In my years of international business consulting work, I came to recognize that superior systems, while crucial, aren’t enough to sustain any organization. Many companies have spent millions of dollars on outsourced operational consultants and systems experts only to find the entity lacked spirit, substance, strategy and sustainability. Hyper-focusing on outsourcing creates a motion of activity that temporarily covers the lack of forward movement on mission and vision while also obscuring the holes in the soul of the institution. What is true for the heart of an organization is also true for the soul of society: Outsourcing isn’t the answer.
The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in the United Kingdom, said, “When morality is outsourced to either the market or the state, society has no substance, only systems. And systems are not enough.”
Society is currently subcontracting a long laundry list of activities along with many moral, ethical and virtuous behaviors vital to the soul of the nation. Congress is outsourcing law making to the executive branch, communities are outsourcing caring for the poor and needy to government agencies, parents are outsourcing teaching morals and values to schools, individuals are outsourcing critical thinking to self-made social media bubbles and many are outsourcing their own happiness to external expectations. Furthermore, conflict resolution is being outsourced to the courts, honesty is being outsourced to fact-checkers, truth is being outsourced to ideological opinion and trust has been outsourced for so long it is difficult to determine where it has gone.
The systems of freedom are an important safeguard. However, America’s constitutional republic has not been sustained solely on the basis of the systems outlined in the Constitution. America isn’t a systematic achievement; it is a soul-strengthening moral achievement.
Sacks wrote, “A free society is a moral achievement, and it is made by us and our habits of thought, speech, and deed. Morality cannot be outsourced because it depends on each of us. Without self-restraint, without the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct, and without the habits of heart and deed that we call virtues, we will eventually lose our freedom.” A moral and virtuous society, as the Founders believed, was necessary to sustain liberty and is dependent on “we the people” committing to “be the people” who safeguard the soul of society through our daily actions.
Describing the downward societal trends and current moral culture, Sacks concluded, “When there is no shared morality, there is no society. Instead, there are subgroups, and hence identity politics. In the absence of shared ideals, many conclude that the best way of campaigning is to damage your opponent by ad hominem attacks. The result is division, cynicism, and a breakdown of trust. The world is divided into the people like us and the people not like us, and what is lost is the notion of the common good. When the ‘I’ takes precedence over the ‘We,’ the result is weakened relationships, marriages, families, communities, neighborhoods, congregations, charities, regions and entire societies.”
Subcontracting the soul of the nation simply doesn’t work. Sadly, there is a lot of motion and mounds of money spent on government-driven or market-managed solutions for morality in America.
On March 8, 1983, then President Ronald Reagan said, “The struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at its root, it is a test of moral will and faith.” Reagan’s call to the nation was for “we the people” to “be the people” who would safeguard, cherish and foster the soul of the nation now and for generations to come.
The soul of our society has, from the beginning of the country, been the shared project of the American people.
John Adams understood where the soul of the nation needed to be nourished when he said the “radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.” That radical change that formed the soul of our society began ever so quietly in homes and around hearths across the colonies.
One practical area where the soul of society needs strengthening is in the realm of racial unrest. The answers to racism, prejudice, discrimination and hate cannot be subcontracted to government, law enforcement or special interest groups. We the people can be the people to create real, lasting solutions through open hearts, true friendship and a brotherhood and sisterhood built on compassion, understanding and common values.
Another world religious leader, President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has linked arms with civil rights, business and government leaders in addressing social unrest, racism and bigotry. He issued a clarion call in an Oct. 4, 2020, invitation: “Today I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice. I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children.” President Nelson recognizes that moral authority and societal strength can’t come from outsourced transactions, programs or messaging campaigns but only through customized, individual actions.
Fostering the soul of society is a cottage industry. The work must be carried out in homes and families and then in neighborhoods and communities.
We the people must be the people. We must be the truth. We must be the good. We must be the change. We must be humble. We must be authentic. We must be grateful. We must be compassionate.
It is also critical to remember that the soul of the nation doesn’t belong, and cannot be outsourced, to any politician, political party, agency, organization or institution.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson, an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ, has traveled the world encouraging the leaders of nations and all faith traditions to foster the kind of moral cottage industry necessary to strengthen and sustain the soul of society. In discussing the role of religious freedom during a 2017 address delivered in Cambridge, England, he said, “True religion, encourages the virtues and habits of good citizenship that are necessary for a free society. Honesty. Duty. Moral self-discipline. Sacrifice for family and country. Compassion and service toward others. Civic engagement.”
A sentiment often attributed to Alexis De Tocqueville still rings true: “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” You cannot outsource goodness or greatness. It must be nurtured in individual hearts and fostered in homes.
America’s success has never been based solely upon our system of government, but rather on the power of the moral soul of the nation — which simply cannot be outsourced. Truly, we the people must commit to be the people to make the soul of society strong.
This story appears in the March issue of Deseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.