Last weekend, I took the plunge, later than most, and booked flights to the east coast on jetBlue. Besides having my faith restored and my hopes raised for the business of air service, the experience resonated on an entirely different level. I began to wonder if it’s possible that a dedication to competence, performance and deference to others is returning to priority status across the land.
This is no exaggeration: every single employee of this airline seemed to enjoy his or her position. I could tell because they looked us in the eye. They wanted to engage with us, not just as customers but as partners in a business transaction. They kept their equipment clean and had no problem asking us to respect our fellow travelers by doing the same. It was the first time in years I have traveled with an airline that paid more attention to unacceptable passenger behavior than to whether I had a tag on my suitcase. These folks deliver to their own vision and are not afraid to take action when someone, or something, gets in their way. They are firm but friendly, authoritative but respectful. They know what they’re doing.
Maybe more of us now realize we can no longer take competence for granted, even when it’s cloaked in bluster. Every time we accept condescension or paternalistic treatment or believe that nothing we can do will matter or improve a situation, we are denying the eternal importance of what happened on this continent two centuries ago. And, we’re not paying attention to what happened just two weeks ago. It’s a multi-partisan lesson — for those who confuse power with leadership, for those who believe that any voter between the coasts essentially has air between his ears, for those who think there is nothing special or worth defending in this nation’s doctrine.
I still marvel at the system that was constructed by people who were as flawed as we are today yet stepped outside of their irritations and hurts and defeats to collaborate and introduce a way of life and governance that remains intact — no matter how much we chip away at the individual responsibility and personal possibility they sought to protect. It is an entity that glorifies the potential of the human being, that commands us to rise to be the best and do our best. It is what inspires us to go on, again and again, when we think we cannot. This system gives us the tools and the processes to reach consensus without sacrificing personal beliefs and values. And I think we’re finally beginning to care about this again.
It has nothing to do with partisanship. Anyone, inside or outside this country, friend or foe, who believes the results of the midterm elections represent an ideological shift is making a strategic error. It could be that what happened on November 7 was the first blink of a sleepy American spirit, awakening from a hibernation brought on by the self-indulgent habits cultivated in the 1990s and the extremist factions either protecting them or fighting them — trickling down from a government that forgot its role is not to construct playpens in the Oval Office but to nurture qualified public servants capable of anticipating and thwarting threats, from corporations often dominated by elitists who surround themselves with yes-men and yes-boards. This looks like a return to the practical, to accountability, to reason by people who are thinking again about the qualities that signify real power and true leadership.