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Taking the Social Pulse of Youth, Age, Creativity

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Strengthening communities and reconciling the individual's role within them are passionately discussed issues today. Three new books examine various paths to achieving these goals. Two of them, Leading With the Soul by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal and The Careless Society by John McKnight, suggest that individuals need to learn how to heal themselves before they can begin to create and enjoy healthy communal environments. In Defying the Crowd, Robert J. Sternberg and Todd I. Lubart argue that creative, or different, thinking should be encouraged in schools and other social institutions to foster more intellectually balanced and thoughtful individuals. Below are excerpts:

America's 19th-century captains of industry led her organizations to international pre-eminence. Captains of industry were gradually replaced by modern managers, who have helped us see the virtues of clear goals, measurable objectives, specialization, policy, and accountability. This has taken us a long way from our ancestors, who worked intimately with nature in families and small communities. The challenges of the postmodern era have moved us beyond the reach of both the captains of industry and modern managers. Technological breakthroughs have created previously unknown conveniences and efficiencies. Yet we still face an onslaught of problems that are frustratingly resistant to rational and technical solutions.

More and more of us see that many of those problems are rooted in a disease of the human spirit. President Carter may have been ahead of his time when he suggested that the United States was suffering from a spiritual malaise. Few of his countrymen thanked him at the time, but President Clinton returned to the same theme 15 years later. Nor is this a message restricted to Baptists, Southerners, or Democrats. Lee Atwater, one of the architects of President Reagan's political success, talked about the "spiritual vacuum in the heart of the American society, this tumor of the soul." ...

To prevail in the face of violence, homelessness, economic depression, and widespread malaise, we need a vision of leadership rooted in the enduring sense of human wisdom, courage, and compassion. We need a new generation of seekers ... who have the courage to confront their own shadows and to embark upon a personal quest for spirit and heart, and who have the commitment to share their learning with others.

How will we develop the seekers that we need? To begin with, we need a revolution in how we think about leadership and how we develop leaders. Most management and leadership-development programs ignore or demean spirit. They desperately need an infusion of poetry, literature, music, art, theater, history, philosophy, dance, and other forms that are full of spirit. Even that would still leave us far short of the cadre of leaders of spirit that we require. Leaders learn most from their experience--especially from their failures. Too often, though, they miss the lessons. They lack the reflective capacity to learn on their own and have not been fortunate enough to find a spiritual guide. ...

In recent decades, we have evolved a kind of implicit compact with the most senior members of our community. In return for better medical care and more financial independence, they are expected to go off to play bridge or golf, leaving the rest of us to get on with our own pursuits. The implicit message is that we want them to be comfortable even though they are largely useless. We have thus cordoned off potential sources of spiritual insight in retirement homes and communities, where their wisdom and experience are rarely available to the rest of us.

Leaders ... often find themselves confronting awesome challenges with inadequate reservoirs of experience or seasoning. They look to books, articles, consultants, and workshops and find the latest solution-in-good-standing. When this solution fails, they turn to the next fad. Yet there are countless potential ... sources of spiritual guidance who are untapped or underused. A return to spirituality will lead us to seek their wisdom. In matters of spirit, wisdom and experience count far more than technique or strategy.

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