Today, we are living in a world where leadership is challenged from all sides. Isolation and loneliness abound. Neighborhoods where people met face-to-face have been replaced with virtual neighborhoods made up of Facebook encounters and fleeting TikTok messages. Members of organizations work in silos. Our society is polarized with “camps” screaming at one another rather than seeking to find common ground. Whether this social condition of isolation is good for our heart and soul or not, it often seems to be a condition that is not of our choosing.
Leadership is also challenged by the multiple truths that seem to exist. Experts are suspected of bending the facts and politicians are commended for lying and promoting violence (Weitz and Bergquist, 2023). We live in a world where reality is being constructed by other people and we seem to be immune to any corrections on this imposed reality. We are left alone and ignorant in a world that is saturated with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, turbulence and contradiction (VUCA-Plus) (Bergquist, 2019).
Habits of De Tocqueville
Has this always been the case—at least in America? Alexis de Tocqueville (2000/1835), a French observer of early 19th century society would say this was not the case (at least in small-town America). According to de Tocqueville the residents of American towns and surrounding areas had developed and maintained “habits of the heart” that called for gathering together and sharing information. We might ask what these “habits” looked like in 19th century American life and ask what happened to these habits? In seeking to find an answer to these questions, I reflect back on American life as it existed in this world of times past (and as it existed up until the early years of the 20th century).
Alexis de Tocqueville identifies several key factors that enable humankind to build communities—by establishing “habits of the heart”. According to de Tocqueville, these community-building habits are based on seven factors:
“1. Equality of opportunity, knowledge and status exists in the community.
2. Settings exist in the community for vivid and sustained dialogue.
3. Shared interests and reasons of mutual support are to be found in the community.
4. Civic associations (nongovernment community-oriented institutions) are prevalent in the community.
5. Emphasis is placed on useful action within the community.
6. Emphasis is placed on experience-based action within the community.
7. Abiding belief is to be found in the community regarding human progress and a sense of greater purpose in life.
The first four of these conditions might be identified as “habits of the collective heart”, while the last three could be clustered together as “habits of the personal heart.”