“Me the People”: It’s time to change our metaphor

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“The crisis of US congress is an issue of followership and not an issue of leadership”. Barbara Kellerman

I am not a political person but my world is filled with political stories the day after American mid-term elections. As a Canadian living in the US, it has been interesting to watch the election from the sidelines. There were two troubling themes that I identified as I observed this ebb of the election cycle.

A Less Perfect Union

When the American constitution was established, it used some beautiful words – “to form a more perfect union”. My television was filled with commercials which focused on the opposite of this. The predominant messaging was on what another candidate or party was not. This negative campaigning has subtly shifted our focus away from becoming a “more perfect union”.

The day-time counselor Dr. Phil has helpfully dubbed this as ‘laddering’: the need to push someone down the ladder in order generate self-importance as you rise up the ladder. When you see someone ‘laddering’, you see someone who is weak. You also see someone who puts their needs ahead of the needs of others.

In decades past, politicians were called public servants. I once asked a high ranking politician why the word servant was in his title. He was strangely quiet. He had obviously not considered the implications of his role of a servant. Otto Scharmer summarized this perfectly when he reminded us that, “Our society must move from ego-system to eco-system economics. This requires that we shift from ego-system silos to eco-system awareness that  considers others and includes the whole”. It’s time to refocus on a “more perfect union”!

Me the People

This republic was founded on the premise of “We the people”. As I observe our political reality, it appears that ‘We the people’ has shifted to ‘Me the people”. We have quietly turned politics into a battlefield. If it is a battlefield, we must understand the implications of such a mindset. Abraham Lincoln clearly reminds us of these implications when he said, “A house divided against itself it cannot stand”. Battlefield politics moves us away from our goal of a becoming a more perfect union. Battlefield politics which focus on me instead of we have caused us to lose our way. Our strength is best found in our collectiveness, not our individuality. It’s time to put the we back into “we the people”.

A Plea for Change

Change is facilitated when we begin to look at an old thing in a new way. If we believe that the battlefield metaphor is inadequate then we must replace it with another. If it were my choice, I want to picture America as a body. A rudimentary study of the human body reveals incredible complexity, diversity and interdependence. I want to live in a nation that acts as my body acts – cooperatively, efficiently and with purpose.

If America wants to be a nation that leads nations, we need to change our metaphor. In fact, We the People, are responsible to make it happen.


Head Shot

Jeff Suderman is a professor and consultant who serves in the field of organizational development. He is not political but knows a problem when he sees one. And he knows that it is time for “we the people” to reclaim our quest to becoming a “more perfect union”. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

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