The courage to step forward constructively in a time of crisis depends on our readiness to meet pain or frustration as a positive personal act. This is not easy, especially when the world around us is self-destructing.
To persevere at such a time, our values and sense of personal integrity become very important. And, beyond this, we are in need of a vision of the future that embodies our hopes and a purpose we believe in.
However, the immediate problems confronting us will usually present themselves in a social context. The deterioration of civil order will be a great challenge for us.
In my view, a commitment to the integrity of civil order is a commitment to ones’ own personal integrity. Both commitments are guided by our values and sense of responsibility. Both are essential components of a free society.
Each of us needs to think about who we are and what integrity means to us. And this will require that we strengthen both our sense of self-sufficiency and our sense of purpose.
Self-sufficiency and purpose give us self-confidence, so both are important. Self-sufficiency is about practical matters and will power. But purpose has to do with ideas, and ideas can be problematic. So, let’s think about this.
Purpose needs to remain responsive to change and creative thinking, as well as to our personal views. Like the world around us, we are constantly responding and growing. It is easy to attach ourselves unwittingly to ideas that are rooted in past circumstances and which no longer hold true.
There is both strength and danger here.
Most of us develop a firm commitment to certain ideas. This has value, so long as we keep our minds open. We need the capacity to stick to our beliefs and to follow through with plans. Otherwise nothing would get done.
However, at a time of extraordinary disruption and change, when the future is hard to imagine, our intended direction will sometimes take unexpected turns – or disappear temporarily into a fog.
We know what kind of world we wish to live in, at least in general terms, but the details of the future will be veiled from view. Why? Because the emerging reality of the future is in constant motion.
This is why shared moral values and social principles in our communities are important. A vision for the future needs to be built upon mutual respect and understanding, rather than on the assumptions of a crumbling past.
Even in the midst of chaos, “constructive action” can be understood as the means by which we progress toward our intended goals, not away from them.
So, let’s keep two priorities in mind: First, to hold firmly to values capable of guiding us through turmoil. Second, to stay alert, allowing flexibility of judgment and adjusting our thinking as conditions change.
If we believe in freedom we cannot allow presuppositions to set the future in concrete. That is not what freedom is about.
Let’s be clear. Assumptions that we carry with us from the past are dinosaurs that threaten our ability to create the future. Our values and principles must be permitted to guide our way, based on the realities at hand.
We may dislike the conditions in which we find ourselves at any particular moment. We may determine to alter them. But, to be rigid and inflexible would court disaster. Our independence as free people depends in large part on our capacity to engage effectively with ever-changing circumstances.
We are challenged to keep our balance at the vortex of an historic turning point. Our values will support personal integrity, and our vision will determine the direction we seek as we traverse the storm.
If we wish to exercise our liberty fully as citizens, we must hold to a principled compassion, resist absolutism and bigotry, and adjust effectively to the flow of change.
To be free in the tumult of a great storm we must summon our courage to spread our wings and soar on the wind.
Next week: Walking the talk.
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