Governor Sarah Palin, in her acceptance speech for Vice Presidential Republican Candidate, fired the following political shot at Senator Obama: “I guess being the mayor of a small town is similar to being a community organizer, except that a mayor has actual responsibilities.”

            The media, especially Internet bloggers, loved the quote because it was a surprise attack on Senator Obama, in the tradition of borderline dirty politics. In the same speech she likened herself to a pit bull.

            With her vicious remark denigrating community service, she “shot herself in the foot” because a major theme of the RNC was service. Hundreds of Republican delegates waved placards saying nothing but “SERVICE.”

            In his own acceptance speech, John McCain loudly stated “We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law, and judges who dispense justice impartially and don’t legislate from the bench. We believe in the values of families, neighborhoods and communities.”

            While most people only heard the impassioned plea for impartial judges, he actually included community and service in the same sentence. Community service is a Republican priority but very low on the list of priorities. Sara Palin only used the word “service” once when she referred military service.

            George H. W. Bush in his 1988 inaugural address placed community service as one of his highest priorities with his catchy phrase “a thousand points of light.” He explicitly stated that these points of light were community organizations and he promised to go to all members of his government and the entire public to try to get them to participate in these community organizations. Twenty years later he is still setting a wonderful example, but his party’s latest candidates have mostly forgotten his message.

            Why does community service deserve a higher priority among Republicans? Well, duh, it is the only way to keep a society functioning if you cut taxes and cut government spending. 

            The United States already depends mightily upon community volunteers and the more we trim government services the more we need volunteer services. The Current Population Survey of the U.S. Census found that in 2007 one in four (26%) of Americans 16 and older volunteered with one or more organizations.

            Sixty-one million Americans gave 8.1 billion hours of time to their communities. For those who volunteered, they each worked an average of 133 hours per year or 22 minutes per day. Volunteers made a most impressive contribution to their country; they deserve applause, not sneers.

            Each year the Independent Sector estimates the economic value of the free hours put in by community volunteers. For 2007 they concluded that volunteer hours were worth on average $19.50, which adds up to a total economic value of $162 billion in free labor. If volunteering for sports and churches is dropped from this total, then we can say that volunteers contributed $90 billion of their time to community organizations last year.

            The Bureau of Labor Statistic’s American Time Use Survey also found that Americans volunteered an additional 19.8 billion free hours for their communities without going through an organization. Using the same hourly rate and adjustment factor, the total value of informal community service last year was $206 billion. Adding together both types of community service or volunteering, we get a total of $296 billion in free community service.

            Why is this so significant? If American adults were to have to pay to get that work done in their communities, it would cost every tax payer about $2,600 more in taxes per year. The average household would pay $5,570 more per year in taxes.

            Look at this another way. Community volunteers every year are giving each tax-paying household a free rebate of $2,672.

            Suppose in the interest of reducing the size of government, more cuts were made in services for vulnerable groups such as hurricane victims, the elderly, the disabled, and the very poor. Such a policy would make the need for community volunteers even greater than now. But community volunteers are not going to come to the aid of those who need help, unless their free time and effort are appreciated.

            The Republican Vice-Presidential Candidate got political mileage by putting down the work of “community organizers,” but at great expense to the well-being of society. Barack Obama in the 1980s worked for several years as a “community organizer” in the equivalent of a ghetto in Chicago’s south side. He worked more than full time at such a low salary that he essentially was giving most of his time free to the community. In that sense he was a community volunteer.

            Most community volunteers work for private, non-profit organizations like food shelves, nursing homes, and hospitals. But the governmental sector can play a role too. The Peace Corps and AmeriCorps are two very successful examples of government sponsored programs that coordinate the services of community organizers. Such organizers typically receive so little pay that they are for the most part community volunteers.

            From his experience in working in the “trenches” of urban Chicago, Barack Obama dreamt up similar service corps that could solve social problems at a very low cost. Combining his ideas with those of Joe Biden, they drafted the “Plan for Universal Voluntary Citizen Service.”

            The Obama-Biden plan would not only expand AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, but would integrate service-learning into schools and universities. Ways would be explored to engage diverse groups including retirees and disadvantaged youth in community service programs. The price tag would be low but the social and economic benefits far reaching.

            Do you want a national leader who denigrates volunteering or one who knows how to capitalize on volunteers?

Randy Pausch, a young, brilliant professor dying of cancer, gave his last lecture and it came to be one of the most watched Internet videos of all time. Not only that, his little book of 206 pages, The Last Lecture (Hyperion, 2008), remains a best seller. A handsome family man with wonderful speaking skills and an academic superstar, he captured a place in the hearts of millions of Americans.

            The main purpose of his last lecture seems to be to energize others to affirm life by relentlessly pursuing their dreams. In essence, achievement becomes the ultimate end. Furthermore, achieving in Pausch’s mind is all about one’s self. To be fair, he does put great value in his family and he does mention “enabling the dreams of others” to be a valid aim.

            As a whole his philosophy is good old-fashioned American individualism, blinded to the value of community or society for their own sake. All major spiritual traditions and most ethical systems argue for replacing self-centeredness with heavy doses of altruism and caring for others, but he chose to largely block them out.

            Pioneering psychologist Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning states that “it doesn’t really matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us.” Building on both the literature on psychology and bioethics, Stephen Post and Jill Neimark, in best-selling Why Good Things Happen to Good People, catalog the empirically established benefits of non-individualistic traits such compassion, listing, loyalty, forgiveness, and “doing good”.

            Sociologists also argue for a collectivistic outlook. In 1985 Robert Bellah and colleagues published the classic book, Habits of the Heart, in which they said that “Clearly, the meaning of one’s life for most Americans is to become one’s own person, almost to give birth to oneself.” Sociologists Pearl and Samuel Oliner, in Toward a Caring Society, make a strong case for the opposite of the self-centered society. They argue that in a compassionate society, care permeates all major social institutions, especially families, education, government, religion, law enforcement, courts, and business.

            People do not have to choose between individualism and a live of caring about others as their principle life’s purpose. Compassion can exist side by side with individualism, says sociologist Robert Wuthnow in Acts of Compassion.

            Professors Morsch and Nelson in The Power of Serving Others argue that service as a personal philosophy offers the greatest chances for contentment and an enriched life. In whose classroom would you rather have your child sit, one who says dream and achieve or one where the message is together we build, grow, and enjoy?

            The dream and achieve doctrine of Pausch has its limits. If you are not born a dream child (good looking, athletic, brilliant, or reared in a loving family), would not some of your dreams be delusions? And to whom should one compare oneself for a valid assessment of having achieved enough? Today I happened to read Steve Jobs’ accidentally released obituary. (As of today Steve Jobs is still very much alive.) Jobs’ list of accomplishments makes Pausch’s resume look sparse at best even though he was a very productive professor of computer science at Carnegie-Mellon.

            Individualism offers few benchmarks for knowing that you have done enough to feel truly fulfilled. The practice of collectivist or service philosophies offers community feedback as well as your own feelings of satisfaction from having helped others.

            The Last Lecture has inspired many to consider their vulnerability and to live their passing moments with greater presence and enjoyment. The author has provided a great service to these readers and viewers. Let us hope that they do not take away the hidden message that this practice and the aim of self-centered achievement are the answers to the puzzle of life’s purpose. In my opinion, the best path to that puzzle is each day to reflect on the most meaningful things you can do for others or the world.


           What do you think is the best way to repond when one becomes aware of life’s vulnerability, such as learning that you have a short time to live? What thoughts can provide the most comfort? Please share your personal thoughts and experiences by clicking on “comments.” below. You will have to create a sign-in, but it won’t take long.






Waiting line at NYC Apple StoreIf you stood in line this weekend waiting to buy the new iPhone 3G, you may have noticed demographics consistent with sociological models of social diffusion.  

A year ago when the iPhone was first released, the lines were populated with mostly male geeks in the young to middle age range.  This year, there were some of those, but a far greater diversity. Not only were there 20-somethings but 70-somethings as well. This time the women outnumbered the men.  

In the language of social diffusion, the technology’s adoption has gone from innovators and early adopters to later adopters. The technology is no longer the purview of opinion leaders but now has become mainstream culture. 

The 3G iPhone has many new features that catch a sociological eye. 

One new feature is a Google GPS locator that can tell where you are on a map or satellite picture every moment of every day. Anticipating privacy issues, Google frequently asked the iPhone user if he or she wishes to allow use of your current location. If you answer “yes,” then you are giving yourself (and your data) to the world of mobile advertising. And you can be sure that someday you’ll start to get advertisements from nearby businesses.  This is the kind of Internet privacy issue that Congress held hearings on last week.  

Another new feature of sociological interest is the free application MySpace Mobile for iPhone. This type of little gadget will put social networking on a new level. It makes it easy, no matter where you are, to send and receive messages, browse your network of friends, upload and share photos, post comments on friends’ profiles and photos, search to find new friends, etc. etc.  

None of these technologies are new, but the iPhone package is designed to hook the masses with an easy to use, fun, and powerful array of tools. The diffusion of these types of social technologies spikes forward at such mindboggling speed and complexity, there is little hope that sociologists can keep up with the research needed to understand this stream of changes in society. If thousands of sociologists were studying it, that would be a different story. But dozens would be the actual number.  

Actually the sociological community most devoted to this research numbers about 300. Check out the Communications and Information Technologies Section of the American Sociological Association.


Imagine 12 million super-lottery winners with nothing to do but torment each other and feel superior to the rest of the world. That is pretty much what Robert Frank, Richistan’s author, discovered as a pop sociologist conducting interviews of America’s newly super-rich.  

Frank writes a column for the Wall Street Journal on wealth. Not being a sociologist, he was surprised that the super-rich seemed like a separate society with its own culture, and so he called them “Richistan.” I prefer to call them a new social class and give them the label “lucky-rich”, because they got their wealth by being market-lucky.  

True some of the wealthy got rich by working hard, but the majority of new wealth under our current financial system arises from short-term speculation such as hedge funds. It can even be argued that the entire American financial system, which has borrowed “to the brim” from other countries, is like a reckless, addicted gambler sliding on a streak of luck. Hedge-funds, securitizing, and other forms of questionable, largely-speculative financing have made millions lucky-rich.  

It just so happens that the lucky-rich piled up so much money in the past 20 years of free-market bliss that they also own the media and control much of the global economy. The lucky-rich own 73% of the wealth in America, according to Frank. 

David Rothkofp’s in a new book, Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World they are Making, confirms that luck propels people into the ranks of the super wealthy and super powerful. He argues that a group of about 6,000 global power elite, analogous to C. Wright Mills’ American power elite, literally rule the world. In the absence of a strong world government, a global superclass is building institutions and making decisions about the global economy. Most of this powerful community not only have great influence but great wealth.


Rothkofp estimates that only 6% of the superclass are women. Women, compared to men, have a history of being more peace-loving, more caring about humanitarian issues, and more able to function in partnerships. Our best hope for the future of the world is to get more women into the ranks of the globally powerful. (That’s just a hint of the topic of a forthcoming blog post.) 

The lucky-rich are not about old wealth; almost all are infants at being wealthy. Back in the old days when there were only a few of them, society called them the new rich or Nouveau Riche.  

In the old days the new rich used to aspire to be old rich, but times have changed. According to Frank, they are quite content with their current wealth, their middle class values, and spending money lavishly on themselves without thought of charities, except those who attends charity balls.  

Already America’s rapidly growing lucky-rich constitute a society bigger than many European nations. Since 1980 the number of billionaires in the US rose from 13 to over 500; the millionaire count spiked from a half million to 10 million; and CEO pay skyrocketed from 40 to 300 times that of the average worker. 

In their latest annual report, World Wealth Report 2007, Capgemini estimated that a third of the world’s millionaires reside in the United States. They also found that 40% of the “ultra-high-net-worth” (those with a net worth of $30 million plus) live in the United States. Furthermore, they found that despite the economic slowdown in 2006, the number of lucky-rich increased by 10% that year. So, while the lucky-rich can be found around the globe, they are most likely to be American now and in the foreseeable future. 

One might expect the lucky-rich to put their power and wealth behind campaigns to reduce poverty and improve social well-being. No such luck. Poverty is on the rise and the median income in the United States is falling. 

 “Income inequality within (and among the) feet of Wall Street” Photo by Incendiarymind 

       The lucky-rich are too new to appear in sociology textbooks, but their power and influence, as well as their financial portfolios, are incredible. The lucky-rich have popularized America McMansions, SUVs, personal jets, 500-foot yachts, Vail, and many other avenues of conspicuous consumption.  

Frank tried to be objective and serious in his investigation, but his tale of travails of the wealthy, led me to take up their cause, tongue-in-cheek, to build sympathy for the stressful lives of the super-rich. Forgive me while I indulge in a few paragraphs of satire. 

Pity the lucky-rich for they suffer from “luxury fever,” a malady that can only be fixed by hiding from their friends. Many get weekly psychiatry treatment for either money mania or dread, mental afflictions that get exponentially worse the higher their net worth spikes. And on top of that suffering, they pay out $50,000 per year for a private school to teach their unhappy children to walk like Paris Hilton. 

Pity the lucky-rich because they keep seeing their friends, the Joneses, enjoying things they don’t yet have. Unless they keep buying bigger houses, cars, airplanes, and yachts, they may hear an insinuating remark about not keeping up. 

This “little house on the prairie” hints of the loneliness afflicting the new super-rich who build their huge dream house, in this case on the South Dakota prairie, with a wonderful view only to discover that they have no neighbors and no village. Technology replaces their contacts with other people and face-to-face contact requires long commutes in oil-burning carriages.  

   “Little” house on the prairie”     Photo by Peter Baker:

Pity the lucky-rich for their McMansions with dozens of rooms keeping family members apart. Each child has an apartment-like bedroom equipped with TV, video games, and computer, making it needless to get near other family members for days at a time. The undocumented cleaning lady interrupts their lonely computer-game-playing all too often.

Pity the lucky-rich because no one will build a luxury yacht over 500 feet long. Paul Allen of Microsoft fortune solved this problem buying a second giant yacht to follow along behind just to carry the toys, the pets, and the helicopters. It’s called the shadow yacht. Some in this ultra-rich class always fly with a shadow jet to carry the pets and the servants. 

Pity the lucky-rich because good help is truly hard to find now that the population of lucky-rich has mushroomed. New schools now churn out “household management” staff. Still, there are so few butlers, that an experienced one can easily command $100,000 per year. Private jet pilots and yacht crew make even more. Paying the high salaries is not the problem; it is losing them to your friends even after offering to double their salaries. 

Pity the lucky-rich because of their elusive problem of identity. If you identify with the rich and know that many are jerks, your self-esteem will suffer. Acting like jerks is related to the need to get rid of people always asking for money. While it’s easy to become an authentic rich person, it’s very hard to be a rich authentic person. Having to pretend to be non-rich is difficult, but the biggest challenge is keeping life meaningful, once you’ve achieved your main goals.  

My favorite Richistan sob story is the one about the little 11 year old girl who had always gone on trips in the family jet. When asked what she wanted for her birthday, she said “I want to go on a regular jet like all my friends, and I want to see inside an airport.” Life just isn’t fair when a rich kid that has to pretend to be poor. 

      Switching back from satire to sociology, I want to argue for sociology of the lucky-rich, which would include both a research agenda and courses on the subject. The lucky-rich, or super-wealthy if you prefer, will continue to grow exponentially during the next few years, even if the Democratic Party takes control of Congress and the White House in 2008. 

Although Richistan is the only work showing the extremely rapid growth of a new class of the ultra-rich, there are other sociological studies of the affluent. Most notable is Corey Dolgon’s The End of the Hamptons: Scenes from the Class Struggle in American’s Paradise (New York University Press, 2005). Rather than attempt to understand the new rich, Dolgon analyzed the Long Island wealthy and their conflicts with immigrants and other low-wage workers. Of course the life-style of the wealthy depends upon the low-wage worker class. It is an impressive study of social change in the wealth Hampton communities. 

While the new American super-wealthy may be a new phenomenon, sociological focus on the wealthy is not. It has always been a component of social class, but in recent years a number of books have emphasized the addictive nature of wealth. Sociologist Philip Slater wrote Wealth Addiction way back in 1980. Other sociologists’ books on this topic include The Rich Get Richer by Denny Braun and Wealth in America by Lisa Keister. 

Psychologists writing on this topic generally have examined the influence of wealth on culture. They include Tim Kasser, The High Price of Materialism; Madeline Levine, The Price of Privilege; and DeGraaf, Wall and Naylor, Affluenza (1st and 2nd editions). Jessie O’Neill’s book The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence is parallel to Richistan in that it describes a clinical psychology practice in a very wealthy Michigan community. 

Of course economists have long been interested on this subject. A decade ago economists Brian Goff and Arthur Fleisher wrote Spoiled Rotten: Affluence Anxiety, and Social Decay in America. Of greater interest to sociologists would be Avner Offer’s recent The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain Since 1950. A 2007 book that I found to be an intriguing explanation of inequality is Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class by Robert H. Frank. (This is Frank the economist not Frank the author of Richistan.) Another recent economic view can be found in the recent The Age of Abundance by Brink Lindsey. 

In my opinion, the most important of all these books is The Real Wealth of Nations – Creating a Caring Economics by Riane Eisler (SF: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2007). Eisler offers many suggestions on how caring and caregiving can be integrated more thoroughly into economics, e.g., gift economies. She proposes cultural and structural changes that would render the accumulation of wealth less important, the emergence of extravagance less likely, and inequality less of a problem. 

Finally, if you are teaching a sociology class, I recommend that you assign both Richistan and The End of the Hamptons as required reading. Your students will quickly learn the difference between journalism and sociology. You will have very stimulating class discussions, especially if you require that they read Eisler’s book as well.


The year 2008 has given us a strangely-titled book, Homo Politicus – The Strange and Scary Tribes that Run our Government by Dana Milbank, columnist for the Washington Post. Using the language of cultural anthropology and the terminology of ethnography, he tells one tragic comedy after another about how Washington rules the “American Empire.”

Milbank races through tale after tale exposing the folly of unrestrained egos. The New York Times’ book review described it this way:

….a rich compendium of astoundingly ill-advised acts and statements on the parts of public officials, he fails to register the threat posed by such ineptitude. Instead he treats greed, egomania, ruthlessness, corruption, stupidity and extreme feats of partisanship lightly…. It’s as if he thinks these things are funny. (Janet Maslin, New York Times, December 20, 2007)

Milbank as pseudo-ethnographer calls his tribe “Potomac Man,” drawing and elaborating upon each of his analytical categories: status, caste, kinship, folklore, folk law, norms, deviancy, shamanism, aggression, taboo, festivals, rituals, human sacrifice, and fertility rites. After introducing each concept he tells a handful of stories to illustrate the primitive character of the Washington, DC culture.

Real ethnographers should study the way Milbank ends most stories with a witticism or hilarious comment. A little bit of humor goes a long way, especially in long, dry qualitative accounts.

Without humor this would be an exceptionally depressing book. The author demonstrates that the government running the world’s only superpower is a byzantine ruling caste made up of wealthy White House officials, members of Congress, corporate lobbyists, and media elites. His stories reveal how this power elite has been able to do such things as convert propaganda into news, control our language (e.g., hunger becomes “low food security”), fire auditors because they do a thorough job, redefine torture, and allow a Neocon cult to make foreign policy. Ironically this autocracy claims to be the epitome of democracy.     

It would be comforting if all of this were merely the doings of the present administration. These tribal maneuvers, according to Millbank’s stories, are typical of both Republicans and Democrats and characteristic of earlier administrations. However Millbank’s piles and piles of contemporary anecdotes left me with the impression that not until the Bush administration did American government become a joke.

Let us hope that enough people will take Milbank’s critique of American government seriously to fix the broken system. Obviously not enough safeguards have been built into the political system to ensure that it remains a government of and by the people. That is not at all funny.


Craig Unger, author of the books Fall of the House of Bush and House of Bush, House of Saud, loves to point out the irony of the Bush administration’s promotion of democracy and freedom in the middle east while simultaneously cuddling up with Saudi Arabia and offering them billions in arms. The American press only gives attention to the democracy initiative, but if you read the foreign press on the Internet, you will hear about human rights abuses and the brutal theocracy in Saudi Arabia.

After seven years most Americans seem tired of Bush-bashing, but if President Bush’s trips to Saudi Arabia and Africa are any indication, he does not want his comedic reputation to end. As if it is not enough to get caught holding hands and kissing Saudi King Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, the number-one smugly American posed again and again with Saudi Sheikhs while brandishing a sword.

The President’s face was beaming with joy as he held the sword high in the air in the likeness of a crusading Christian. In the spirit of a happy knight in shining armor he clearly was not thinking about his killing poll numbers. Approval ratings at home were only 32%, and only 12% of the Saudi Arabian people rate him favorably.

 What else will the lame-duck “ruler” of the free world do in his last year in office? Now that he has come to love the Saudi Sunni culture so thoroughly, can we not expect him to bring their folkways to America to cement goodwill between the two countries? While it would be oppressive, wouldn’t it be fun to throw stones at evil doers?

The best next step for not-nearly-curious-enough George would be to call up King Abdallah and say, “Sorry the American people don’t want you to have that $20 billion dollar weapons deal I promised you.” And, “Oh by-the-way, we are going to cut back on a third of our oil consumption, so you can keep your oil.”

Instead, President Bush has pleaded repeatedly for the Saudi’s to increase their oil production so that the price of oil will go down for Americans. Hillary Clinton called his pleas pathetic. King Abdallah said, in so much words, “forget it.”

Well, Mr. Bush you may not have accomplished any foreign policy objectives in the Middle East, but you gave us memorable photographs. But factoring in the huge cost to the taxpayer, and to thinning the ozone layer, of flying all those people over for a desert vacation, aren’t those ridiculously expensive photos?

I spent my elementary school years in Africa, and when my family returned to the United States, I found it strange that my classmates and teachers talked as if the United States was the only country in the world mattered. Still to this day I wonder why most Americans believe there is no need to listen to what’s happening in other countries or to learn from them. What I didn’t realize was that I was taking exception to “American exceptionalism.” 

The traditional explanation for America’s failure to listen is American exceptionalism,  which simply put is the belief that other countries cannot compare to the United States because it is so special.

  Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville  in 1831 created the concept as he traveled through the United States.

alexis-de-toc.jpg (Doesn’t he look young for being a notorious sociological commentator and world traveler?)

Later sociologist Martin Lipset cast it as the historical explanation for American’s rejection of socialism and the welfare state.

lipset.jpg (Now he looks more like the stereotypical famous sociologist.)

Exceptionalist beliefs differ from, but go hand in hand with, convictions of moral superiority, ethnocentrism, and nationalism.

Is America so special it does not have to listen to the rest of the world? Of course not, but the world thinks Americans hold that opinion of themselves.

  A 2007 BBC international opinion poll in 18 countries concluded “Listen more is the world’s message to the US”  The poll found that most of our allies did not agree with the United States handling of:·        

  • The Iraq crisis·        
  •  Guantanamo detainees·        
  • The Israel-Hezbollah war·        
  • Iran’s nuclear program
  • Global warming

 You might argue: “The US just has an image problem; we need to communicate better.” But Joseph S Nye, Dean of the JFK School of Government at Harvard said “To communicate effectively, Americans must first learn to listen.”


 Incidentally, Professor Nye has written an important book

bound-to-lead.jpgThe title doesn’t sound interesting but he interprets power in terms of soft and hard power and how we need to blend them, which he labels “smart power.” He makes a strong case that the US foreign policy of the past 8 years has been the opposite of smart power. 

Returning to the challenge of listening and American “humility”, here are some soul-searching questions for us as Americans:·        

  • Did we listen right after 9/11 when we thought we needed revenge, any revenge?·        
  •  Do our embassies around the world listen, when most of the staff don’t know the local language?Do our intelligence agencies listen, when only a tiny percentage speak languages other than English?·        
  • Do our armed forces listen when they know next to nothing about the culture of countries that threaten us?
  • Do we really listen when we never listen or read any world news except that which comes from American corporate media? (Personally I have found that Link TV (a cable channel) is by far the least biased on world news, especially the Middle East, of any non-print news source. NPR and PBS are pretty objective but even they have to worry too much about pleasing their sponsors.This topic deserves a future post.)

 So that we do not hang ourselves by our own hubris, we should be reflective and soul searching about our beliefs of America’s place in the world. The best place to start is by listening to what people in other countries are saying. There are many different ways of listening and some can be fun. istock_000005157265xsmall.jpg

In the Jan/Feb 2008 issue of FP (Foreign Policy)  magazine several political celebrities wrote brief answers to one question: “What single policy or gesture can the next president of the USA make to improve America’s standing in the world?”

One person simply wrote “listen.” He said the highest priority should be to persuade people around the world that we “hear them.” That answer was given by none other than Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House.

 newtgingrich2.jpg While I usuallyI don’t agree with his political beliefs, in this instance we have a total meeting of the minds. I love it that he went on to say that the new president, immediately upon being elected, should tour the world just asking questions. He even said: “Not one moment need be spent trying to demonstrate American power and dominance.” What a wonderful, revolutionary idea for 2008.

      Not only should America listen, but it should talk and negotiate also. This is one of the key themes of Anne-Marie Slaughter.slaughter.jpg

Slaughter, author of The Idea That is America, is Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and who is a talked-about-candidate for the next administration’s Secretary of State, argues that we must return to America’s key principles, one of which is humility.

 As this picture illustrates, the American iPod (& cell phone) generation can’t hear what the world is saying at extremely loud volume.  

In recent years world opinion of America has soured. That gives us even more reason to learn from other countries by holding them, as well as America, “up to the light” to see inside them at the same time. We start by seeing differences, then extract ways in which we can improve, and appropriate these ideas into our own culture.