A Leader’s Opportunity? To Inspire Faith in Humanity

Tether Leadership Narratives to ‘We,’ and not ‘I’

Melanie Garson
6 min readDec 30, 2020

The ‘This We Believe’ Series

By Melanie Garson Ph.D. and Shannon Mullen O’Keefe M.A.L.D.

Photo by Phovius on Unsplash

Let’s be honest. Anytime we make a choice not for ‘I’ — meaning ourselves, individually — we can disadvantage ourselves.

When we step away from the ‘I,’ in decision-making, we can fall quickly into the classic game theory dilemmas: if I disadvantage myself how do I know that I will not be exploited?

This dilemma happens in decisions we make all day long: our electoral choice, our fishing rights, keeping our place in line at the grocery store, and deciding whether to foreclose on homes. The movie classic It’s a Wonderful Life plays a decision-making scenario like this out bluntly in an exchange between Mr. Potter (the banker) and Pa Bailey who runs a savings and loan.

Mr. Potter: Have you put any real pressure on these people of yours to pay those mortgages?

Pa Bailey: Times are bad, Mr. Potter. A lot of these people are out of work.

Mr. Potter: Well, then, foreclose.

Pa Bailey: I can’t do that. These families have children.

Mr. Potter: They’re not my children.

Mr. Potter’s response puts an exclamation point on making a decision based on self-interest as he suggests out loud that what isn’t his doesn’t really matter — the children are not his.

So, is Mr. Potter right? Does it matter to step outside our individual interests to care about everyone else — the rest of humanity?

Morality Matters to societal freedom: It is recognising “the inescapable network of mutuality.”

In “Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times,” the last book before his recent passing, Lord Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks emphasised the need for morality as a basis of societal freedom —“…an active commitment to justice and compassion, a willingness to ask not just what is good for me but what is good for all-of-us-together. It is about ‘Us’, not ‘Me’; about ‘We’ not ‘I’”[2020:1].

“..an active commitment to justice and compassion, a willingness to ask not just what is good for me but what is good for all-of-us-together. It is about ‘Us’, not ‘Me’; about ‘We’ not ‘I’”[2020:1].

These are sentiments that incoming President Joe Biden emphasised in his first speech after winning the election “…let’s give each other a chance.”

In his famous letter from Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King also implored that leaders lead keeping the broader face of humanity in mind when saying,

“In a real sense, all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be… This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

These leaders remind us that for a leader to act with faith in humanity requires something more of them as a leader.

It means that there must be a willingness for that leader to see ‘everyone,’ to see a global ‘we,’ — as that leader’s constituency.

It means that a leader must not only be a steward of his/or her supportive constituents, or of their own personal interests, but rather they must be a steward to represent the best interests of all constituents — at large — humanity — to the best of his or her ability. It means that they must have faith in humanity.

Who is leading like this now?

We admire leaders who care about humanity and who express messages of collective responsibility.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, nominated as one of Time’s people of 2020, is celebrated for his visible leadership during the pandemic while he also ‘continues to make rounds at the hospital,’ alongside other frontline workers who risk their lives to care for patients.

Chris Krebs, former Director of Cybersecurity, recently paid with his job when he created a website to “debunk” election disinformation.

Mitt Romney stands out as a leader willing to step outside his personal politics to make a choice based on his belief in an institution that matters to the greater good of humanity. In his words:

“The Constitution is at the foundation of our Republic’s success, and we each strive not to lose sight of our promise to defend it…. [W]e have labored to faithfully execute our responsibilities to it. We have arrived at different judgments, but I hope we respect each other’s good faith.”

And he made these choices in spite of resistance:

“I am aware that there are people in my party and in my state who will strenuously disapprove of my decision, and in some quarters, I will be vehemently denounced.… ”

In very different ways, and about very different issues, each of these leaders made choices to protect larger interests … for Krebs the integrity of elections, and Romney — the integrity of the constitution and for Fauci — the public’s health.

Visionary leadership builds upon narratives of faith in the goodness of humanity

In our search to understand the values required to underpin a model of visionary leadership that transcends the narrow outbidding of today’s politics, we continue to dive into Edward R. Murrow archives at Tufts University to seek out themes — with an eye to identifying values leaders can grab on to as they shape their future narratives.

What values must leaders grasp that will tether everyone to a moral ground as they shape their narratives for the future?

At an equally turbulent time, the 1950s, when governments were finding their identity as they emerged from global crises, one of the themes that emerge in our investigations is a reaffirmation of faith in the goodness of humanity.

From Ralph Bunche, the former Director of the Trusteeship of the United Nations, who held that “…[he] had faith in people, in collectively their essential goodness and good sense” to singers such as Margaret Eleanor Whiting who shared that she believed in “…the importance and goodness of all mankind,” the leadership figures interviewed by Murrow reiterated a need to have faith in people.

As Victor Frankl, quoting Goethe, wrote “…if we treat people as if they were what they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

“…if we treat people as if they were what they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

In divided times when people are subject to messages challenging public health initiatives or electoral results, highlighting favourable evaluative beliefs about people is critical as it can inspire people to behave in those ways.

As opposed to regulation which can lead to resistance, leading by inspiring people to believe in one another and to have faith in each other demonstrates faith in people that can lead to action out of responsibility to one another. When this happens, people can be inspired to link arms as they work to protect institutions that matter to everyone.

Leaders who lead like this can inspire even those — who feeling lost — might otherwise seek to find clarity through divisive messaging.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

In her interview with Murrow, Viola Beal Livingston, a widow of a US army officer who volunteered in Korea after the war, reminded that:

One cannot feel really lost when one has many others dependent on one, and one has to lead the way with a light that must burn bright and true.”

The ‘This I Believe,’ interview excerpts indicate the power of belief in the goodness of others.

The power of “We” — “we the people” who believe in taking responsibility to overcome all challenges together.

As Edward P. Morgan, foreign correspondent and radio host stated “…now is the time when men must believe in men, or they can believe in nothing.”

“…now is the time when men must believe in men, or they can believe in nothing.”

Leaders like Fauci, Krebs, and Romney reflect these values. They take views that promote a greater “We.” They choose institutions that demonstrate faith in humanity because they choose institutions that matter to the greater good of humanity, like health and the integrity of our institutions over personal politics.

They choose and inspire the greater we over just me.

This “we” believe.

With thanks to Thomas Kenchington for his contributions to this project via his mindful culling and coding of themes.

Read the first article in the This We Believe series here: How to Pick a Leader in a Leaderless Time.



Melanie Garson

I’m a creative problem solver, educator, mediator and lawyer with an interest in impact of emerging technologies on the future of conflict.