both the limitations and possibilities of advancements in human nature. In reality, such a republic exists and lives only in the spirit of independently minded individuals in all walks of life, like you and me. No, I don’t mean we should all go out and promote a new kind of political activism, at least not in the way that political campaigns are traditionally conducted. We can only accomplish it by applying the Republican virtues to what we do everyday at work, in our homes and with each other. It means to exercise our judgments of when human enterprises and affairs have gone out of balance and practice our skills of how to restore their ‘natural’ balances in a sustainable manner. For example, in a typical business setting such as Corporate America, progresses can be made and indeed only made by identifying and correcting such imbalances at all levels of the organization and up and down the supply chains. It can take place in many forms. The most constructive but also challenging is through learning, that is, people learn to recognize such imbalances in themselves and their organizations and correct them by their own will and initiative. The whole organizational learning movement of 1990s and total quality movement of the 1980s was intended to create such self-correcting organizations and promote leaders who live by such principles. The difficulties are typically human: only leaders who are already embodying such vision and skills are capable of creating such organizations; on the other hand, the vast majority of human organizations not only lack such visionary and courageous leaders, the prevailing culture actively suppresses and suffocates the development of such leadership. Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey spoke out about this truth in their new book, ‘Immunity to Change’. If you work for an imperfect organization, like most of us do, and aspire to the true republican values, the most promising path is through self-improvement, not job hunting, although the two are not absolutely mutually exclusive. My experiences with various professional communities of practice have persuaded me that the former is vastly under leveraged while abuse of the latter is wide spread by today’s workers. ‘Learned Helplessness’, a terminology popularized by the Positive Psychology movement, is pandemic in all organizations. Most managers and professionals have become too cynical to even give self-improvement a try. They have learned only too well how dysfunctional their host organizations have become and decided to focus on winning the rat race instead. The only problem is that they remain a rat even in winning! To turn this difficult corner, the individuals must have two things going for them: enough fires in their belly and sufficient skills to put that fire to work in everyday situations. As hard as it is to cultivate the skills, it’s even harder to stoke the fires for most people. There lies the root cause of entitlement, in addition to and more than the wastefulness of big government (Democrat) and the greed of the rich getting richer (Republican).

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