In the 1950s and 60s, the Civil Rights Movement was known both for its principle and its practice.
Its principle was simple, affirmed by the Supreme Court in Brown v Board of Education. "Separate but equal," the Court had said, "is inherently unequal."
Its practice was simple as well. Nonviolent resistance, disciplined by the spirit of Christian love. Resist the evil, affirm the humanity of those who commit evil. Demonstrators were drilled in the discipline of nonviolent resistance; no matter the provocation, they were determined not to return hatred with hatred.
Now we face a complex challenge. America is not a competent nation, and in response to the failures of our time many Americans have become frustrated and angry. Politicians lash out, even more than they usually do. The Occupy Wall Street movement has found a way to symbolize a moral judgment, but in itself those efforts won't go far to help America learn the arts of twenty-first century competence.
Let's take a leaf from the civil rights movement. Let's affirm a principle that's suited for our time. And let's embrace a practice that can help us learn the arts of civic competence.
The principle? Competence depends on integrity. If America embraces integrity at scale, America can become a competent nation.
The practice? When Americans sit together to wrestle with major issues, make a point of addressing four key questions:
The Stewardship Question - Let's understand the condition of America's core assets.
The Business Model Question - Is it time to redesign this industry's business model? If so, how?
The Public Policy Question - Is it time to redesign the relevant public policies?
The Small Hat/Large Hat Question - Are we prepared to subordinate special interest demands to the national interest?
Let's embrace the principle. Integrity at scale is essential to national competence.
Let's also practice the art of civic competence - good stewardship, good business model redesign, good public policy redesign, and alignment of special interests with the national interest.
These aren't "hard" but they are important disciplines. It will take practice, practice, and more practice to learn them well and use them properly. Just as the civil rights movement started small and then awakened a nation, conscientious American today can begin small. And awaken a nation.
Steven Howard Johnson