Aspen Ideas Festival
by David Nevins
This June I attended the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival where some of the great social, business and political leaders of America shared ideas on many subjects, including what’s broken in our system of governance and what specific actions can be taken to improve the political process so as to better serve a majority of American citizens.
As always the Aspen experience was thought-provoking and inspiring. A prevailing theme expressed by many of speakers was that our elected officials are simply not representing the interests of our country and do not have the will or the mechanisms to solve the serious problems facing us; this despite the fact that the American public is yearning for leadership that puts country before party.
While there was a degree of pessimism in Aspen about our country’s current political situation and concern expressed about the ability of elected representatives to deal with these problems in the short term, there was an overriding optimism about the spirit of the American people that in the past has made the United States a beacon of hope for the rest of the world. Our entrepreneurial spirit, our ability to reflect upon our mistakes, in an honest fashion and to correct these mistakes, were all sentiments expressed and a source for hope. Numerous speakers cited the great potential our nation has in terms of the power of an indomitable spirit that leads to change and innovation. And while there were many discussions as to what our government can and should be doing, I was struck by the fact that many inspiring leaders are not waiting for government to solve our problems; instead, they are taking their own actions to move our country forward.
I heard people speak about the importance of the human connection, and listened to the many common stories we share as human beings. Hearing these stories helps us understand what is it is like to walk in the shoes of another and helps one realize the power empathy in finding a common ground. And perhaps most importantly, the question was asked: How can we as leaders, as the economically privileged, use our wealth and our expertise to make sure these stories are told and heard, and that our imagination and empathy are turned into positive action?
There was a genuine longing and determination among the many leaders that these ‘Big Ideas’ must be more than just ideas. Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute spoke of the value of pure curiosity for its own sake, about the importance of learning about subjects one knows little about, and how curiosity has historically led great men and women to improve the world through innovative thinking that is turned to action.
I left Aspen with both a sense concern and a sense of hope. Concern that our leadership in Washington lacks both civility and critical thinking needed to address the great problems facing our country and that we have relied too long upon the election strategies to demonize in order to win. But I also left with hope that many great Americans outside the halls of Congress grasp what needs to be done, and are not only taking actions to change the climate and process of governance, but are also making real grassroots efforts to activate and generate the positive changes our country profoundly needs.
The following You Tube link offers you the opportunity to listen to some of the presentations at the festival if so desired. Perhaps one idea, one subject will spark your sense of creativity as it has mine:
What contribution are you making or can you make? Our current crisis is an opportunity for the American people to come together with a common goal of restoring integrity to our democratic republic. Regardless of our political views, we all love our country. Recognizing this in our political adversaries I believe will put our country back on course to fulfill the vision of our founders.