On a Culture Getting What it Always Got


That whirring sound you hear is the American electorate’s heads spinning on the day after another change election. For the third consecutive time, voters have thrown the bums out, hoping that the next batch will be better than the last.

Our political culture is really nothing more than a reflection of ourselves, so the waffling back and forth tells me that we really don’t know what we want from our leaders. I believe the reason for this ever-increasing indecision is the ever-increasing polarization fueled by media personalities on the extreme left and the extreme right — communicators who rely on hyperbole rather than thoughtful commentary because it’s more entertaining and grabs higher ratings.

During this campaign and on this, the morning after, there’s a lot of angry voters who are crying, “Do you hear us, Washington? We demand better!” But really, we have no one to blame for this mess but ourselves. We created this political culture and we’re the ones who keep it alive by tuning in to the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann and by behaving badly at political rallies hosted by the extreme right and extreme left.

A culture — whether political, social or corporate — is a mere reflection of its constituents. So, when we elevate The Situation, whose only talent is that he looks good without a shirt, to celebrity status, we get even more vapid entertainment thrown at us. When we undermine our co-workers and fan the flames of internal competition at work, we get treated like children by management. When we reduce political discourse to name-calling and broad generalizations of the other side, we get legislative gridlock.

So how do we fix it? I wish there was an easy answer. I’ve worked on the communication of culture-change programs for several Fortune 500 companies and I can tell you it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow, methodical, deliberate process. It reminds me of the old joke about how many therapists it takes to change a light bulb: just one, but it takes a long time and the light bulb must really want to change.

If we’re part of a culture that we really want to change, it starts with us individually, changing our attitudes and behaviors. Until that happens, to borrow from Tony Robbins, we’ll always get what we always got.

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