Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

“The Courage to Change.”

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The voters have spoken and Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the United States. In the aftermath of this past Tuesday’s election, there has been much discussion about how the Republicans were stunned and shell shocked by Mitt Romney’s defeat while numerous media talking heads have underscored the need for the GOP to re-evaluate and re-invent itself if it is to ever win another presidential election.

The Tea Party Movement prodded the Republican Party into taking bold steps toward implementing a new vision for America. Time will tell whether those strident forces for political change will continue to implement radical change within the party or stall out as inertial forces threaten to overtake them.

While the demographics of America have changed, some Republicans keep making assumptions about the world and employing political strategies that are largely out of touch with reality. The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The Republicans must find ways of toning down their vitriolic political rhetoric and being more inclusive of women and minorities if they expect to garner winning results in future elections.

But before the GOP can truly transform itself, it must morph its thinking to embrace the world as is and not a world only from the vantage point of their quarantined view from inside in the bubble. It will mean “thinking about how they think,” and recasting the party in new ways that will galvanize a larger segment of the American electorate.

It also might mean tossing out some of the think tank geniuses at these various foundations and institutes who keep prescribing the same archaic ways of seeing and doing things amid the quantum and warp speed changes of an increasingly technocratic culture.  You cannot keep devising strategies for endearment and inclusion to win elections when you disrespect and devalue women, demean immigrants and minorities, throw members of labor, the working class, the poor and middle class in trash dumpsters, seek to buy politicians and elections and suppress hard won voting rights. Suppressing the vote is not the ultimate answer but finding creative ways of winning the vote should be the thinking of the New Republican Party. The American people are too intelligent, too compassionate and too invested in their country and in their children’s future to be perpetually humiliated in such fashion. At some point those politicians will answer as some of them did this past election.

I have stated on this website numerous times that extremism in any permanent form will not cut it for most Americans. Many of them of tired of the same old rhetoric and the tired old political geriatrics that neither hear or see them. I even stated in an article titled “What Mitt Romney Should Do Now,” that if is he is to be competitive during this election he had to shed the current extremism defiling Republican party politicians by standing up to those folks and saying “no” to them and by taking up a more moderate political position. Instead of saying “no” to progress for the American people because they don’t want to see the president get credit, they should be saying “no” to the hard right radicals. While various forms of extremism can work as political correctives in a system that has swung too far out of kilter, it cannot be a permanent guidepost, field force or resting place for the future of American Democracy.

Unfortunately, the Grand Old Party seems to be high jacked and hoodwinked by these hard right political zealots who want to unilaterally force their agenda on the American people and make compromise a dirty political word. A great genius of American democracy is compromise. In a bipartisan political system, progress cannot be made without some form of compromise. Politicians must work together through “give and take” to arrive at solutions that will benefit all Americans. Will Republicans who are still reeling in the recent daze of a hard right takeover of the Party, finally realize the dead end futility of such maneuvers?

This means that they must have in the words of Paul Tillich the courage to be and to change. Professor Stanley Ridgely in his Great Course on Strategic Thinking Skills, reminds us of a concept created by Herbert Simon called, “Bounded Rationality.” Human beings often do not think about how they think. Information is far too large and complex for us to ingest in totality. We therefore develop these cognitive filtering systems that allow us to make information more palatable by developing mental models.

Says Ridgely in delineating Simon’s viewpoint, “Our mental models don’t always match up with reality particularly in high stakes, high stress situations. The mind simply cannot cope with the vast sea of incoming information so it constructs a simplified mental model of reality, and that’s what we work with. Within the boundaries of these models, we act rationally.”(Course Guidebook on Strategic Thinking Skills, by Stanley Ridgely, The Great Courses)

Any transformative action often requires a change in thinking. Within our various frames of thinking we are inevitably influenced by Group Think which should never be permanently supplanted by Each Think,” for in my paraphrased words of Colin Powell, (or Gen George S. Patton, Jr.)  ”If everybody is thinking alike then somebody isn’t thinking.”

In a course I took some years ago at Chicago, I remember a concept called “Assumptive world.” We all make assumptions about the world in which we live and often do not test whether they are true. Changing our thinking means valuing such changes, questioning our assumptions and being ready and willing to discard or revise them if they do not hold to reality.

The Republicans are faced with some critical choices. They will have to change their thinking if the party is to survive but they must have the courage to change. If the GOP keeps insisting on forcing squares that are too big into circles that are too small without adapting either the squares or the circles, they will only lose a broader swath of a changing America.

As John Kennedy reminds us in Profiles in Courage, sometimes politics means going along to get along. It all depends on how we view the “going” and the “getting” and how we see ourselves and our opponents as extensions of one another wanting flip sides of the same coin; a coin whose value cannot be determined without its two sides.

Postive change can be a good thing. We all can and must change. Change is the only thing permanent in life. But we do have choice in whether that change will be intentional or accidental. In either case, having the courage to change can lead to positive results if we can keep an open mind, think about how we think, admit our shortfalls and possess the temerity to implement new short and long term strategies for the transformation of ourselves and society.


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