Monday, July 23, 2012

Leadership in times of anarchy - Esther Lloyd Jones

My dear colleague Susan Komives is in the process of sorting through her files and periodically sends me pieces in which she knows I would have interest.  The latest was a scanned copy of a mimeographed speech Dr. Esther Lloyd-Jones delivered to the Florida College Personnel Association in the Fall of 1967.  The title was "Morality:  New? The Same? Changing," the text covering a variety of issues related to the emerging student unrest that was sweeping U.S.A. campuses as a result of civil rights, the Viet Nam War, and the infamous hippy generation.

Esther's speaking and writing frequently advocated the importance of community as an essential part of students' university experience.  This dedication to community stood in contrast to the rising influence of individual psychology and the profound impact of specialization in scholarly communities.  And, the ideas ring as true in today's contentious political and academic settings as I suspect they did in 1967:

We dare not let moral anarchy develop further, but no one great leader is going to emerge today to give us the answers.  The only way out that I can see is to develop a great concerned, informed disciplined center – a center made up of those who have cultivated their understanding about the moral problems that beset us – a center made up of younger and older human beings all working together to analyze, understand, reach decisions, and act in concert.  A center willing to listen to dissenters.
Moral anarchy - what's that?  Is it a time when the perceived moral imperatives of various splinter groups result in the crumbling of any sense of shared destiny?  Is it a place where protectionism has begun to trump the general welfare of others and society in general?

Perhaps "moral anarchy" sounds too strident an alarm, especially when some would prefer to think of simply an age that has become very, very complicated.  Regardless if your belief is that we are experiencing anarchy or extreme complexity, Esther's proposal is for shared leadership and membership that is informed, invites dissent, and focused on mobilizing action for positive change.  Not a bad proposal for the many local, regional, and international conflicts we face today...

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