The latest Gallup poll finds that 73 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction their country is heading.
While this is an improvement over figures in the high-80s during the height of the recession, it remains difficult to swallow the pessimism of 7-in-10 Americans.
And this is no recent trend. March marked 122 consecutive months in which more Americans believed their country was on the wrong path than the right path. An entire decade. These figures transcend both political parties who have each controlled the White House and Congress at various points over the last decade.
An easy indicator of economic health is the unemployment rate. Current figures show that 6.7 percent of Americans are unemployed, an improvement from 10 percent in October 2008. The beginnings of the economic crisis pushed dissatisfaction numbers to their highest in the history of the poll. In October 2008, 91 percent of Americans were dissatisfied with the direction their country was headed in. And who can blame them? Unemployment had risen two percent in the previous 12 months.
It was another year, October 2009, before unemployment peaked. But oddly, the number of dissatisfied Americans had dropped to 71 percent by then. So the economy almost certainly has played a role in the dissatisfaction of Americans, but there is no definitive correlation.
The Real Problem
I was 12 the last time a majority of Americans felt satisfied with the direction of their country. My generation has grown up suffocating under a decade of pessimism.
So how can we expect energetic and optimistic leaders to emerge from the Millennials? I worry that the hope and enthusiasm of an entire generation could be extinguished by the pessimism of the agitated country they have grown up in.
The first thing we have to ask ourselves is: why we are heading in our current direction and who is leading us there? Americans have resoundingly stated for 10 years that whatever that direction is, they don’t like it.
The second question we must ask ourselves is: who can lead us in a different direction? The answer becomes clearer with every month of dissatisfaction that passes.
And that answer doesn’t involve a change in political party. The answer does not involve the next election or a new Congress.
No, the answer involves a new type of leader. And more of them.
As members of a democracy, we all have an opportunity to lead. And true democratic citizens have an obligation to lead. Leadership is not reserved for a fixed number of seats on the city council or in the US Senate. Instead, we all have the chance to take up the responsibility to lead in our own way.
What Makes a True Leader?
Leaders do not mock.
Leaders do not scream.
Leaders do not dwell on the failings of their neighbors.
Leaders are empathetic.
Leaders are respectful.
Leaders have open minds.
Leaders want to find a solution.
Leaders are selfless.
These are qualities not easily found among our elected officials. Those who practice mockery and relish in the failures of their opponents are weak leaders. Those who lack respect, empathy and compromise are weak leaders.
It’s time for us to step up and be the leaders we want to see. In our towns and in our offices. On the street and online. And perhaps even as elected officials.
We cannot afford to suffer another decade in the wrong direction. Weak leaders are more than content to take America down the wrong path because they fail the conviction to put aside their selfish desires.
We need true leaders in every neighborhood, town and state who are willing to reach a hand out to any neighbor. We need true leaders who don’t view someone from the other side of the aisle as the enemy. We need leaders who understand that their personal agendas are small when compared to the common well-being of their country.
And who better to take up this challenge than the generation that has grown up knowing only dissatisfaction. We have nothing to lose.