Imagine a place where people with diverse interests, backgrounds and means come together out of a common desire to cooperate and support each other for the sake of the greater good. Now imagine that the place is our collective community – the state of Rhode Island.
Any community – local, national, global – benefits from civic leadership, and the engagement and participation of its members. And right now, civic leadership would go a long way toward helping us overcome the incredibly complex challenges we face in our state.
Today, there are times when thoughtful listening and respectful dialogue have been replaced by insults and extreme actions. Loud rhetoric drowns out reasonable discourse. Compromise is seen as loss rather than a way to move forward together, and the rules of civility seem to have faded into the long-distant past.
We live in a time of great contradictions. Information – both factual and inaccurate – is readily available, at anyone’s fingertips (or at the tips of our thumbs). Twitter, Facebook and whatever is next on the horizon of the social media explosion have evolved into the new town hall meeting. There are few barriers left, artificial or otherwise. And yet, we are more disconnected than ever.
Civic leadership requires that we responsibly use the information and the tools available to us, that we apply our minds – and our hearts – to a higher cause. It calls for us to be supportive of others, and to appreciate viewpoints different from our own. Civic leadership results in unity of purpose and unbreakable connections. It makes us accountable to one another.
“Leadership” is not an executive title; each one of us has the ability to become a civic leader in our own way. All that it requires is practice and commitment with the intent to improve the quality of life in our community. Become educated on issues, ask questions, develop informed opinions and be willing to share them confidently. Have empathy. Look your opponents in the eye and shake hands. If you have expertise and knowledge, pass it on. Debate respectfully. Vote. Respect public leaders. Embrace our democratic process. But do not follow blindly.
Neil D. Steinberg,
The Rhode Island Foundation¸ government,