While I’ve been trying hard to focus on my own little corner of the world these days and my place in it, I’m finding it hard not to cast a glance eastward to Washington DC. With the sequester front and center, depending on whom you listen to or what news you watch, and the time of day, and which way the wind is blowing, it seems that either the sky is falling . . . or it isn’t.

Could our leaders be any more dysfunctional? Harsh words, I know, and I guess the dysfunction should come as no surprise. After all, we elected these people to represent our interests. Why should we expect them to act any differently that we do? Aren’t “we the people” divided at best on most issues—spend, don’t spend; tax, don’t tax? It’s no wonder Washington always seems to be stuck in neutral (or worse, reverse).

This got me to thinking about what was different when things weren’t so broken. In the past, it always seemed there was someone who stepped up and led us through the hard choices and the hard times.

In the 2012 movie, Lincoln, President Lincoln’s character asks, “Do you think we choose the times into which we are born? Or do we fit the times we are born into?” I’m not sure if Honest Abe ever spoke these words, but to me they resonated, suggesting that when the times require, someone is bound to step forward.

Who will that be? Who will be this generation’s “greatest?”

Interestingly, I explored this very topic 18 months ago. Here’s that blog again in case you missed it . . . 

Where Is This Generation’s “Greatest”?
(Originally posted on August 30, 2011)

For the past few weeks, I’ve focused on “entitlements,” mainly from the perspective of how some feel they’re entitled to something they’re not necessarily owed. Given recent events and the overall financial plight of our country, it shouldn’t take a simian with super intelligence to figure out why such thoughts were foremost in my mind. While readers of this blog might be expecting more of a business/marketing/social media slant to subjects discussed here—and those topics will return, I promise—I’ve just been finding it more and more difficult to ignore the “bigger picture” these days.

That said, this week I continue that current train of thought, albeit from a slightly different perspective: What if, instead of feeling you deserve something you aren’t owed, you actually have earned something, but don’t really need it? Should you still take it?

A simple example might be if you were to find and return a lost wallet for which someone has posted a $100 reward. You’d certainly “earned” the reward  . . . but should you take it? Personally, I wouldn’t. Most likely, finding the wallet would be happenstance. And returning it? Well that’s just the right thing to do. I may sound altruistic—and I’m really not trying to—but doing a good deed would be payment enough for this King Monkey.

Now, if you’re a working stiff like me, you pay into social security every paycheck. Over a lifetime this amounts to a sizeable chunk of change that can reach tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars, certainly enough to buy a hefty bunch of bananas. The idea is for that money to be there for your golden years, when you retire; but of course it’s looking more and more likely for anyone under 50 the money won’t be there for them.

What if you’ve been fabulously successful and, come retirement age, you really don’t needthat social security money you so justly earned? Would you be willing to sacrifice all or part of it so that someone else, who hasn’t been as successful, might benefit?

I’m not talking about more entitlements here—I don’t believe in getting something for nothing, and I don’t believe in penalizing success—but what if such acts of self-sacrifice were commonplace? Think of the possibilities!

Our Founding Fathers were willing to sacrifice everything they had to establish this country. In The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson even committed it to writing, “. . . we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

More recently, members of our “Greatest Generation,” namely those who served and fought in World War II—many of whom did not return home alive—were similarly willing to sacrifice “all” so that others might benefit.

I’m not suggesting any of us has to go to such extremes just yet, but how refreshing would it be to see those “great ones” among us, regardless of the size of their bank accounts, their ethnicities, their ages, or their political ideologies step forward? Where is this generation’s George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Martin Luther King Jr.?

It might be as simple as spending more time with your kids, teaching them right from wrong, or volunteering more, or getting by with a little less. Maybe that kind of selflessness is all that’s needed to change the world. Maybe.

What can you do? What personal or professional sacrifice can you make to pay it forward?