As we approach the beginning of 2012, it’s important to be both pragmatic and optimistic. 2012 has the potential to be a watershed year in the history of the United States…and of the world perhaps. Sadly…this potential for long-term, political evolution won’t emerge until our public urgency grows significantly. Fortunately…we have many reasons to be optimistic about the future! Yes…our political and economic afflictions are likely to become worse in 2012…far worse. But…this will NEED to happen before we can turn the corner toward a more representative form of governance in America.
Without a doubt…2012 will be a year of high-stakes, political theater. Millions of dollars will be spent on campaigns that focus mostly on distracting, fringe issues. Our 24/7 news entertainment industry will keep our attention on the latest developments in our on-going political soap opera…bombarding us with one panel of pundits after another. Every economic indicator…every statement of every candidate…and every international event…will be scrutinized for political advantage. Meanwhile, the fabric of our society will continue to unravel as more municipalities go bankrupt, more homes are foreclosed, more of the unemployed give up looking for non-existent jobs, more college students go deeper into debt, and more public services to our most vulnerable neighbors are ended.
Let’s be totally pragmatic…we the people won’t work together to heal our dysfunctional governing culture until we feel we have to. It seems to be human nature to respond to a problem only when the need is great and undeniable. This is probably for the best actually…so we don’t over-react to every hint of a problem. In physics, this phenomenon is best explained by the laws of inertia and momentum…things that aren’t moving won’t start moving without a sufficient, applied force, and things that are moving will continue in the same direction and speed unless they encounter an adjusting force. The bad news is…we won’t do anything to correct our political and economic dysfunctions until we’re absolutely required to. The good news is…we WILL do whatever it takes to correct our dysfunctions as soon as we’re convinced we need to.
An idea will grow…mostly likely from some tragic experience that captures the public’s attention, where it become obvious to the American people that there’s a huge vacuum where our leadership and governance should be. This is the way things go…our best ideas emerge from our most difficult moments. The greater the need…the greater the number of minds at work to meet the need. We have some brilliant minds in America…but too few of these minds are focused on solving our public problems. But…that will change…and ideas will spring into the public arena for conversation, analysis, and action.
Change happens when a small group of committed people focus wholeheartedly on an idea, or an image, or a story. When 5% of the population believes an idea, it gains acceptance. When 20% of the population believes in a concept, it becomes unstoppable. The ideas that will lead us forward will be discussed in millions of conversations in neighborhoods all across the country. These ideas will be found to be relevant, hope-filled and persuasive by many people in all of our varied, demographic groups. Whatever these ideas may be…they will become part of our 21st century political culture, resonating with the hopes and dreams of those who will be inspired to assume the leadership of the next couple generations in our political, academic, environmental and economic communities.
Perhaps 2012 will be a pivotal year because an idea will come into view that will lead the way into a more participatory, inclusive and equitable form of public problem-solving. Perhaps during this coming year, the dialogue and deliberation community will become convinced that our public problems are severe enough to engage in wide-spread, locally-based and nationally-networked projects, focused on tangible impacts. Or…perhaps 2012 will simply lead us to another, deeper level of frustration as we continue our downward slide toward total political gridlock and economic-sector domination.
This New Year’s celebration should be joy-filled as we recognize the potential in 2012…but should also be sober and serious in reflection on the great tasks we need to accomplish for the sustainability of our American society. As our political and economic dysfunction deepens, we need to encourage innovative thinking, creative networking, and impactful problem-solving. What a great time in history to be fully engaged in community conversations on our critical public issues!! As we enter 2012, the good news truly is…yes, it’ll get worse!