Nothing you read here is likely to convince you that Joseph Jaworski is on to anything monumental. The hard, unmistakable evidence just isn't there. The "you have to be there" faith he exudes is impossible to put on paper.
Still, I believe that Joe Jaworski's American Leadership Forum has the potential for helping us to solve some of our major problems -- by helping us to see ourselves as agents of change.
The problem with American leadership, says the 53-year-old Texan, is that we no longer feel personally responsible for what happens in the country, or even in our own communities.
His sense that something had gone wrong with our leadership so intensified during the Watergate investigations (for which his late father, Leon Jaworski, was special prosecutor) that, in 1981, he left the thriving Houston law firm he had founded and started devoting his full time to developing his leadership ideas.
What is necessary, he believes, is to find the hidden, often unofficial leadership talent that every community possesses, prepare that leadership for collaboration and then help hone its leadership skills.
But in order to accomplish that, individual leaders, who may come from wildly diverse backgrounds and never have met each other except as opponents, must learn to trust each other.
Here is where some people will be put off. His trust-builder is an "Outward Bound"-type week in the Colorado Rockies, where bankers, policemen, labor leaders and community organizers learn to rely on each other as mountain climbing partners. It is, as he describes it, an almost mystic experience, and his manuscript for a booklet on the process is full of accounts of lifelong bonds formed between unlikely participants.
If you've never had one of those wilderness experiences, you are likely to be skeptical about some of the life-changing effects. I haven't, and I am.
But what I do not doubt is that the leadership necessary to attack our pressing problems is there, unrecognized, untapped and uncollaborated.
I am not the first to note the importance of empowering local leadership. Robert Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, frequently decries the tendency to "parachute in" outside experts to deal with problems that local leaders could attack more effectively if they had the financial backing. The tendency not only leaves the problems unresolved but also undercuts indigenous leadership.
It's a safe bet that if you took a survey of the most trouble-ridden neighborhoods in America, local residents could point you to the homes of the neighbors they have learned to count on for advice and leadership and assistance in time of trouble and that the names of these same neighbors would turn up again and again.
But their good work and influence are undercut by the importation of social work experts, recreation experts, antipoverty experts who frequently earn a good living while accomplishing very little.
Jaworski would find these leaders, put them together with leaders from government, banking and commerce and, perhaps after a "bonding" session in the Rockies, turn them loose to attack local problems.
So far, the successes have been rather modest: a school-industry project in Hartford designed to improve the employability of high school students while helping industry to address its man-power shortfall; civic projects in Portland and Houston; new levels of activism among formerly aloof business leaders in Texas, Connecticut and Oregon.
But if Jaworski is correct, these are mere foot-wetting exercises. He thinks a good deal more can be accomplished, and so do I.
No amount of law-enforcement exertion, for instance, can solve the drug problem that plagues so many of our cities. But citizens, working together across lines of class, income and politics, can find ways to make a substantial dent in the problem. Elected officials, with their efforts bent on reelection, and industry leaders, their eyes on their bottom line, may be institutionally incapable of addressing vital long-term concerns. But leadership of the sort Jaworski is working to develop can take a civic view of problems and fashion appropriate strategies.
What has happened, says Jaworski, is that we have left leadership to the institutions and then, dismayed by the inability of the institutions to solve our problems, have given up in despair.
His gospel, which makes sense to me even if his mysticism doesn't, is that "people in general have to consider what happens in the country as their personal responsibility."