Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

“Where There is No Vision from Leaders the People Perish”

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There is a glaring problem with the politicians in our country today. The truth is, too many of our leaders lack a broader, coherent vision of where America is going and what America can ultimately become. We know that visionary leadership is a hallmark of the politicians and nations that want to thrive, grow and develop their gifts and resources. When that leadership loses a larger of vision or revelation of where it seeks to take the people, the whole nation slowly perishes. The scripture, “Where there is no vision the people perish,” (KJV) still has meaning, vitality and relevancy in our present age.

The problem today seems to be the continual struggle between two types of thinkers. There are those people who have limited or no vision of where to lead America and are devoid of any definitive plan for how to get there. Then there are those who have a grander vision of where we need to go and how to get us there but who cannot garner the support for effective change.

In any organization or institution, the tension is invariably between those who want to grow beyond current confines and those who want to contain and restrain the organization for personal, practical or ideological reasons. The tension facing us today is between those with a bigger, loftier vision of what America can become, versus those with a smaller, limited vision of America that is circumscribed by their notions of what America can never become, simply because they do not believe in or want to see the development of that kind of America.

Visionary leadership should be concerned about the welfare of America as a whole and how each citizen can realize his or her greatest potential and enable the country to rise higher and grow stronger. However, too much political discussion today appears to be stuck in the quagmires of limited, dead-end, mired leadership. Politicians are less change-agents than they are political talking heads, ranting among themselves.  Their discourse displays their tunnel vision of prosperity for a select elite and not a broader vision for the majority of Americans, which I believe is why America seems to be going backward not forward. We keep running on the treadmill and going through the motions of moving forward but in reality we are expending enormous energy and appear to be, as the song says, “going nowhere fast.”

In truth leaders who do not put the interests of the people first are adept at wasting precious political capital and squandering the enormous potential of American representative democracy – which is still in the developing stage. They are stuck in an antediluvian world view, steeped in antiquated ideologies. They appear thoroughly trapped by Cartesian, artificially separated ways of thinking and strategizing, that juxtapose everything into an “either /or” paradigm. With it philosophy, it is either “this way” or “that way” and never a merging of the two realities into new possibilities and strategies. What is needed then is a kind of Hegelian configuration of thesis, antithesis, with synthesis reconciling the common ground between the various ideas, in order to create newer ideas that will allow decision makers to push beyond their current stalemate and inertia.

Thus we have a fundamental challenge in a technological age. The current modes of our nation’s political reasoning which in the industrial past may have had. Today, this rote thinking is neither plausible, practical, nor effective in leading the nation forward. Quite simply the world has changed and a time comes when leaders in society must adapt their strategies and adopt new sensibilities and purposes, while holding firm to those core values and beliefs that provide continuity for the future.

Time, is still our greatest resource.  It is the only aspect of life that we can never get back. Yet, time is being allowed to pass underutilized, simply blown away like saw dust to the winds. The adage is true, in today’s world if you are standing still, you are actually losing ground. America is losing precious ground each day by being held to the progress of political leaders who have lost imagination, as well as the political and moral will to improve our nation as much as they have improved the quality of life they and their fellow elites enjoy.

We have seen throughout history how this tragedy has played in the great societies of the past. It is not always the adversaries from without that destroy great societies – it is often the adversaries from within that bring about this decline. Great societies – and our American democracy – can be stifled and maimed by a lack of vision, by apathy and indifference, by partisan political bickering, by the absence of charity and by the deification of selfishness as a primordial virtue. The antidote is the retrenchment of a larger, grander, more glorious vision of the greatness of America and a clear vision of how to forge ahead. This is the antidote that must be administered to leaders who have myopic vision for the nation and the world. We must move to heal leaders who are so siloed in their own mental cubicles, with thoughts tucked so tightly into their own prism bubbles, that they gaze but do not see, they listen but do not hear, they sense but do not care. What America needs to truly rise from our current position requires the healing antidote of the vision expounded by Dr. King as the foundations of a “Beloved Community.”

Addressing the problems that confront our nation boils down to solidifying a vision and having leaders with the moral courage to lead and advocate that new vision. I urge leaders to advance a vision where all Americans and all citizens of the world can win. I pray for a future where the nation becomes stronger and greater, and not just a select few. I seek a nation that adapts its vision, not out of fear but out of promise. Not simple competition but complex cooperation. This is the path towards  a nation that is concerned for its people and the earth, one that wants to make safe its land, water and air, a nation given to peace, justice and equality, to wholeness, goodness and wellness for every citizen soul.  Towards a nation not of stringent conservative reaction which gleefully subtracts and eliminates life, liberty and happiness – and too many of the essential values from average Americans.

A nation that lives out that vision as proactive engagement and that dedicates prolonged deployment of its resources big and small to achieve the vision will raise the standards of hope and truth and love and justice, prosperity and peace in a world, that still counts on America to lead it boldly into the future.

We have that vision in President Obama. He is the heir of visionary presidents of the past such as Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Frankin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson. We have seen this visionary leadership shine forth in Jimmy Carter, Dwight David Eisenhower, even Ronald Reagan, the senior George Bush and Bill Clinton. Whatever their political party, these men each had a greater vision of what America could become, and although their political views ranged from liberal to conservative, and their policies arguably either pushed the country forward or moved the country backward (depending upon your political point view). These leaders were not content to simply keep America as they found it, or squander the precious resource of time and potential on political inanities and political party frivolities. Instead, they focused on a difference by being different in their leadership of America. Making a big difference requires rising above tribal party politics and instead doing what is good for the entire nation.

It is worth noting that these visionary leaders were greatly influenced by citizen souls who agitated for a greater and more charitable America, a bigger and better America. During moments of monumental change, these presidential leaders were influenced by citizen souls who helped agitate for positive, progressive social change. There was Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells, A. Philip Randolph, Francis Perkins, Walter Reuther,  Martin Luther King, Jr., Mary McLeod Bethune, Ralph Abernathy, Roy Wilkins, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and a whole host of other civil and human rights, business, economic, and educational leaders. They all had a greater vision of what America could become as leaders and citizens working together for a common goal, the betterment of life for all Americans.

Today, President Obama has the resource of a whole host of visionary younger leaders, writers, scholars and activists like Ben Jealous, Michael Eric Dyson, Rev. David Alexander Bullock Jr., Valerie Jarrett, Oprah Winfrey, Vashti McKenzie, and countless other leaders – including Michelle Obama – who radiate the light of a new frontier.

We need visionary leadership today. Leaders who love their country and its people and will serve with the greatest and highest of their God-given gifts. Leaders who are concerned about where this country is going and who will relinquish their own “sequestered” views for a grander view of a greater America. Leaders who can do the people’s bidding and get meaningful legislation passed in both houses of congress and move the country forward rather than let it stagger down the stairways into the basements of despair and the doldrums of defeat. America should be rising higher not sinking lower.

Where there is no vision expressed by leaders the people perish and if true visionary leaders can finally come together and do what is right for America, we can still fashion a nation for the good of all people. This is the promise of a greater America and we should hold forth to this vision and not allow it to perish by those who want to limit the growth of our nation beyond its current possibilities and future blessings.



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