Our generation is in desperate need of thoughtful leaders. There is an increasing trend in American politics to legislate first and learn later. When I was in college, I remember discussing my plans to go to law school with a classmate. He had previously told the class that he was going to be governor of South Carolina one day. He said that he had thought about law school but had decided against it, because, although he was interested in writing law, he had no interest in learning any. He also noted his distaste for reading and disdain for formal education. Aside from the fact that he did not understand the distinction between a governor and a legislator, his desire to lead first, learn later (if at all), was troubling. He now works in real estate, and, as far as I know, still aspires to hold the most powerful position in our state.
In the 21st century, more than ever, we need leaders who are consistently dedicated to learning. In this age of increasing globalization, exponential technological advancements, and ever-changing social issues, a leader’s effectiveness is unrelentingly correlated with the degree to which he seeks to understand the world around him.
There was a time when local leaders could manage their localized responsibilities without giving much thought to what was going on in other parts of the world. But now, how can a local leader address his district’s education concerns without connecting those concerns to the globalized economy? Just last a year, a disturbing number of South Carolina legislators proposed a bill that would have established our state with its own currency, based on our own supply of actual wealth – or lack thereof – so as to break away from the American economy. With that delusional mind set, how could such leaders make intelligent decisions about how we will prepare our children to compete for jobs in the globalized economy?
Or how can a local legislator address his town’s environmental issues without understanding global warming? In South Carolina, the Republican-controlled legislature, as well as our Governor, denies the existence of a scientific phenomenon widely accepted by scientists. Of course, why should we care what scientists think if we do not value learning to begin with?
We must discern between thoughtful and thoughtless leaders.
A thoughtful leader has dedicated his or her life to understanding when and where their communities truly need leadership. A thoughtless leader sells solutions while creating the problems.
A thoughtful leader wants to know how people in the trenches feel about the battle. A thoughtless leader will ignore his constituents in order to rationalize his own opinion-based policy.
A thoughtful leader is patient, while a thoughtless leader acts rashly.
There will always be thoughtless leaders, but we can guard ourselves by being thoughtful voters.