A Simple Desire: to Better the World

These essays highlight ways to build idealism into future communities


Ed. by Hesselbein, Goldsmith, Beckhard, and Schubert

Josse-Bass, San Francisco

285 pp., $25

Put together by the Drucker Foundation, this book of essays is full of rampant idealism. Its authors - educators, think-tankers, corporate executives, consultants, book authors, nonprofit association executives, and a German politician - share a desire to better the world through their ideas and actions. Many qualify as do-gooders in the best sense of the phrase.

Each author has about 10 pages to make her or his point. If that point is intriguing, you wish the idea was developed further. If not, skimming proves useful.

Here are a few of the ideas:

Lester Thurow, economist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Capitalism has too short a time horizon. It will not, and cannot, make the investments in education, infrastructure, or research and development needed to generate its own future success. The Internet, for example, was financed by the Defense Department. It could not have been financed privately. It took 20 years to develop, before cheap personal computers allowed it to create new thriving industries.

Corporate downsizing, to improve short-term profits, has shattered the social contract between employers and their workers. No matter how much they have contributed in the past, workers see they could be fired at any time. As a result, workers are learning to maximize their short-run earnings by taking wage offers even marginally higher.

"Have Gun, Will Travel" becomes the motto. "Yet firms have no source of long-term strategic advantage other than these brainpower workers," Mr. Thurow notes.

Bob Buford, cable-television operator: Baby boomers are reaching "halftime" in their lives, when bigger questions start to challenge the pursuit of success. These include, "What difference am I making with my life? What do I want to be remembered for?" Aiming for significance and service, the boomers could help "civilize the city."

The "full-service church" is emerging. Most Protestant churches could be likened to corner grocery stores. These new churches are like shopping malls. They have not just one pastor, but an entire team of pastors that provides many "boutique" ministries and programs. They attract more than 1,000 people, as many as 15,000, on a weekend.

Claire Gaudiani, president, Connecticut College: Beyond intellectual capital is "wisdom capital" - the ideas collected over thousands of years that call us to live in ways that sustain well-being for others. These principles can create a common commitment and unity in a community and work force that is becoming increasingly diverse.

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas K. "Mahatma" Gandhi: "Individualism and community building have an inverse relationship. Only one can flourish and at the expense of the other."

"The choice before humanity in the next millennium ... is to learn to respect life or live to regret it," he writes. But most Americans probably do not see such a severe conflict between their prized individualism and the need for integration and interdependence.

Community is important Elie Wiesel concludes: He calls for "solidarity with the weak, the persecuted, the lonely, the sick, and those in despair."

* David R. Francis is economics correspondent for the Monitor.

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