March 26, 2007


From David Suzuki's latest Science Matters column: Wanted: Leadership for the 21st Century:

Politicians have a much shorter lifespan - politically speaking, that is. They can be around for four years or less. Rarely more than eight. That's why I'm often surprised by how little they seem to want to accomplish in that time. Certainly, I understand the lure of the status quo. Change is hard. Often vested interests will fight you every step of the way. Political advisors will say "No, no, no - stay the course! Don't make waves! Get re-elected!"

But what's the point of being re-elected if you aren't going to DO anything? Yes, yes, maybe I'm being naïve. Maybe politicians are just there to support their vested interests, take home a fat paycheck and pension, and revel in the power of their office. But surely there's got to be more to it than that? The life of a politician is not one I envy. It's hard, sometimes brutal. You are constantly under scrutiny. You are always on the job. It takes up your entire life.

That's why I honestly believe that most politicians at least start out wanting to work for the common good. Many become overwhelmed by the muck, but great leaders act. They make bold decisions and move on them. They don't tinker when big changes are needed and they don't change things just for the sake of change. One of my pet peeves is the way some administrations will move into office and, rather than take an honest assessment of what's working and what isn't, instead set out to dismantle everything the previous administration had done just to make a point.

Of course, it's hard for leaders to act without public support. But right now, the environment is the top public concern. The public will support strong environmental leadership, so now's the time for our political leaders to act.

Of course, he's talking about politicians dealing with environmental problems, combatting global warming. But he could just as easily be talking about leaders in academic libraries coming to grips with the changes happening in our world. Just change the word "politician" for "librarian" or "library administrator" and a few other substitutions and it would be a perfect fit. It can be hard to go from thought to action, to get consensus, to break down resistence. But I think if we work from the assumption that people actually want to do the right thing, that they just don't know how to get there, that they just need to know where their place is in the brave new world, it's a lot easier to get the job done.

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