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Alan M. Webber

Alan M. Webber

Alan Webber, a founding editor of Fast Company magazine, is an award-winning editor, author, and columnist. His most recent book is Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Yourself.

Save us from shallowness

Leadership in America in 2010 seems increasingly to consist not of making bold decisions but of explaining away relatively harmless mistakes. At the same time, the national mood fluctuates with bi-polar-like symptoms: Should we string this particular bastard up for his/her public outrage? Or should we forgive and forget--after all, these people are only human?

The deep underlying subject has little to do with race, just as the Tiger Woods discussion has little to do with the public fascination with very private matters. Something else is going on here.

For a clue, I suggest taking a look at the New York Times Sunday magazine section of two weeks ago. The cover story delved into the subject of executive compensation, in particular the amount of pay that America's newly most despised class -- bankers -- currently rake in. Meanwhile, the magazine's off-lead story took a look at celebrity rehab as led by Dr. Drew Pinksy, describing the inner workings of a reality TV show that either flaunts the culture of celebrity addiction or, alternatively, reveals it as a national crisis in all its sadness and despair.

What tied these two pieces together were the language choices the two writers made. In the first, we learned that the problem that creates the problem of excessive executive compensation is America's deep-seated "culture of entitlement." The second piece, the one on celebrity addiction, concluded that the underlying problem is America's deep-seated "culture of narcissism." If you put the two pieces together you come to the conclusion that American culture in 2010 lives at the intersection of entitlement and narcissism--We live in a country where we want it to be about us, and where we believe we deserve whatever we can get for ourselves.

Now if it happens that our elected leaders operate in a way that manifests entitlement and narcissism, or that our journalists produce reports that ultimately are all about entitlement and narcissism, should that come as any great surprise? Should we be amazed that in a culture of entitlement and narcissism the public conversations tend toward the trivial, the superficial, and the mediocre?

So here's a question for the leadership debate: How can leaders who believe that a culture of entitlement and narcissism is ultimately self-destructive reshape the public conversation to take us into deeper waters, more serious matters, and, ultimately, national cultural rejuvenation?

By Alan M. Webber

 |  January 11, 2010; 2:12 PM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please report offensive comments below.

Reid said Obama was light skinned and well spoken. Sounds like a compliment to me. Guess our age is showing again. Didn't mean to anger the right wing, now that they have shelved their hoods and crosses.

Posted by: crppplll | January 13, 2010 5:05 AM
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I believe that Mr. Weber is attempting to raise the discussion surrounding Mr. Reid's remarks to a more profound level. If I understand Mr. Weber correctly, he is suggesting that our political leaders act in accordance with their perceptions of the current cultural ethos. Very simply, that ethos is characterized by rampant individualism that is marked by a sense of entitlement and a sense of self-love/

Historically, Americans have been characterized as "rugged individuals" and as "do-gooders," concerned both about personal freedom and about the common good. Almost two centuries ago, Alexis de Toqueville,after studying the American "experiment" in democracy, warned the unbridled individualism could potentially be the downfall of the nation.

Mr. Weber seems to be saying that we have arrived at that point, and he suggests that our political leadership, if it wishes to help the nation regain the balance between individualism and the common good, must not pander to feelings of narcissism and entitlement.

In short, it is time for our leaders to be leaders and for the press to start speaking truth to power and for neither to engage in triviality.

Posted by: marmac5 | January 11, 2010 5:15 PM
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I'm confused too.

Posted by: rlj1 | January 11, 2010 4:04 PM
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Not seeing the nexus you are attempting to draw...

Posted by: DredScottFitzgerald | January 11, 2010 4:02 PM
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Huh??? What the blank are you talking about? You didn't even come close to answering the question. Are you attempting to minimize offensive comments such as Reid's as a harmless mistake?

Posted by: kwbinMD | January 11, 2010 3:51 PM
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