Difficult times not only demand more from us; they demand the best of us. We should see them as opportunities to take stock of our behaviors, relationships and values, to redefine how we can be the best version of ourselves.
This might be obvious to some, heresy for others.
But for some, this is a revelation. By fixing a critical eye on themselves and on the state of our world, they will surprise themselves – and others – with their answers to tough questions. We would be wise to look to these thinkers during this difficult period.
The impact of the financial crisis cuts deeps for the vast majority of us. So much so that many of us are hard pressed to believe that its white-knuckled grip will finally relent with the arrival of a turning point. Nonetheless, we continue to hold out hope for a recovery – in the real economy, financial markets and employment rates – despite the fact that any semblance of one has been postponed habitually, quarter to quarter.
The global economic environment will rebound eventually for the better. But when that time comes, we must accept that the world has changed – to the point that we have to question whether an economic recovery is enough to put us back on track for the long term. Or is this just an illusory respite before we are back in the throes of another crisis? No one can answer this with absolute certainty, of course; however, all signs point to a future with anemic conditions.
I believe our current challenges are more permanent than transitory, primarily because we are seeing a dangerous and deeply unsettling shift in our values. It will not be enough for Italy to lower its spread, for Europe to agree on European Central Bank intervention or for authorities to establish capital requirements for the world’s largest financial institutions. Lasting change and stability will demand far more.
This crisis in values undermines the very heart of who we are and how we live. It is eroding our governments and institutions as well as our communities, making it difficult for us to connect with each other based on commonly held values. Its repercussions reverberate in all areas and at all levels of our societies, triggering a vicious cycle of distrust and creating an environment incapable of producing leaders who can reverse this corrosive trend. There is little doubt that a crisis in leadership will surely follow.
This should spur us to ask what can we do to quash this seemingly inevitable circumstance? How do we incubate a complete change in direction to make this cycle virtuous rather than vicious, and bring out the best versions of ourselves?
We need fresh and inspired leadership to help us answer these difficult questions. Meaningful change demands leaders who galvanize us and whose objectives stem from a strong moral code that are contagious and catalyze action to feed a virtuous cycle. This return to values will help cement the very foundation of our governments and institutions, on which we can build a new and open-minded society that that values hard work more than advantageous connections. Effective leaders will help us get there. They will inspire us to reconnect with what we value most and help us believe in the bright possibilities of evolving our societies in a thoughtful way.
The high-decibel demands for governments and institutions to adhere to a stronger moral code are growing at a deafening, soul-shaking pitch, to the degree that they can no longer be ignored. We desperately need leaders who see the recent anti-establishment and anti-Europe protests as wake-up calls, and who translate this sense of urgency into positive action by using their moral compasses to fix what is broken.
Whether this type of new leadership will come from my generation is not altogether clear. But I believe that those who hold leadership positions in governance must have a clear and popularly shared vision of the future. Elected officials who assume they have the unconditional trust of their constituents are living in the misguided past. Citizens are emboldened to demand more autonomy and collaboration with their leaders to chart their country’s course together, rather than playing the role of passive observer.
There are no shortcuts to change if we are to forge a stronger future. Despite however reluctant our governments are to change, they must be reconstructed from the inside out to remain relevant in our changed world. Modern democracies can only advance if they take decisive action to integrate our differences and mediate our self-interests while taking measures to shrink the widening gap in income inequality.
Albert Einstein issued a warning when the world was at war for the second time, which seems somewhat fitting during this period. “The world is a dangerous place,” he said. “Not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
Difficult times not only require more of us; they require the best of us. As the smoke of these past five years begins to clear, I believe we have the shared responsibility to look at ourselves in a more critical light to understand how we can think, do and be better. Let’s surprise ourselves. Let this be a revelation.