“Don’t underestimate just how badly many people want to fit in. We say we want to root for the underdog, but actually, we want to be seen as rooting for whomever everyone else is rooting for.” ~ Seth Godin, January 2012
Reader’s note: This is an Op-Ed that I wrote in November 2011 and submitted to several major newspapers and national publications. Because of the “legalese” involved with Op-Ed submissions (every publication wants exclusivity for around 4-6 weeks before deciding on whether or not to publish), I neglected to post it here until months later.
However, as the relevance of this piece remains in 2012 and beyond, I felt it necessary to post here for your consideration. :)
Op-Ed: We Blame the Boogeyman, But Can’t Stop Voting for Him (November 2011)
Say what you will about the Occupy Wall Street movement — the accompanying popular sentiment that has swept the nation into a fist-shaking frenzy of Robin-Hoodism has further revealed a near-sickening and certainly backwards trend in modern America: we love to blame the Boogeyman, but we can’t stop voting for him.
The lifeblood of Occupy Wall Street pins blame upon a marginal and mysterious “1%” — a heinously selfish, profit-at-any-cost, cut-throat class of purely terrible human beings who are crippling our entire world with their selfish backwardness.
This so-called “1%” is Occupy Wall Street’s very own Boogeyman.
He has no face, no name, few true characteristics; they only define him by high social status, prestigious job title, and an exorbitant amount of wealth. We — in spirit, apparently as underdog-loving citizens — occupy the streets outside of his corporate palaces, but he occupies the utmost stratosphere of social prestige and career success that most of us can only hope to attain.
The real problem, however, is that this very same “Boogeyman” is the only cut of individual that we ever consider voting into political office.
In a near-sickening twist of irony, the same social measures of material and career success that have made villains of big bankers are, quietly and often unconsciously, the very same gauges that we collectively use to assess and shallowly qualify the electability of leaders that we send to Washington D.C.
We hate the Boogeyman for all that he owns. We hate the Boogeyman for where he ranks in society, and for the power and popularity he seems to possess. And yet today’s Congress is one of the most wealthy collections of Senators and Representatives in the entirety of American history.
In fact, more than one-third of the most recent class of first-time elected lawmakers were already millionaires when sent into office. Even throughout the hardships of today’s Great Recession, the fifty richest lawmakers saw their combined worth reach a staggering $1.4 billion — all while millions upon millions of voting Americans took to welfare, food stamps and unemployment.
We hate the Boogeyman, but we can’t help but look to him as a leader because of everything he owns, is worth, and has conglomerated — especially when we want it, ourselves.
And so we shake our fists. But we don’t reconsider how we define leaders, or who we hope to have lead us.
Absent is the simple desire for technocrats who get things done.
Drunk are we, instead, on compulsively electing the nation’s social elite as if their professional resumes may contain within them a few choice gems for instant reductions in federal spending, a simple method to create multiple millions of jobs, or a magical pill for student debt alleviation.
Our nation has been crippled in recent years by a massive, historic, widespread leadership problem. This modern leadership problem — a deficit of trust, an absence of accountability, an outright endemic of insipid and incapable leaders — has spanned both Republican and Democratic parties and is neither indicative of the partisan issues that entertain them nor popular trends that captivate us on the evening news.
In the end, the leadership problem lives and dies with us — We, The People — and our simple, even subconscious perceptions of what it really means to be a leader, and who we instinctively consider to be the best candidates for election: the terribly uninspired elite, in whom we find gross, callous, shallow comfort in voting because of the size of their wallets and not the size of their hearts.
As our leaders on both sides of the aisle do nothing but bicker and let us down, Americans ought to do less fist-shaking from behind our television sets and question why, exactly, we have quietly grown to qualify potential leaders in our world as those who reside within this same “Boogeyman” class of the elite and privileged few — an extremely well-off and powerful “1%” of men and women among us whom we love to loathe.
How long can we continue to blame the Boogeyman, when we can’t stop voting for him?
The solution is neither to qualify, nor discredit, potential political leaders based upon their net worth, job titles or credentials. What we need is to entirely reframe the leadership conversation — and remember a nation’s true purpose.
America in 2012 is a nation devoid of purpose — except, sadly, for the purpose of merely struggling to survive.
We need to recall why the American experiment exists. Why we are here. Why we live, wake up each morning, work, struggle, love and fight on. “We, The People” need to begin to ask of our leaders, “Not only what do you wish to do, and how do you wish to do it — but, why do you wish to lead at all?”
The answer is our freedom. Life, liberty and the pursuit — a right by birth and one deserved by all, indiscriminately. And suddenly, when asking this question of our leaders, the playing field is evened. No more callous infatuation with followers, titles and resumes. No more sheep-like gravitation to the leader who appears most popular. No more subconscious assumptions that our leaders ought to be plucked from the social elite.
No more percentages. No more Boogeyman.
Just real, honest leadership.
Flickr photo credit: Darwin Yamamoto