Thursday, February 2, 2012

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

As many of you have discovered recently, I've been in a Disruptive Mood over the past few months.  Challenging old political allegiances, being critical of establishments I'm a part of, looking for unorthodox solutions to intractable problems.  There's a vague sense that something Needs To Be Done! But what exactly that is can't be wholly envisioned.

David Brooks brilliantly addresses this paradox in How to Fight the Man.  It got me thinking about what exactly it is I'm trying to accomplish with this blog and our Disruptive Thinkers group.  The fact of the matter is that it's easy to throw stones, but much harder to build up a structure with those stones.  Heaven knows I've got a lot of criticisms, but far too few solutions. 

Running Where?
The board members of Disruptive Thinkers have been grappling with this for a while now.  There is a palpable sense of excitement during our monthly seminars, but one of the things were having difficulty capturing is the "action" side of the equation.  It's one thing to get smart people in the same room, but quite another to see direct results from the same.

The thing about establishments is that they exist for a reason. Sometimes that reason may have come and past, but there are groups that gain great benefit from the status quo.  The stability of the known also plays into resistance to reform.  And in many instances, those looking to disrupt that stable system operate from within it because it provides a platform to do so.

Brooks talks about two things that young people face in reconciling their desire for change with the realities that entails:  Perhaps our generation lacks the "oppositional mentality necessary for revolt."  Brooks himself contends that "[v]ery few people have the genius or time to come up with a comprehensive and rigorous worldview."

As much as we might complain about the status quo being insufficient or inefficient, our society makes it very easy to make those complaints.  There is almost no cost in doing so.  Sure, some fear repercussions for speaking their minds in America, but the worst that happens is that you lose a job -- maybe.  Or potentially get "blacklisted" from some promotion opportunity.  But we aren't imprisoned, hurt or even killed for our opposition.  Indeed, a savvy keeper of the establishment pays lip service and lavishes praise on Disruptive Thinkers while doing nothing of any substance to assuage their concerns.  We said our piece, got our 15 minutes, and forget we ever complained because we got the gold star for "unique thinking."  Never mind the remaining incumbent power. 

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death
With this in mind, I reflect on how momentous our own Revolution was 235 years ago.  The "oppositional mentality for revolt" was alive and well in our Founding Fathers.  On the negative side, slaveholders in the South had it when they precipitated the Civil War.  Civil Rights advocates used it to great effect during the 1960s.  Those in Poland and Czechslovakia in the latter days of the Soviet Union possessed it as well.

Maybe the Innovation Generation has been so coddled that we do think merely bringing up an issue means we've done our part to "change the world" as we go back to our lattes and Facebook stalking.  Or perhaps literal revolt has been replaced with the more passive forming of non-profits and think tanks that we can claim entrepreneural ownership over without truly risking our hides.

I'm just as guilty as the next person of thinking I've done a great work by posting an indignant Facebook status update, and believe real change will come of it.  Clever turns of a phrase may gain praise, but they hardly count as effecting change. 

Where's My Participation Ribbon, Gramps?
This in turn plays right into the formation of Brooks' "comprehensive and rigorous worldview."  What do we believe?  Why do we believe it?  How many of us could stand before an inquisitive audience and truly defend those things we believe to be true with both passion and hard evidence?  And if we cannot do so, how can we expect to exert any influence on the world around us?

The men and women we hold in esteem all had a driving sense of purpose, a defining ideology that shaped their actions.  From this they saw society's ills, drew the logical conclusions from their worldview, and stopped at nothing to implement their ideas.

Rebels who win always become the Establishment eventually.  They would do well to recognize this when they first set out.  This is the very theme Brooks ends with:
If I could offer advice to a young rebel, it would be to rummage the past for a body of thought that helps you understand and address the shortcomings you see. Give yourself a label...Effective rebellion isn’t just expressing your personal feelings. It means replacing one set of authorities and institutions with a better set of authorities and institutions. Authorities and institutions don’t repress the passions of the heart, the way some young people now suppose. They give them focus and a means to turn passion into change.
Disruption within a wider context is a helpful thing to be mindful of.  Destroying the foundation without a plan for a better one is folly.  I shall be more diligent in this.

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