“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” – John F. Kennedy
We have reached the tipping point as a community. The changes wrought by the global pandemic despite every rosy false projection are not going away anytime soon. Rising infection and death rates cannot be obfuscated by a reality television veneer or outright lies. The fight for racial justice and equality has exposed a raw and visceral wound that is acting like a mirror forcing us to confront the ugliest image reflected back just like the Portrait of Dorian Gray of Oscar Wilde fame. Like the character of Dorian in the novel, we cannot deny the rotting reflection of we are, a beautiful country with a decaying heart and soul. The decay comes from the poison of the original sin that haunts the founding of our country, the original sin of slavery. This sin is exacting a toll that we are in denial about paying. The bill collectors are demanding payment and we are disputing the final tally. Coronavirus is our late fee penalty on that bill.
The combined scourges of our racist past and our current undeniable diseased present are obliterating everything in its fire scorching path. The combination has exposed our collective and individual helplessness to block its inevitable conclusion. We are all staring into the heart of darkness and our fear/panic is palpable. We are looking for a lifeline to pull us to a place of safety that provides us a calming comfort. Holding out hope that maybe something of value and worth will be spared from the blaze and that we can rebuild from the ruins.
For many in our community, Dayton is and has been that safe harbor. A destination removed from the devastation. A community that is impervious to the winds of change that are sweeping our world. Our false sense of safety is rooted in the privilege of denial. Dayton has for the most part survived global conflicts, economic recessions, and societal unrest that other cities have never recovered from. This false sense of security has to lead us to encourage leadership that is more about maintaining the status quo rather than a leadership enlisted to encourage growth and Innovation. Instead, we have settled for a leadership dazed by the halcyon glow of nostalgia and myopic to the possibilities of what a visionary future may hold. Nostalgia has always been a crutch for maintaining the status quo.
Maintaining the status quo requires a certain type of leadership operating within a conducive environment. This type of leadership almost always cloaks itself in the veneer of middling respectability. A profound lack of intellectual curiosity and creative thought processes are hallmarks of their managerial style.
The twin scourges of the pandemic and racism have provided double metaphorical slaps to the status quo. Both slaps have produced a variety of responses from our leaders. Some leaders awoke from the slaps to a renewed sense of purpose, finding opportunities to deal with our problems with a certain amount of clarity and willpower. Other leaders turned their gaze inward by reflecting on and considering the severity of the consequences of their roles and looking to make amends. A small minority of our leaders punched back, obstinately refusing to address the stark reality of our challenges, retreating to a false narrative, and making decisions that dangerously contradict the harshest truths. A fatal denial that endangers us all. The danger of this approach is that our Pre-COVID world is gone up in a blaze that is leaving nothing in its wake. We cannot return to an empty lot and pretend that we have a beautiful mansion unscathed. Wake up!
The Great Reset
Yes, we are in dark dystopian times, and at times it feels as if we are being consigned to a fatalistic ending. Nihilism is a response reserved only for the privileged and over-indulged and doesn’t allow for what inevitably happens after a cleansing fire, a chance to rebuild. A massive reset that addresses a new design for our way of life. Embracing fresh ideas and concepts that provides a roadmap to a future that is inclusive, dynamic, and equal. If we had leaders who possess bold visionary and creative skills and a zest for life, we just might have a fighting chance to be reborn as a city, a Dayton 2.0. For this to happen we have to reset ourselves. We need to imbue ourselves with the ability to never accept bad and mediocre decision making. Exercise our rights as citizens to demand better from those who control the levers of power. If their incompetency causes damage or harm, exercise our rights to remove them from power. Hold them accountable at every point of their tenure.
We are all looking for inspiration and the motivation to rise up and meet insurmountable challenges head-on. We are all seeking the wisdom and guidance of exceptional leaders who will be an improvement from the gaggle of short-sighted leaders who are currently blocking our progress as we march toward a viable future. At some point, all of us have been lulled into the docile embrace of the mediocrity that governs us. We have let fear make us the pawns in other people’s games. We have let fear guide us away from who we truly are. Instead of talking about our past glories of invention and industriousness let us engage actively in the task of rebuilding Dayton from the ground up. We may be tired, battered, and burned by the fire, but we are also audaciously endowed with the forces of common sense, decency, and creative vitality that will see us through to an even unimaginably brighter future when that last ember has died. These latent powers lie dormant within all of us and the time to use those powers is now.
One of my favorite shows to watch during this period of turbulence and despair has been HBO’s West World and my favorite line from the show that I have adopted as a personal mantra is that, “This is the new world. And in the new world, you can be whoever the F**k you want.” So the question that I pose to Dayton is, who the F**k do you want to be?