An exciting week is ahead of us: the people of the United States of America will elect their 45th president. While as a cross-border commuter between Europe and the US I was usually questioned about healthcare policies the conversation has shifted to the presidential campaign over the last couple of months. I could now bet on who will win or chime in the ongoing social media discussion. But I’d like to offer a more personal perspective here.
It is almost twenty years ago that many young Europeans including myself went to the US with just two suitcases to build a career and a life. The motivation was that our aspirations and dreams would be fueled by the spirit of the American culture. Many of us were discouraged by the hierarchies of European cultures in which nobody listens to your ideas unless you are old and grey-haired. For us the US represented fairness and unlimited possibilities – if we work hard and build on our talent and knowledge. A dream that came true for many of us.
What strikes me most in the last couple of months when I talk to my friends and colleagues is their agreement that the United States have changed. Many say that fair play, courage and accountability have gone downhill. A performance culture turns into a cheating culture if loosing is not accepted as part of a game and life, but as a failure that needs to be “corrected”. We observe it in sports, business, and politics. Instead of readjusting our attitude and values, morale vanishes.
Now as grown-ups what do we do about this observation? We talk, share posts, complain… but has any of those social media shares about the US campaign had an impact on the sanity of the leadership of a world power? In reality we are just fueling the candidates’ PR game and not taking on responsibility to shape a country’s values. How much dirty laundry do you have to wash in public not to become a role model but to become the “lesser evil”? Maybe, it is because many are just in the game for themselves – not for a country or a culture. This is a defensive campaign that will harm the future – not because of its candidates, but the damage it has done to American culture and values.
And the underlying issue of the campaign discussion is not limited to the US although it is its most prominent face. In his recent NYTimes opinion piece on “What do Trump and Marx have in common” Jochen Bittner elaborates on how the leaders of today never grasped the difference between anger driven by righteousness and anger driven by hate. “Anger works like gasoline. If you use it intelligently and in a controlled manner, you can move the world. That’s called progress. Or you just spill it about and ignite it, creating spectacular explosions. That’s called arson.”
Every four or five years we cast our vote for (or against) a new government. Then we let them act, go home to do our work, occasionally complain or agree, but what can we actually do for our country as John F. Kennedy asked? How can we shape and cultivate our culture and values? Il faut cultiver notre jardin – said Voltaire. This is a piece of work, but “gardening” is essential to create the fertile ground for future generations and ideas. If we close our eyes crazy plants will grow and disseminate their germs.
Why don’t we take a stand instead of just sharing posts? Why don’t we fight for a role-model that the next generation can look up to? This campaign is not scary; it is just a portrait of selfishness that permeates many societies.
Que sera, sera… The future is not ours to see … but it is here to stay. This week is not about choosing the “lesser evil” and then going back to work. It is about deciding for the future and then designing it. Not sharing, but giving. Make a change yourself. Do something for somebody else. Be courageous to say “I have lost because somebody else was better”. Or celebrate if you won a fair play. We are all responsible to act on and for this planet every day. Not doing anything won’t change anything. Doing something might change everything.
I’d like to close on this day before the election with a slightly modified version of T. S. Eliot’s cycle of poems, the Four Quartets:
So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and in this case America.
With best wishes for all of us,
Prof. Dr. Katharina Janus
Director of the Center for Healthcare Management, Germany, and Columbia University, New York, NY, USA