24 January 2013

The Missing Dynamic in DC

What's missing in Washington is not a dialogue between Republicans and Democrats. What's missing is a dialogue between wild optimism and brutal facts, between faith and reality.

"Leadership does not just begin with vision. It begins with getting people to confront the brutal facts and to act on the implications."
- Jim Collins
Robert Samuelson writes about President Make-Believe in the Washington Post today, in response to Obama's rhetoric in his inaugural speech Monday.
Of course, there are conflicts between the young and old. In 2000, there were 45 million Social Security recipients; by 2025, the Social Security Administration projects the number at 79 million. Already, paying for retirees is the largest source of federal spending....
On climate change, the difficulty is greater. Environmentalists argue that emissions from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) need to be cut 50 percent to 80 percent by mid-century to avoid a ruinous warming. The problem is that there’s simply no plausible way to get from here to there without, in effect, shutting down the world economy.
Consider a recent study by the International Energy Agency in Paris. Under current policies, it forecasts that world energy demand will rise 47 percent between 2010 and 2035 and the increase in emissions of carbon dioxide — the largest greenhouse gas — will be almost the same. 
Whether the topic is as long-term as climate change, as seemingly intractable as Middle East politics, or as inevitable as eventual shortfalls in social security and medicare funding, reality is going to win over any distortions of it.

I'm not advocating gloom or doom. Far from it. Jim Collins in his Good to Great book also adds a context for his quote about confronting brutal facts, and it lays out the tension between facts and optimism, a tension from which it seems anything grand emerges.
"A key psychology for leading from good to great is the Stockdale Paradox: Retain absolute faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."

We're not going to create anything good by clinging to just blind faith or just brutal facts. In the same way that neither man nor woman can conceive a baby by themselves, so it is with facts and faith: any new and great creation will come from the dynamic between the two. Neither works particularly well in isolation. 

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