Doxology: Brian Holers’s Debut Novel

Doxology, the debut novel from author Brian Holers, is available in both paperback and digital format now! Fathers, sons and brothers reconnect over tragedy in this blue-collar Southern tale of love, loss and the healing power of community and family. Doxology examines an impossibly difficult...

Brian Holers

Race and leadership

Writing essays gives me opportunity to think about lots of things that happen in our world, and the chance to help frame debate by offering insights into events many of us experience.  So often we see things and hear things and read about things we don’t like, that bother us, that make us want to throw our hands up in exasperation.  We know something is desperately wrong with a situation but we can’t put our finger on exactly what it is.  Maybe we feel that a person or a situation deserves to be criticized, constructively or otherwise, but we don’t know how to put our very real thoughts and concerns into words that might help make things better.  Words that might empower us to stand up to a situation with more than just our anger and frustration, that give us impetus to act.  This is what writers are for.

One of the many strengths of this great nation is the opportunity to both freely elect and freely criticize our leaders.  Sure, many will say our political system isn’t really free, that we need more parties, that it’s all controlled by factions and it’s not about who’s best qualified for the job but rather about who spends the most.  Certainly, no system is perfect.  Not here, not anywhere.  Some like to say politics was never as debased as it is now, that back in the “good old days” public debate, both among and about politicians, was downright civil compared to today.  My sketchy knowledge of American history tells me otherwise.  Debate over the social, economic and moral issues that shape our society has always been heated, and I hope it always will be.  These are serious things.

The societal divisions we face in local political dealings are echoed on state and national levels.  We are highly divided, and in some ways always have been.  Just look at the last few years.  When Clinton was president, half the country was unhappy.  Then we had eight years of Bush, and the other half was unhappy.  Now the tables have turned again.  Leaders face criticism and contempt from all corners.  President Obama certainly does.  Remember the things people said about President Bush?  George can’t spell W.  Somewhere in Texas a village is missing its idiot.  Agree or disagree.  But a strong nation, and a strong people, can handle strong talk.

There used to be a saying, I haven’t read this in a long time but I swear I heard it often when I was a child.  This was something said of a politician or government official of some kind (presumably always male.)  “He could have become very wealthy in business, but instead devoted himself to public service.”  I don’t hear this sentiment expressed quite this way anymore, but the concept is certainly still out there.  “Public service” is so often seen as a higher calling than the vagaries of business, than the draw to work for filthy money.  Never mind that there would be no government, no “public service” without the tax money generated by private initiative.  And as for the official who “could have become wealthy,” don’t forget he could have just as easily, if not more easily, lost everything.  Which is not a risk one faces in public service.

As in business, the effectiveness of government or other nonprofit is a function of leadership.  Having worked in both, actually I believe leadership is more important in nonprofit endeavors  than in business.  In business, all employees have some interest in the bottom line.  But when money is not at stake, only leadership can get things done.  Some may treat it as a sacrifice, but the opportunity to lead is a privilege.  Election or appointment to public office should be a way for an ethical person of any creed or race to make a contribution to society in exchange for fair pay.  Not for more money than a person could make in the private sector in a job with a similar level of work, stress, and risk.

There is a mentality that goes along with the ballooning government we have created that leads us to believe something can be had for nothing.  When a system flourishes in which there is no bottom line, in which behaviors don’t have clear consequences, chaos ensues.  In government, what follows this mentality is lackluster management, unbalanced books, little things not getting done, an absolute failure to take responsibility, starting at the top.

What we want in a leader is leadership.  We want the people we elect to do the job, remember who they work for, serve the people transparently.  We want our leaders to keep the big things in mind as goals, while always doing the little things.  Sure, there will be conflict.  All human institutions have conflict.  We won’t always be happy.  No one will.  But what we crave in a leader is a person who takes responsibility, and not just in words.  Whose behavior shows that he or she is serious about taking care of everything in the purview of the office.  A leader is grateful for the opportunity to serve, in exchange for fair pay, and does everything possible to lend ethics to the office.  A leader takes responsibility when there are problems, instead of just looking for someone or something else to blame.  A leader gives critics the benefit of the doubt, and works to make tenuous relations better, not worse.

Unfortunately, all too often we see the opposite.  What prompted this writing is a situation in my small hometown in Louisiana.  In short, money cannot be accounted for, the town can’t get a crucial clean audit, and the mayor blames everyone but himself.  When a poor leader faces problems, he becomes a victim.  He will attempt to divert all responsibility to someone or something else.  A public official, by the nature of the thing, invites criticism.  But to fail to lead, to let things fall apart, to prefer chaos or personal gain over the needs of constituency, then to blame criticism on dark forces such as ‘racism’, without a shred of evidence, is the ultimate shirking of responsibility.  And the ultimate insult to those an official represents.

I don’t know the mayor.  I will gladly give him the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe he just lost control of the situation.  But whatever has happened, what he is doing now is downright shameful.  To blame his failure of leadership on ‘racism’, whether from vocal protestors or from some secret cabal planning the “systematic elimination of black elected officials”(his words in a YouTube video), is to absolutely fail his constituents.  He says that “other people have been in charge for a long time, and need to get used to somebody different being in charge.”  By doing this he attempts to divide his constituency on the basis of color, to draw sympathy by casting himself as a victim in such a way that his constituents fail to notice how poorly he represents their interests.

He is right that, as the town’s first African American mayor, he represents a change.  However, one thing such a change should do is show the world that skin color has no bearing on a person’s ability to manage a complex enterprise.  He has been entrusted and given a tremendous opportunity.  Yet, rather than work to fix things and bring people together, he attempts to drive a wedge by doing the very thing he accuses his detractors of doing.  For by lumping those who challenge him into the same category as the opponents of other (presumably) persecuted African American public figures in Louisiana, he attempts to deceive.  While each of those situations should be evaluated on its own merits, he puts them all in the same category and says, in essence, criticism of African Americans is racism, and disregards the facts of each case.  If I as a white person lumped several situations involving African Americans into one category, I would be called a racist.  Yet that is exactly what the mayor does, as a means of diverting attention from his lack of leadership.  His position is the ultimate cowardice.  To put it bluntly, get a clue, man.  Even the mafia keeps its books balanced.

We all know these are tough times.  We are a great and stable nation, but that doesn’t keep us from deceiving ourselves at times.  The overextension of credit and rapid accumulation of debt had us believing, like a bloated bureaucracy does, that we could have something for nothing.  Thankfully, as much as it hurts, we are in the process of straightening those things out.  As long as times are hard, voters will continue to demand more accountability.  My wife and I run three businesses and a household. We pay our bills on time, keep records, file taxes.  Failure to do so would have dire consequences.

The job of a responsible citizenry is to elect responsible leaders, pay them an agreed upon wage similar to the pay they would receive in the private sector, and hold them accountable.  Then we judge them based on the effectiveness of their leadership.  The job of an elected leader is to represent his constituency, period. When dealing with other people’s money, with so much at stake, a leader must be able to withstand the scrutiny of the office.  In government, as in business, as in life, failure to keep things in order has consequences.

To play the role of victim of dark forces is to fail one’s constituency.  Stand up.  Do the job.  Take criticism like an adult.  No one wins in political games.  There are exceptions, sure.  But most of us, in twenty first century America, don’t care what color our leaders are.  We just want them to lead.

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4 Responses to Race and leadership

  1. Diane Lankenau says:

    Saa weet!

  2. Libbie Lockhart Porter says:

    I could not have said it any better, Brian.. It is all so true. Your take on the Mayor is much more relevant than I think you realize. Mr. Thompson has always been one to play the race issue, I met him when I was very young and his views unfortunately have not changed.

    On a different note….I am so very glad to have stumble upon you ; it has been so long! I am glad to see you are doing well in your life. May God continue to bless you and your family.
    Libbie Lockhart Porter

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