Wednesday, July 13, 2016
We are pleased to provide a special guest reflection by Trinity Forum Trustee Byron Smith.
“Shocked… Confused… Dismayed… Angry! ”
The sense of frustration many of us feel as we observe what is happening in our country can be disorienting. The demoralizing presidential election, violence against and by police, the polarization of our politics, debasement of our public language, the growing (if ignored) national debt, all contribute to a crisis of confidence in leadership. We have come to realize that we are like the proverbial frog in rapidly-heating water. But even as we recognize the peril of our situation, we also question: Is it too late?
To answer that question, we need to look at how we got here. Surely part of the cause is that we as a society no longer think clearly or deeply. We read less often and less well. We cannot sustain public debate without devolving into slogans and slurs. We confuse scientific and technological improvement with societal progress. Our attention span has shrunk to 140 characters or less. We look for easy answers and scapegoats, enabling “leaders” to exploit this weakness for their own gain.
The silver lining on this dark election is that it has exposed the urgency of our situation. Many people will ignore their doctor’s advice to eat well and exercise – until a heart attack, cancer, or other major health scare comes. Perhaps the political events of the last year will serve as a health scare to our body politic, and motivate us to take action.
The way forward may require a look back. C. S. Lewis once said: “Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”
This “about turn” represents the very societal change pursued daily at the Trinity Forum. The Forum has always been about the “road less travelled.” They provide resources to enable deeper, wiser public thought and discussion. They offer access to a broad body of thoughtful writings and speakers designed to spur conversation on society’s biggest issues. The Trinity Forum approaches the issues of today by analyzing them via the great ideas and thinkers that have shaped Western civilization and historic Christendom – and engages leaders in reflection and discussion that shapes their thinking, inspires their leadership, and equips them to shape culture.
While the majority of Trinity Forum activities have centered out of Washington, DC, their work is now expanding to other cities as well. This year they began their fourth year of sold-out Evening Conversations in my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. Governor Bill Haslam hosted a full day Forum on Character and Courage in the 21st Century at the Governor’s Residence for 30 Nashville leaders, so that they could wrestle with ways of cultivating character and flourishing in their community. Over the next few years, the Trinity Forum hopes to expand its reach into other major cities as well, to start more such conversations and equip more leaders.
My own frustration with the state of our country has led me to invest more energy and resources in initiatives outside of politics to cultivate wise leadership and cultural change. This is part of the reason that this year, I plan to invest funds that I would have given to a presidential campaign with the Trinity Forum. I’ve decided it is a far better and more influential use of money than an election contribution. I’m doing everything I can to invite others to join Trinity Forum: sending Facebook invitations and gift memberships, sharing Readings and resources, and asking people to join me at Evening Conversations. And I’m engaging with more urgency to build upon the success in DC and Nashville to catalyze conversations in other major cities among local leaders to cultivate character and flourishing.
It has been said that in a democracy, we get the leaders we deserve. If there is any truth in that claim, serious discussion needs to take place about our national character, priorities, and ways of thinking. We are clearly in hot water, but like the frog, we don’t need to stay there. Join me in making the jump!
Recommended Readings & Resources:
The City of God by St. Augustine, The Trinity Forum Reading, 2011.
The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness by Reinhold Niebuhr, The Trinity Forum Reading, 2012.
Politics, Morality, and Civility by Vaclav Havel, The Trinity Forum Reading, 2006.
William Wilberforce: A Man Who Changed His Times, The Trinity Forum Reading, 2010.
Byron Smith is a Principal at Mountain Group Partners and a member of the Trinity Forum Board of Trustees.