How We Can

The excitement that surrounds the coming inauguration of President-elect Obama is beginning to verge on hysteria in some quarters. There appears to be a rising sense that once sworn into office, Barack Obama will turn the world economy around, end war, transform the American healthcare system, end partisan politics, heal racial divisions, and solve unemployment.  

Not only that but some people are expecting all of it to happen simultaneously and at once. Yikes! That's a lot to put on the shoulders of one guy, even if he is the President of the United States.


Of course, solutions will not occur without massive engagement at all levels of society, and around the world. It will also require a willingness to tackle root causes and not just symptoms. President-elect Obama is not Superman, despite what we may project on him. It is dangerous to pin the hopes of the world on one man.


While it is not wrong to welcome the arrival of a visionary leader to the world stage, it is irresponsible to expect that a hero will somehow use his or her super-human powers to save the world. Our problems are far more complex than that. 


To his credit, Mr. Obama has rekindled hope and belief at a time when fear and despair has fuelled a pandemic of hopelessness, not just in the United States, but also around the world. He models the qualities that inspire confidence: a vision for positive change, good judgment, character, ethical decision-making, grace under pressure, and as former Secretary of State, Colin Powell points out, “a world-class temperament.”


He is a family man, a team player, a community activist, and an athlete if you discount bowling. His oratory fills stadiums. He is a leader. While there is much to admire, respect and be hopeful for in the Obama presidency, there is also real danger. The danger is what he represents – the conviction that we can make a difference – will be lost. “Yes We Can!” the campaign slogan that galvanized a nation and enchanted the world is at risk of becoming “Yes He Can!” 


When we pin our hopes on just one man to deliver us from a collective mess, we avoid the personal leadership required to do our part to solve the issues of the day, and set him up to fail.  What the Obama Presidency requires is leadership at all levels of society… with the courage to do things differently.


The recovery that we seek is likely going to take time. I wonder if we have the collective patience to give President-elect Obama the time and ongoing support required for change to happen. Watching someone lead is not personal engagement and involvement. It is passivity that leads to breakdown.


Real engagement is the partnership of the heart, intellect and will in support of a vision for change over time. The President-elect demonstrates that a personal vision can still change the world and that the status quo can be over-turned. He proved this by doing what previously was impossible. Obama has risen to the world’s highest office — despite being too young, inexperienced, untested, black, “Islamic,” urban, and liberal.


Now it is up to us.


But where do we start? Visionary architect, Buckminster Fuller, provides some guidance: “Think of the Queen Mary: the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It's a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all… the little individual can be a trim tab.”


The Trim Tab Effect is a strategy for change that can be accomplished by ordinary people like you and me. Here are ten trim-tab strategies to support the President-elect and leaders of democratic governments around the world:


• Vote at local, city, provincial or state levels, as well as nationally. Your vote is your voice. 


• Seek public office. We complain that the talent pool is too thin and choices narrow.  Let’s expand the pool.


• Engage in an ongoing dialogue with your political representatives by email, mail, phone and in person. Support their work. Tell them when you disagree. Let them know what matters most. 


• Keep abreast of the local, regional, national and international issues of the day. Knowledge leads to understanding and activism. 


• Volunteer for initiatives that make a difference to you, your family and community. Too few do too much to keep things going on our behalf.  


• Be creative at work and in the community.  Look for ways to do small things better, more effectively, efficiently, and with less cost. 


• Help your community, neighborhood, street, neighbor. We need to come together to effect positive change. 


• Bridge differences at work and in the community. Find ways to create win-win solutions that resolve conflicts.  Conflict costs billions of dollars every year and reduces productivity. 


• Be healthy.  Reduce health-care expenses and take a load off the health-care system. 


• Define your own vision for positive change in your work, relationships, and community.  A personal vision and a plan to accomplish it can make a world of difference.


On January 20th, President-elect Obama will take the oath of office and commit to delivering on his promises.  On that day, we can make our own commitment to action. That is the mindset of a leader. Leaders invent the future. They are not victimized by it. 


© Patrick O’Neill 2009. All rights reserved.


Posted on January 15, 2009 and filed under Uncategorized.