Article Series Transcending Conventionalism to Transform Communities by Robert J. McKenna (M.O.L.) CEO; Altruesoft & Founder of the Citizen's Public Safety Network.
A unifying vision when it stems from realistic optimism provides an image for a more desirable community. As Peter Block (1987) explains,
"A vision statement is an expression of hope, and if we have no hope, it is hard to create a vision" (p. 107).
An effective civic leader is essentially a vehicle who articulates an image or ideal of what we should be striving for. "A leaders vision also inspires action and helps shape the future" (Nanus, 1992, p. 8). During the formation of the United States, a collective community vision played a crucial role in the creation of the Constitution. Nanus (1992) declares that,
"The Constitution, for example, is a written description of the founding fathers vision for the United States, setting a clear direction and defining values but not specifying how to get there" (p. 8). Systemic vision is crucial in transforming communities because it involves setting direction and defining strategies for a future were every living organisms best interests are included.
Communities are essentially a group of subsystems in the midst of smaller and larger systems, all of which are intrinsically related. This interdependence is a primary reason that community missions or visions be all inclusive. It is crucial that civic leaders be cognizant of the many interrelated issues when formulating policies. Failure to develop an all inclusive community building strategy will result in the neglect of a particular subsystem and that negligence will eventually damage the entire system. Napier (1978) defines the system as, "any entity, the parts
of which co-vary interdependently with one another, and which maintains equilibrium in an error-activated way" (p. 47). Capra's version of the system's concept asserts that this symbiotic relationship is the nature of the universe:
Systems theory looks at the world in terms of the interrelatedness and interdependence of all phenomena; and in this framework an integrated whole whose properties cannot be reduced to those of its parts is called a
system. Living organisms, societies, and ecosystems are all systems. (p. 43)
Systems Theory has far-reaching implications for community leaders, because of its all inclusive ideology and long-term discernment. Systems Theory also allows leaders the framework to promote vision in such a manner that all are allowed to offer creative solutions. When all participants contribute towards a community’s vision, commitment is at a maximum and both individual and group transform each other. Leaders who operate from a systemic or holistic mindset take into consideration the values and morals that followers hold in common. By appealing to these values, civic administrators are thus able to articulate a vision that summons the mutually held beliefs of their constituents.
Successful politicians realize that morals and values are core influences within an individual, for this reason, they are extremely potent motivators. Historian and Political Scientist, James MacGregor Burns, defines the style of leading which appeals to the ethical beliefs and needs of followers as moral leadership. In his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Leadership (1978), Burns asserts,
“Moral leadership emerges from, and returns to, the fundamental wants and needs, aspirations, and values of the followers. I mean the kind of leadership that can produce social change that will satisfy followers' authentic needs" (p. 4)
Currently, the traditional ideals of present day leaders are being questioned. What has worked in the past is often unable to overcome present day social conflicts. As Einstein often stated: No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. A point that certainly deserves merit, but is rarely tried. Many of the problems facing humanity are so ingrained that a complete new vision; one less self-seeking and more collectively beneficial, needs to purge our cultures previous bankrupt notion of the good life. The original American dream has been assaulted by today’s' culture of consumption. We have altered the ideals of our forefathers to resemble "life, liberty and the purchase of happiness." This thirst for more and more is unquenchable, addictive and destructive. It is becoming more and more clear that our culture needs to restructure its self-serving values. Instead of merely addressing the poisons of society, leaders need to envision, share and direct us towards a more mutually-beneficial "pursuit of happiness.
"National, legislative, municipal and community, leaders need to evaluate today's current social problems and focus on systemic processes. They must be able to shift perspectives from the traditional linear focus of cause/ effect relationships to realize the cyclic nature of continuous feedback amongst subsystems within the whole. Effective leadership that encompasses the entire mutuality of humanity (and the organic community, for that matter) is urgently needed. The old dogmas are blindly leading us towards continuous calamity. The traditional ways, by no means need to be eliminated, leaders just need to broaden their vision and context of tried concepts. The old practices need to be either accented by or set in paradox to the vanguard of progressive scientific and systemic theories.
Those who seek to improve communities need to be aware of the continuum of thought
which defines how the world is viewed. One side of the spectrum represents the contextual frame of Newtonian mechanics and objective science. On the paradoxical side of the spectrum lie processes that fall beyond the immediate senses unfolding in the unseen orchestra of quantum physics, mystical wisdom and organic relationships. In order to possess holistic vision, leaders need to rationalize systemically, and be aware of the entire continuum of ancient and "true, non-political" progressive thought processes. Thomas Merton (1964) exclaimed the necessity of both spheres of thought:
"It is true that neither the ancient wisdoms nor the modem sciences are complete in themselves. They do not stand alone. They call for one another. Wisdom without science is unable to penetrate the full spatial meaning
of the material cosmos. Science without wisdom leaves man enslaved to a world of unrelated objects in which
there is no way of discovering [or creating] order and deep significance in man's own pointless existence. (p. 1)"
One of humankind’s most destructive impediments is the tendency to see things as opposing dichotomies. This either/or thinking tends to breed mistrust and hinders broad-based inclusive solutions. Exclusivity of this nature is common in Western culture. It limits our ability to expand our horizons-to gain an understanding of the full context. Frey (1994) notes that, "In these situations of polar opposites, any given position or category is arbitrarily perceived as not the other
and is excluded from it" (p. 182). By viewing reality as either black or white, us or them win or loose, right or wrong, good or evil; we breed stereotypes, limit choices, and distort true-being. If society wishes to transcend current ills, all community members must look beyond their ethnocentrisms and be willing to perceive reality outside their one-world, diametric view.