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John Florez: America needs leadership not brinkmanship

Published: Saturday, Nov. 9 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

America needs leadership not brinkmanship.

Alex Brandon, AP

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“...in her hour of agony, America needs physicians, not executioners,” John W. Gardner.

Americans are hurting. We are more divided, more polarized, and where 1 percent are doing very well and 99 percent are not. We have more children and families going hungry, and one illness away from being homeless. Having 1/7 Americans on food stamps challenges our values about who we say we are as a people.

Technology and globalization have started the digital revolution and disrupted our way of life, our institutions and threaten our common values — empathy for one another, and our beliefs that if you worked hard enough and played by the rules you could achieve the American dream; and that a rising tide lifts all boats. It’s no longer true. Now, we have more income inequality, more productivity and fewer jobs; there is a disconnect between the skills of the past and those needed for today's digital world. Even a college education is no longer an assurance of a good paying job.

What is most destructive is the lack of empathy, callousness and even disdain that seem to prevail and are fueled by politicians who exploit and fan the flames of fear and anger for their personal gain. We now have a new breed of leaders who seem to lack understanding of those whose lives show the hard blows life can bring. They lack empathy and understanding of how societies work, and how they change with the times.

Our people are great; it’s our political system that we have ignored and allowed some leaders to create conflict, disdain, and toxicity in our government instead of working for the public’s interest. They do not understand or take the time to see how societies work, change, and affect the individual. Somehow, they equate leadership with conflict and brinkmanship. They fail to have the qualities successful leaders possess such as those President Abraham Lincoln had in dealing with his rivals, “.... an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires,” (Team of Rivals).

Great leaders are those that understand the forces that shape their environment and create a vision of what the society ought to become. They offer hope, solutions, not threats. They have empathy and are able to articulate what is in the hearts and minds of the people and invite them to sacrifice and work together for the common good. They call upon the goodness and kindness, rather than fears and anxieties. “.... They can conceive and articulate goals that lift people out of their petty preoccupations, carry them above the conflicts that tear a society apart, and unite them in the pursuit of objectives worthy of their best efforts,” (John W. Gardner).

The digital revolution has disrupted our lives and now we must find leaders who will help us find new solutions while keeping our common values. America was founded on the value of equality and the American belief that if you worked hard enough and played by the rules you could make it in America. Our policies may change, but our values should not.

Utah native John Florez has been on Sen. Orrin Hatch’s staff, served as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and commission on Hispanic education. Email: jdflorez@comcast.net

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