I’d like to share with you my article “Why We Can’t All Just Get Along,” published June 14, 2012, in Defining Ideas, a Hoover Institution Journal. It is a review of Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.
I’d like to share with you my article, “The Death of Honesty,” published January 12, 2012, in Defining Ideas, a Hoover Institution Journal, which explores how moral numbness brought on by a decline of honesty and a failure to cultivate virtue in citizens can be a threat to democracy.
I’d like to share with you my article, “The Education of Steve Jobs,” published September 16, 2011, in Defining Ideas, a Hoover Institution Journal, which explores questions about how to educate young people for entrepreneurship.
On 29 July 2011, I took part in a timely radio discussion hosted by Dr. Howard Gluss, a clinical psychologist and film and television expert from Los Angeles. I shared the hour with Melissa Febos, another author. The section of the broadcast focusing on my book Failing Liberty 101 is the second thirty minutes.
The discussion with Dr. Gluss was very thoughtful – his insights reminded me of the way people with whom I worked in the entertainment industry are so good at putting their fingers on the pulse of the public’s sensibilities.
I’d like to share with you my article, “American Amnesia,” published July 1, 2011, in Defining Ideas, a Hoover Institution Journal, which explores our national crisis of young people failing civics.
Political knowledge and interest among the young has been in decline for fifty years. Although some of today’s young are active in civic and political affairs, there are huge gaps in the interest and participation of the broader youth population. Such gaps can be found in voting patterns, political knowledge, aspirations to civic leadership, and attitudes towards public life.
Even in the highly charged 2008 presidential election, only 52% of 18-24 year-olds voted, a mere 4% increase over 2004 and on the low end of trends since 1972 (when 18-year-olds were first granted the vote). Our own research on youth purpose has found that only a tiny fraction of young Americans now aspires to political leadership. What’s more, young people’s attitudes about our democracy are often marked by skepticism, distrust, and lack of interest. Of special concern is that disadvantaged and culturally marginalized populations of youth often express the highest degrees of alienation and disaffection.
Over the past several years, I have pursued a research program devoted to understanding how young people acquire and act on goals that are both personally meaningful and oriented toward contributing beyond the self – that is, how young people develop purposes that motivate their social behavior over the long term. This research has documented the positive effect of purpose on academic, social, and civic outcomes. A dimension of purpose that is critically important in a democratic society is civic purpose. When young people acquire civic purpose, it can motivate them to tackle noble challenges, such as establishing organizations for environmental protection and providing much-needed assistance to people in developing countries.
Civic purpose is a fundamental developmental and educational outcome that prepares the ground for fully engaged citizenship. Civic purpose requires the following:
In our initial research on the state of civic purpose among American youth today, we have found little interest in national political affairs. But we did find civic activity around issues of personal concern, such as the availability of sports programs. We have recorded instances of early civic and political activities such as preparing for future leadership through studying and learning; giving speeches; writing essays about civic and political issues; organizing other students and raising their awareness of civic issues; fundraising; representing students in school government roles; campaigning by going door to door; interning for a political official; making changes at school by advocating new policies; meeting with experts on issues such as environmentalism and law; protesting community events that cause anger; lobbying; writing e-mails to officials; and communicating to one another about issues of societal concern on social media. In addition, we found expressions of faith in the American democracy and the American Dream that contain far more idealism than common media portrayals of such notions, even among students from highly disadvantaged urban areas. But all of these positive glimmerings of civic purpose are set against a backdrop of far too much apathy, detachment, and lack of interest. I’ll be writing on this blog more about this in coming weeks, as a follow-up to the book that is to be released in May 2011, Failing Liberty 101 How we are leaving Young Americans Unprepared for Citizenship in a Free Society.
My original title for The Path to Purpose – nixed by the publisher – was to be The Age of Purpose. My intention was to signal a dual drama that is now playing out simultaneously in the lives of individuals and in the life of our society. No doubt my publisher decided to avoid my double entendre in order to ensure a clear title that could directly communicate the book’s contents. But at the start of my blog, I now have a chance to say what was on my mind when I first envisioned the book project.
Many individuals find themselves adrift in a vacuum of belief, searching for something that they can wholeheartedly devote their talents and energies to. The search for meaning is especially acute during the time of adolescence and emerging adulthood – in our society, the teens and twenties – and so this is the first, and perhaps formative, “age of purpose” during human development. Yet the need to find purpose continues throughout life, right up into the retirement years, when folks who have succeeded in everything (business, raising children, gaining social status) suddenly can find themselves coming up empty unless they find a new purpose for what some authors have recently called “prime-time” (Marc Friedman) or “half-time” (Bob Buford). So, for the individual, the age of purpose comes early but re-appears late, and self-renewal, as the great John Gardner once wrote, is the entry fee that we always must continue to pay for a meaningful life.
On a societal level, we are at a pivotal time in history. Traditional systems of cultural and social meaning – faith, patriotism, matrimony, vocation, paternity, maternity – have been challenged in their ancient forms. In some cases, these challenges have lead to progress towards liberation and greater equality; in other cases, the challenges have lead to nothing more elevated than confusion and doubt.
Our civic society in recent years has vacillated between despair and hope. Revered social institutions in finance, education, and the popular media, have fallen into disrepute; but at the same time creative new approaches to democratic communications and networking in our burgeoning social media have triggered optimism and energy, especially among the young. Global conflict and criminality seem to rise, hydra-like and unmanageable, from every corner of the earth; yet there have been courageous political and military responses to some of the most fearsome incidents. Whether, as a society, we will end up traveling down the road to despair or the road to hope is still unknown: the answer, once again, is blowing in the wind.
The road to hope, for both the individual and the society, can only be approached by the path to purpose. Purpose is required to fill the spiritual vacuum that leads to drift, apathy, cynicism, and nihilism. Purpose is needed to sustain the will to strive, achieve, contribute, and continue learning. Purpose provides resilience in hard times, elevation in good times, and confident aspiration all throughout life. It is the key to psychological survival for the individual, economic and civic survival for the society, and a state of thriving and well-being for both.