Searching for the American Spirit

Some years ago I wrote book called American Spirit – Visions of a New Corporate Culture. It offered nine principles to guide the development of healthy and competitive cultures based on principles that I thought were distinctly American. These included the Purpose, Consensus, and Unity Principles, among others. It was adopted by Honda America Manufacturing as a foundation of their culture. One principle that they sought to live by was the Unity Principle. Accordingly they eliminated all class distinctions in dress, offices, titles, etc. Mr. Yoshino (who became President of all Honda) told me “we are all Associates, nothing more.”

Why did I think this was a principle in which American’s believed? It is simple: cultures that are growing, emerging, are integrating or unifying other people into their fold. Cultures in decline are disintegrating, breaking down into increasingly less significant parts. There is power in unity and weakness in disunity. Every general and every football coach understands that simple truth. Every effective corporate executive should be striving to create unity of people and processes within and unity with customers. The bonds of unity are the social capital of the organization and that capital is of greater value than anything found on the balance sheet.

George Washington and the Spirit of Unity

I am a student of history and value the lessons to be found in the words and lives of our Founding Fathers. George Washington was less a man of passion than a man of reason and insight. Every American should study, and I mean really study, his Farewell Address at the end of his second term as President.

The unity of Government, which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee, that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion, that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

Washington was passionate about this one principle of unity and he could see that the greatest threat to our country was not external forces, but internal division. He could see that division would lead to “parties” and those parties would develop a spirit that would be a cancer to the country.

WashingtonFarewellHeader One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.

This spirit is all too dominant in our politics and media. It has reached the point of pushing some to near insanity. One television evangelist said that he was praying for a military coup like that in Egypt to save us from what he viewed as the current despotism. Imagine the deranged mind of someone praying for a dictatorship to save us from the possibility of dictatorship!

I try to stay away from politics on this blog so I will try not to reveal bias, but we better get our heads out of the sand and think clearly about our condition. We have become insane and disloyal to our Founding Fathers when we can seriously believe that money equals free speech; or that corporations are people, both ideas that were never even imagined by our Founders and can be found nowhere in our Constitution and undermine the very meaning of democracy.

When the society is increasingly divided between the haves and the have-nots; when money buys the machines of propaganda or influence; the few will rule the many and our democracy will be lost. Democracy is not functioning when a majority of people have been led to believe in the evil nature of “Obamacare” but support something they think is good – the Affordable Care Act.

We need to have a serious conversation, not simply about the budget or the healthcare law, all of which can be improved, but about the unity of the country and the spirit of party about which we were well warned in the infancy of this nation.