The Five Days of Christmas: Gifts for America

I know what you're thinking. Isn't the song called "The Twelve Days of Christmas"? Yes, but again this year, I'm getting started with only five shopping days left. So, as I mull over recent events, here are the ultimate gifts I wish we could offer America this year:

1. A Bi-partisan Approach to Governing as Modeled by Representative Ryan and Senator Murray: There is probably nothing Americans want more this year than to see our elected representatives in Washington work together to strengthen the country. While some are clearly disappointed in President Obama's performance giving him a 44% approval rating, according to a recent CNN study, Congress enjoys a whopping 10% approval rating, the lowest in history.

Last night, it appears we got a more balanced budget from Senator Patty Murray of Washington and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. "I'm proud of this agreement," said Ryan. "It reduces the deficit--without raising taxes." And Senator Murray added "This agreement breaks through the recent dysfunction to prevent another government shutdown ... It's a good step in the right direction that can hopefully rebuild some trust and serve as a foundation for continued bipartisan work." Economists can debate the merits of the budget's specifics. I am just grateful that two level-headed politicians worked together to get something important done.

2. Universal Healthcare from President Obama: While the past two months have been filled with hyperbolic talk of the "disastrous rollout" of the Affordable Care Act (the legislation formerly known as Obamacare), I, for one, do not connect a flawed website rollout with the death of healthcare as we know it. As a former high tech executive, I witnessed many examples of breakthrough software solutions whose launch was a short-term disaster.

What ultimately matters won't be the glitches in website; it's what's done to improve the fundamental problems with healthcare. By any standard, our healthcare system is in need of serious rethinking. While 48 million US citizens do not have coverage, we spend 17.6% of our Gross National Product on healthcare - an average of 2.5 times per citizen what 34 of the other most developed countries in the world are spending. While much remains to be done, we should be grateful that we have a leader with the courage to try to create a more universal and sustainable system.

3. The Conviction that Love Conquers Evil from the Parents of Newtown: Last Christmas was a sadder one for all of us following the awful slayings of innocent children and teachers in Newtown, CT on December 14, 2012. It's hard to fathom that any parent can find goodness again following the loss of their five or six-year old in such a senseless tragedy. But as Alissa Parker explains in her powerful YouTube video Sandy Hook: Evil Did Not Win, reflecting on the loss of her beautiful daughter Emilie, it seems love sometimes really can conquer all. Here in Boston, we have also seen the power of such love this year, as individuals, families, and communities have worked to overcome the havoc wreaked by the Marathon bombings.

4. The Commitment to a Fair, Livable Minimum Wage from Pope Francis: It has been a welcome gift from the Catholic's Holy Father, Pope Francis, to hear him broaden the discussion of faith at such a critical time, and state his position on inequality in such clear and compelling terms. In his Evangelii Gaudium, the Pope states:

To sustain a lifestyle that excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor ... The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us."

The inequality that Francis decries may finally be gaining national attention in the United States. Discussion of the injustice of maintaining a minimum wage that has low-wage employees working full-time yet living in poverty has increased dramatically in recent weeks. As Wharton Professor Peter Cappelli reminds us so effectively in this week's Harvard Business Review Blog, "it's not okay that your employees can't afford to eat." Unfortunately, he also reminds us, that Scrooge is alive and well. But as I pointed out in my Christmas piece last year, it is Scrooge's transformation that we celebrate each Christmas. That was Dickens' gift. Perhaps if all of us will embrace this gift from Pope Francis and act on the issue of inequality, we will have a country that is more just, more loving, and more peaceful.

5. A Spirit of Reconciliation from President Nelson Mandela: Finally, this month we lost the greatest political role model of the last half-century, Nelson Mandela. Of all his remarkable gifts, the one that struck admirers most was his undying pursuit of reconciliation with his former adversaries. Former South African President FW deKlerk may have said it best:

Although we were political opponents, and although our relationship was often stormy, we were always able to come together at critical moments to resolve the many crises that arose ... He was a remarkable man - his biggest legacy will be [his] emphasis on reconciliation, a remarkable lack of bitterness ... He lived reconciliation. He was a great unifier.

Perhaps, above all else, we should hope our country can receive even a modest dose of what Mandela gave in such abundance to the world - an understanding of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. What a gift that would be!

Merry Christmas to all!