Friday, June 17, 2011

who decides the common good?

This past week I read Rick Perlstein's 2008 book Nixonland, a look at how the 1960's shaped America's political landscape as we know it today. For some reason I have always been fascinated by the 1960's (I was born in 1959, so I missed the essence of the 60's in a personal way). Having read much about this era (and much about Richard Nixon), I found this book interesting and point-on in its thesis of how the years 1964-1972 created the political landscape we know and recognize today as liberal-conservative ideology.

The question I kept asking myself throughout the book was "who gets to determine what the common good should be?" In the 1960's there were the "radicals" who believed that the US should have pulled out of Vietnam and that civil rights, women's rights. and other "rights" needed to not only be law but needed to be accepted as "the American way of life." On the other side of the spectrum were the "conservatives" who wanted to keep things the way they were and believed that "rocking the boat" was not only anti-American but bordered on the cusp of sin. I remember (vaguely) my parents having discussion on these points and hearing about these debates in my school (though little did I know what was REALLY going on). So who was right - and who (if I had been of age) would I have been supporting during this time?

The "common good" has often been described as what is beneficial for the most people at a given time within a given community, with special regard given to those who have little or no voice in the matter. Each of the "sides" in the 1960's could easily have argued that their position was what was needed for the common good - and that any deviation from that position would hurt the common good. In my own little world, it becomes very easy for me to believe that what I believe is good, right, and salutary at any given time is what should be accepted as the common good. And yet, there are many people who will believe different from me. I then need to decide whether I am right in my thinking...or could someone else be "right" in this debate?

Leaders are those people who influence others towards a shared goal that benefits the common good (DC's personal definition of leadership). Understanding that the "common good" might mean different things to different people makes the leadership role difficult at times...mostly because it means that some people will disagree with the leader (and maybe not even like them). The conundrum for leaders is in wrestling with the paradox of defending what they believe to be the truth (their defintion of common good) and listening to, understanding, and considering the "rightness" of what the other side declares to be the common good. Perhaps it is in this paradoxical struggle that the understanding of the leader is sharpened and that a way toward a more communal understanding of "common good" can be achieved.

I have still to understand my fascination with the 1960's - perhaps it is because I 'just missed it" in my coming of age; perhaps it is because the times resonate with my personal world view; perhaps it is because I am still trying to reconcile some of my own beliefs at that time (coming from a conservative mid-western family and town) that I now know to have been wrong; or perhaps it is because I did come of age right after that time, and I want to know what it is that shaped my own coming of age. But this consideration is for another blog...stay tuned!

What period of history most fascinates you? And how does your understanding of it shape your personal leadership?

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