Why we shouldn’t give up… and why we should ‘show up’ for 2017

February 8, 2017

My sign off on these newsletters is ‘paddle on’, in these demanding, turbulent, change filled times, inside organizations and outside them. My organizational travels over the past year and especially since the US elections have brought me in repeated contact with people unusually and uncharacteristically troubled about the state of the country and the world, sufficiently troubled about the divisions and tone in the country that it affects their relationship with others, their jobs, and their organizations. This is not a political comment. It is an observation about people of various political persuasions and with various personal values. People are worried and they are worried at work. More than a few are worried to the point of anxiety and sad to the point of depression. In light of that, I offer these thoughts, hopefully of encouragement, as we end 2016 and look into 2017.

My life from the time I was 10 years old until I was 22 included the following:

A nuclear standoff/confrontation between the USSR and USA centering around US naval blockade of Cuba. (I remember sitting in my fifth-grade classroom watching the clock on the wall tick down to the time that US and Soviet ships were scheduled to cross paths and wondering if I was watching the countdown to the end of human existence.)

The assassinations of:

A president (JFK) by an ex US Marine with a perplexing history of cross-walking between the USSR and the USA.

A prominent African-American leader (Malcom X) probably by members of his former religious group.

The leading African-American civil rights leader (Martin Luther King) by a white supremacist, escaped convict.

A US Senator from New York (RFK) and strong candidate for the Democratic nomination for president by a Jordanian citizen of Palestine living in the US.

A profoundly controversial war that killed over 50,000 Americans and God knows how many Vietnamese, perhaps a million.

Illegal US incursions into Cambodia and Laos despite assurances by the US executive branch to Congress that such were not occurring and would not occur.

The worst riots (multiple years) since the NYC draft riots of 1863.

Many and massive protests (civil rights and anti-Vietnam War), some marked by violence-beatings and dogs-and lots of arrests.

A president elected (1968) promising to end the Vietnam War using a secret plan…never divulged.

That president subsequently approving a break-in to Democratic Party headquarters to obtain election plan information, investigations of which had begun and produced trace evidence of White House involvement prior to the 1972 election. That president (Nixon) went on to win in a landslide, winning every state in that election except Massachusetts.

Roe v. Wade

A president (Nixon) resigning the presidency in order to avoid impeachment (concerning aforementioned break-in and its cover-up) and subsequently receiving a presidential pardon which precluded prosecution.

I am unable to capture the sadness and despair concerning our country that visited me during these years, especially as I entered my late teens and early 20’s. Sometimes it drifted away and then, occasionally, it moved to oppressing and even to nearly overpowering. The country felt totally out of control. Its institutions seemed incapable of working as intended (e.g., Congressional oversight of war actions). Anger abounded and erupted regularly along any of a set of fissures: young/old, black/white, male/female, military/non-military, Democrat/Republican, hard hat or blue collar/hippie or college student. The whole society seemed to be unravelling as we didn’t seem able to agree on much of importance or to talk across divisions without a bullhorn.

And yet… we made it out the other side. We made it.

We can make it again and then return to ‘normal’ struggles.