How Can We Have So Much and Be So Soft?

I have always been able to have conversations with friends and family members with differing political views by connecting with the morals, values, and ethics that live above politics. You know, the ones that all of us used to remember as the ideals behind our American spirit. We treasured characteristics such as respect, fairness, inclusion, vision, kindness, opportunity, supportiveness, and unity.

Right now, virtually anyone who works is in the cross-hairs of change and far too many are viewing the changes as dreadfully threatening. Put on a new pair of glasses and we find new forms of freedom, especially from monotonous tasks. A new world of work is here, not in the future but here. This new world offers extraordinary opportunities to develop meaning, purpose, mission, vision, and value in our work.

Without insight or an understanding of how to change ourselves, we fall back on the very filters that kill self-change on the spot. All of us have been trained. They are the filters of cynicism, contempt, aimlessness, resignation, and frenzy. Now, when we most need to change, far too many of us check-out on anger.

For anyone that has even a modicum of spirituality, the tone is exhausting.

Why have so many become so unhinged?

Alvin Toffler characterized it so well in his book Future Shock, published in 1971. He said that by the turn of the century, the majority of people would be in a perpetual state of shock brought on by trying to absorb too much change in too short a period of time.

The “why” came into sharp focus when research revealed that about 1/2 of our country’s workers characterize themselves as “underemployed.” They are holding 2-3 jobs to keep a roof over their heads, they continue clocking into obsolete jobs, some work side gigs on weekends, many have earned graduate degrees only to serve coffee. These are our friends, family members, and colleagues. They are getting kicked to the curb by change.

Of course, we have political turmoil!

Work is one of the primary ways that we establish relevance. And, relevance is the purpose of a democracy. When members of all dominant parties spend too much of their time making everyone else irrelevant, democracy is crumbling.

Last Friday, during a documentary about the passing of John F Kennedy, the filmmakers captured the great care and preparation he made for one speech. He had one shot to make his case to the American people. Kennedy strived for perfection in every word, phrase, and physical nuance. But, when he reached that stage his message was not about what he was going to do for us, he told us what to do, his commitment was to inspire Americans to become better versions of ourselves. He didn’t promise to keep our jobs out of China. He would have told us to do whatever it would take to be better than workers in any other country. He probably would have told us how to do that as well.

Why is this form of leadership so rare?

Shortly after JFK’s passing, the American advertising industry introduced a new marketing tool that ultimately destroyed our political contract of mutual responsibility. The focus group shifted the political narrative from what we needed to hear to what we wanted to hear. This has turned out to be as healthy as asking one of our dachshunds how many biscuits she wants to eat. Five decades later, the political campaign has devolved into making promises that cannot be kept and zero responsibility for the voter. It is a cynical new landscape where getting our vote is all that really matters.

Here is why this form of leadership contributes to the perfect storm at hand.

As America faces the biggest restructuring of work in over 300 years, the suggestions and promises our political leaders from both major parties are nothing less than jaw-dropping. Mitch McConnel said, “You know what we need to do with these coal miners is get them into trucking. There are a lot of jobs in trucking.” Daimler had just finished its pilot program in Nevada where a large battalion of driverless trucks demonstrated they are safer, cheaper, more economical, and get in fewer accidents. Our current 5.2 million jobs in trucking will dwindle to around 600,000 positions in just 7 years. Andrew Yang, a current Democratic candidate, wants to strengthen the notion all of us are victims by sending us a $1,000-a-month check to compensate for all of the jobs being displaced by technology. The amorality behind this platform comes into sharp focus when we hear that Andrew made his fortune as a tech founder. He is also an attorney. We can either choose to believe he is an idiot or that he is telling the American people what they want to hear.

JFK and almost every President before him inspired us to do whatever was necessary to become a better country and to lead better lives. Now, all that we have to do is vote and someone else will fix it on our behalf.

The crisis comes into sharp focus when we accept that a global talent war is taking place. Germany, China, Japan, and even India are far ahead of us in crafting talent strategies that elevate their economies and their overall bench strength. For example, auto manufacturing in Germany has long been a global model of quality, profit, cutting-edge technology, and, wait-a-minute, talent development. Most Germans wouldn’t understand the word “underemployment.” This is because of a strategy that links government, education, and employers into constantly training talent to grow upwards. We lay everyone off the moment they become obsolete. Many of our rather corpulent leaders dismiss the German model as socialism. The German workers, CEOs, and political leaders view it as good business.

America’s educational system continues to be mired in a design meant to serve the industrial revolution. We don’t teach success, we teach fitting in. Our schools are not teaching people about wealth, sales, influence, building support systems, or connecting with mentors.

Much is being said of the blue-collar workers being displaced by technology. But, what about highly-paid white-collar task workers? LegalZoom has made thousands of mid-level attornies too expensive for reality. Many of them selected the associate path because they wouldn’t have to become a salesperson. Now, major law firms require at least $2million in billings to become an associate. While candidates demonize the rich and try to turn college graduates into financial victims, we don’t hear one word about the high-quality and cost-free educations that AI is unleashing. More tellingly, I have not heard one candidate tell the American people that anyone who works simply must become an active learner. This is because learning, for many, continues to be a task that we get to end when we get the degree or certification. How many parents are passing bad role modeling to their children because they want to watch Television rather than learn about the world around them and the opportunities to do work that matters?

Technology is giving the kinds of freedom where line workers can buy 3-D printers and run a cottage industry out of their garage.

Getting rid of task work will eventually force us to look upwards. Instead of monotony, many of us will find far greater satisfaction in doing the work they love. What a flip! In the previous world of work, so many of us were conditioned to view the work that we love as superfluous. Now, loving our work provides the much-needed energy to change in time.

The emerging work and new ways of living are the rewards. The new options of work will reward those of us with creativity, empathy, and problem-solving skills. Some will devote their lives to engaging others in causes that matter. When I think of this, my mind goes to a brilliant scientist. His team is devoted to curing cancer. He takes me into his lab, turns around, and exclaims, “Welcome to my temple of hope.”

America has the largest and most astonishing talent pool on the face of the earth. But we are in a rather deep hole where instead of being excited about our future, we are craving a return to our past. At the very least, we cannot afford to listen to so-called leaders telling us they will fix it. We need leaders who tell us to roll up our sleeves.

I believe that if the two Roosevelts, Eisenhower, or JFK teleported to the present time, they would be stunned.

They would probably look at each other and ask,

“How could they have so much and be so soft?”

David Harder
David Harder
DAVID founded Inspired Work in 1990, which has helped over 42,000 professionals transform their relationship towards work. Individuals from all walks of life attend Inspired Work’s public programs to launch new careers, new business or to become more successful in their existing role. He views work as a profound opportunity to become more fulfilled, contributive and effective. Mr. Harder’s leadership, employee engagement, executive development and social networking programs are used in a wide variety of organizations including The Walt Disney Company, HBO, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Loyola Marymount University, University of Southern California, The United Church of Religious Science, Morgan Stanley, and many others. Inspired Work’s leadership programs, career development and team building programs produce some of the worlds most outstanding satisfaction numbers in any business: 92.6% out of a hundred. David has appeared on many business and human-interest programs including CNN, KTLA News, KFWB News and Business News Network. David’s book, new book, The Workplace Engagement Solution (Career Press) offers an entire “crack-the-code” approach to engagement.


  1. Excellent article, David. I am stunned by the promises that politicians and political candidates are making these days. The promises are so ridiculously impossible that I wonder how any rational thinking person could agree with them. Sure we would all like $1,000/month for free, free college, free medical care, and a job that we love that pays us over the top salaries. Does anyone really think that can be done? I also have to wonder why we keep electing people that promise to fix all our problems when those same people have failed to do so in the past, and in many cases were part of creating the problems. Don’t people understand that what the government gives away they have to take from us? We, taxpayers, are the only significant source of money the government has. Wake up, people.

    • Ken, thank you for your comments. Great leaders recognize the needs of their people and they come up with the kind of guidance that causes positive change. Making promises isn’t leadership. Making promises that cannot be kept is contempt. Our fastest growing professional category is social entrepreneurism. These are people and organizations that make profit while solving the world’s problems. It is the space in which disease is being cured, green energy is more profitable than petroleum, and organizations such as Google are launching high-quality higher education without charge.

  2. I think this is a matter of cause and effect, David. I think we’re so soft BECAUSE we have so much.

    As a late-blooming college student, I wrote a paper after reading this book:’s+Notes&qid=1580307514&s=books&sr=1-1

    I called the paper, “The Horror of Privilege”. That horror is manifest in the life of its semi-autobiographical protagonist, Frederick Exley. Thanks to the relative comfort of his middle-class existence, Exley actually has too many choices, too many options, too many directions from which to choose. So, he chooses nothing. He chooses not to participate in life in any meaningful, productive, contributory way. He becomes instead, forever, the metaphorical fan.

    No Roosevelts, Eisenhowers, or JFKs would have compelled Exley to roll up his sleeves. That kind of motivation might be ignited by particular leaders. But no leader will ever be able to put it there.

    Thank you for a thought-provoking read.

    • Thank you for your comments, Mark. Over the years, I have become a full-time optimist. We have been delivering group programs where people make transformative changes in two-days. Thir improvements are lasting because they are simply organizing their own truth. Time and time again, I’ve watched the very people I judged so harshly produce watershed positive change. I believe we underestimate the power of the human spirit because, given the opportunity, that spirit almost always takes the high road.

      • For my part, David, I’ve become a fatalist wearing rose-colored glasses; that is, I alway fear the worst, even as I hold out hope for the best.

        Kidding aside, I suspect we’re more alike than my previous comments may have led you to believe. Exhibit A: After creating or re-staging their brands, I ask all my clients for the opportunity to speak to all of their employees. I do that because it’s empirically true that if you give people the opportunity to connect with brands in their own ways, they’ll do it without fail; and they’ll proudly and enthusiastically represent those brands every day, regardless of the jobs they do or their positions in the companies they serve.

        Exhibit B: I do this because I know if we can reach children — if we can encourage and nourish their senses of self and their imaginations — the world will inevitably be a better place.

        Thank you for responding to my earlier comments, especially if you thought we were on different sides of the fence. My hat is off to you.



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