Weighing difficult choices for a more promising future
Molineaux is co-publisher of The Fulcrum and president/CEO of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund.
This has been a tough week. Well let’s be honest, it has been a tough decade or more. As society and our lives increase in their challenges and complexity, it’s hard not to blame others and/or despair that the lives we have are not the lives we want. This is occurring at multiple levels in my life, right now.
At a personal level, a family member is attached to an old conversion van which to him represents freedom and self-sufficiency on his adventures. For me, it’s a resource drain. The choice to repair or sell is easy from a financial standpoint, harder for the person who believes in the meaning beyond the money for what this van represents.
At the professional level, I consider human needs and financial resources when making decisions. This is contrary to much of American culture, which defaults to what I call “the perverted golden rule.” You might recognize it as “the man with the gold, rules.” This belief shifts power to the person with the most money or influence. People lose or give away their own agency. I struggle to release this cultural idea. It’s a belief found in most people of all socio-economic backgrounds. From my viewpoint, it leads to dehumanization of ourselves and others. What is the antidote? We don’t yet know.
At the political level, we are experiencing spasms of generational changes. As younger people speak up, those who’ve held power overreact with force instead of addressing the needs in front of them. The critique by our younger colleagues is heard as an accusation instead of an offer to create a better future. And of course, the perverted golden rule reigns throughout our politics.
Of course, we do have difficult choices to make. As humans, we put off these decisions until all other options are exhausted. We are forced to choose a direction for our future, focusing on a handful of possibilities while closing off many others. It’s one way we find clarity about what really matters to us.
It’s time to make difficult choices.
If we stay on the current path where we swing power back-and-forth between the Democrats and Republicans in power, we continue the pendulum swing with one party obstructing the other, and no real advancement. For some, this may seem a victory, if they want the government to be small enough to drown in a bathtub, let’s say. But for others there’s a challenge because we actually need the government to work; to solve societal issues that are not the work of for-profit businesses. The so-called free market has no interest in helping where there is no profit to be made. In fact, many of our shared challenges in society have causality in our desire for profit over caring for our neighbors. This is not an either/or proposition. We have the creativity to excel AND care. We lack the beliefs and imagination to do so.
One of the things I have long admired about my Republican colleagues, is their understanding that difficult choices must be made, and their willingness to make those choices. Where I disagree with my Republican colleagues is on their denial about the impact of white-centered society on everyone. The attack of more and increased awareness that we have multiple perspectives that are different from the majority culture—identified as woke and cancel culture—has been vilified and causes harm.
One of the things I have long admired in my Democratic colleagues is their big heart and desire to help others, to create a society where everyone has a fair chance to succeed. Where I disagree with my Democratic colleagues, is their identification of the government as the only tool to create that society. When government is the only solution, it becomes an avenue of corruption and grift. Solutions can be found in civil society and the free market, too.
What both of the major party structures fail to see is how complementary they are to one another. And how their attempt at dominating the other party has led us to obstruction for the sake of not giving the other team a win. And that leads me back to difficult choices that must be made in the near future. How might we make decisions with an open heart full of compassion? Balancing the needs of our national budget AND the people impacted.
My personal difficult choice is helping my partner detach from his beloved conversion van. He’s been on a cross-country trip for five weeks, and the van has broken down five times, stranding him in various locations. He loves this van. While it represents freedom and self sufficiency, that is obviously not true.
In the nonprofit sector, our difficult choices involve time spent raising the funds to do the work that is needed. What is the correct balance of raising money and doing the actual work? Which metrics will allow our humanity to shine through and not be just another number on a spreadsheet? Nonprofits pick up the societal tasks that are not profitable, but need to be done. As the philanthropic industry continually examines effectiveness, challenging and changing beliefs in what impact is and who gets to decide, the nonprofit organizations are forced to change their operations; to make difficult choices. Sometimes those choices result in something more efficient and lean. Sometimes they result in the death of an idea. Sometimes it brings a rebirth or an all new direction.
On our national level, ironically our elected officials face a challenge similar to nonprofits. Our current election cycles demand office holders and candidates spend 70-90% of their time raising money. So when an issue before them may impact their ability to remain in power, is it any wonder they often choose the side of their campaign contributor? Or we, the citizens, punish them for voting with “the other side.” Yet, for us to have a thriving, just and healthy democratic republic we must find the balance between humanitarian interests and financial interests; and who knows we just might find that the two are not mutually exclusive. To do this we must make the difficult choice to reward cross-partisan actions.
As we make decisions about the direction of our future country, will we choose to make difficult choices with kindness and compassion? Or will we choose the most expedient choices, looking for efficiencies, like a business leader, looking for profits? However, many business leaders realize that people are more than numbers on a spreadsheet and that compassion and caring can actually increase profits. Again the two are not mutually exclusive. We need to know we are valued as human beings. We need to feel connected to each other in a way that is helpful to our lives and to others. If we are to bring about the promise that is the United States of America, we must find the balance between our financial interests and our shared humanity.
Or to put it more bluntly, our difficult choices will determine whether we continue this path of dehumanization of each other, which will increase our nation's fracturing and ongoing conflict.
I hope we choose a different path. One that lets go of our attachment to the nostalgia of a better past. I hope we choose to acknowledge the full and complete history of our nation; the good, the bad and the ugly. I hope we choose to see each other as fellow citizens, with whom we may agree or disagree and yet we respect them anyway. I hope we make the difficult choice to move towards a more perfect union.
Anything less, and the dream and promise of America will surely die.