What type of country do you want to live in?

On Wednesday, March 14, 2012, I attended a meeting with Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of President Eisenhower, at the Eisenhower Institute to talk about strategy and leadership in transitional times.  After a brief history of her work in London and the Soviet Union, Ms. Eisenhower talked briefly about her worries for America.  Based on what she experienced in times of chaos and government collapse in the Soviet Union, Ms. Eisenhower suggested that Americans need to stop panicking and start doing. We have a great country because out of our political transparency, social opportunities, and expanding technological sector, and need strong leadership that utilizes our assets.

Ms. Eisenhower challenged us to answer the question: what type of country do you want to live in? Do you want a just society? A world superpower? An educated society? Or a responsive democracy? There were a variety of answers given around the room. There was no wrong answer because each American is entitled to their own dream. However, it exemplifies that America, as a whole, does not have a clear direction of where it wants to go or who it wants to be because everyone is working on their own agenda.

In making this decision, we have to consider if we have the means to accomplish it. For example, if America wants to remain the world’s superpower, we would have to maintain a certain level of military presence around the world. This requires large amounts of money which could be used to fund other projects and help people in need. If having a balanced budget sheet is the goal, the US needs to choose the most important projects it wants to fund instead of trying to fund them all.

It is a challenge to answer the questions of what type of country do you want to live in or what type of life do you want to live because there are many possible complex answers. However, we were reminded that it is alright not to know the answer because life can be contradictory at times. Additionally, when you want to accomplish everything, often nothing gets done. However, when you know what your objectives are you can allocate resources more wisely. Ms. Eisenhower recalled how the United States wasted time and resources on the International Space Station. The US spent millions of dollars developing a zero gravity pen to use in the space station, the Russians used pencils.

Once Americans develop a direction for the future, we can work to create balance between everyone’s ideas. Until now though, we have seen little motivation for rallying around common objectives. The current political leaders are divided among many issues and goals for our country, at times even within their own party. Another misconception that Ms. Eisenhower emphasized was that people believe compromise as forfeit or weakness. Rather, it should be viewed as a strategic move. Our leaders should represent the objective of the people and we should support their authority. We should stand up and lead when there is a clear strategy. The US would benefit from more organization, a unified plan and direction. Unfortunately under the current circumstances, money is being wasted because there is no concise plan or agreement. Lives are being lost overseas in war because of lack of direction in operation. Debt is growing because there is no agreement on how to handle federal funds. The lack of guidance and cooperation is slowing this country down.

The final take away of the meeting was a call for the younger generations to rise to the occasion and be leaders in society and government. The first step is to take a break from technology and to clear our minds from distractions to make good decisions. Ms. Eisenhower believes, “no great decisions were made in a noisy room.” Next, she encouraged all of us to find what it is we are passionate about because passion is the driver behind most motivation.  We should take that passion and then work towards a greater goal.

Over all I found the meeting with Ms. Eisenhower very inspiring. Her questions challenged me to think about what it is I want from my country and how I can help make that possible. In turn, I challenge everyone to answer the question: what type of country they want to live in? With clear objectives we can push this country to excel in the global community without wasting excessive time, money or resources.

–Catherine Kus