A New Social Covenant


Sometimes I wonder if the authors of my textbooks live in the same country, with the same history, as I do.

In the first chapter, titled “A New Covenant,” of this text-book, the author writes:

THE UNITED STATES WAS FOUNDED on the values of rugged individualism and competition. In our review of the first three principles we see how these qualities fashioned a society in which people have a greater orientation toward their individual needs and desires than to the collective good. In the spirit of Sankofa, which beckons us to reconcile our past with our present, we question the historical belief that human nature is only driven by self-interest, competition, and acquisition. This notion of individualism replaced early collective and cooperative cultures and established a social covenant in which government or society was a safeguard against man’s competitive and aggressive nature. In this worldview, leadership was the domain of the enlightened few, was competitively oriented, and focused on power and control.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (p. 23). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Where, out of a the revolt against monarchy and for limited, representative government, does someone get the idea our Founding Father created a system of leadership based on an enlightened few focused on power and control?

The first chapter features three principles learned from the Salsa, Soul, Spirit cultures, and contrasts it against the individualism of the history portrayed in the quote above. In this history, technology is making individualism no longer feasible, since we are now all one. This, says the author is creating a shift from an I to a We orientation, a more people-oriented form.

This shift is in alignment with leadership in communities of color, which must be other centered because leaders derive their authority from the people they serve. Leaders are sanctioned by their communities by putting the collective welfare above self-interest.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (p. 24). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Which makes me curious again. So it was there communities of color that must have influenced the writing of the Declaration of Independence, just like the Iroquois influence our early democracy. Because when I read the words:  “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” It obviously couldn’t be those independent-minded white male patriarchs known as The Founding Fathers.

The author continues by putting forward this vision for the future:

An other-centered society would incorporate the core values of collectivism and generosity that emanate from communities of color. These values are the touchstones for multicultural leadership principles dedicated to building a benevolent and just society that upholds the well-being of all people and nurtures future generations.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (p. 24). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The author makes a legitimate, if interesting plea before starting on principle #1 of the three principles in the chapter. Books on leadership from the individualism perspective always feature its best points, and don’t portray the down side. Therefore, she will do the same thing with the ideal, presenting the highest standards of the Latino, African-American and American Indian communities. Why does she do this?

For mainstream leaders, recognizing this ideal is an opportunity to incorporate the best practices from communities of color into their repertoire and to acknowledge their promise and potential. Young and emerging leaders of color will expand their understanding of the tremendous contribution our communities bring to America. I hope this inspires them to stay true to the values that have shaped their communities and to realize that their greatest contribution comes from being the architects of our multicultural future.

Bordas, Juana (2012-03-26). Salsa, Soul, and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural Age (pp. 25-26). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I can but applaud this desire to help people of color to rise to the highest ideal possible. And I certainly want to learn all I can from people of all cultures that I come into contact with. Yet, I also want to be critical, in the positive sense, when I see people interpreting the facts, as is being done with history in the above cases.

As an example, technology is getting so complex that individualism is no longer viable. True? I question that.

It is an interesting paradox, technologically, that the culture most accused of championing the individual, has fostered the technology that created the most interdependent society we know of, historically. The traditionally communal cultures have promoted simpler, more self-reliant technologies. One might say that the breaking out of the communal culture, with its reliance on the family nearby that you know, has transformed into a greater trust and reliance on the community of people who you don’t know, on the humanity of all humans, both of and not of your community, the trust that allows fair trade. From this perspective the individual, independent human is the most community-minded of all. Not having a small community or culture to call his own, he sees the entire world as worthy of being his community, not to lead, but share with and treat as equals.

That is my ideal of the individual that I put up alongside the ideal of communal leadership and service, of what is basically an advanced tribalism.


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