Recently at Edge Leadership, Dr. Nicholas Harvey interviewed Dr. Robert Franklin on Policy for Liberation. The conversation, centered on the concept of moral leadership, explores what is promised by America and how to reckon with the original sins of the country, which Dr. Franklin names: the dispossession of Native American peoples of their land and the enslavement of African bodies and souls. As I listened, I kept wondering, how do we create a common good in this moment? How is common good defined in this period of polarization? Franklin points to the poetic, romantic terms used to describe the “soul of the nation” but calls on rational, creative, patient, listening approaches to guide us forward.
Franklin points to America as a place where fundamental rights and responsibilities are promised. He describes how the Constitution and Bill of Rights came from deliberation and notes that to maintain and expand this sense of common good, constant dialogue and revision are required. Franklin recalls John Adams, the second president of the United States, saying, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Franklin argues that a moral leader cares about truth and inquiry.
Franklin is also concerned about how facts are being negotiated today. “We should listen to John Adams as he tries to insist that there are certain things that are just non-negotiable,” he says. Franklin suggests there is truth, undeniable facts, and we must be able to assert, “Actually, this is what happened. If you don’t want to affirm that or accept that, at least admit you’re engaged in delusional thinking. And in some ways, you disqualify yourself from being taken seriously.” Moral leadership places a stake in the ground around what is true.
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Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline talks about polarization as a limit to a vision growing. “Approaching the visioning as an inquiry process does not mean that I have to give up my view. On the contrary, visions need strong advocates. But advocates who can also inquire into others’ visions open up the possibility for the vision to evolve, to become larger than our individual visions.” He uses the hologram, the three-dimensional image created by interacting light sources, to visualize the concept of shared vision. In a hologram, the vision of the whole does not change with the addition of a light source; it simply becomes more intense.
Senge suggests that the antidote to polarization is “the ability to inquire into and harmonize diversity.” Is there a future where moral leaders create a hologram so strong that the dynamic shifts from dissonance to harmony? How moral leaders gather, seek to understand one another’s values, and discern what beams of light are relevant to the hologram has the potential to shift possibility. Individual actors, communities, and societies all have the opportunity to orient their light beams toward a new vision for life on the planet that releases authoritarian tendencies in the human condition and creates collective well-being.