February 5th, 2011
12:30 PM ET

Letters to the President: #747 'Spotting the seeds of revolt'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: Several leaders in the Arab world are under pressure for big changes. Our president, however, is only under pressure to read my daily letter to the White House. Well, maybe there is more to the job than that…

Dear Mr. President,

I heard someone say the other day that revolutions are difficult things to predict. I agree, and I don’t.

They are certainly difficult to predict in the sense that it is very hard to see precisely which direction they will head. If you look at the Russian Revolution, for example, there were so many players representing so many different interests and scrambling for position, I don’t think anyone could have accurately said near the beginning how the country would wind up. I’m not sure they could have been even ballpark close.

Harder still, is predicting where and when any uprising will end which, of course, bears heavily on the difficulty described above. Sometimes outside forces step in. Sometimes internal forces collapse. Sometimes something utterly unforeseen drags the whole affair down an unexpected byway.

But predicting the rise of a revolution is not so difficult. Oh sure, it is a challenge to pinpoint the exact month and day, but the general discontent that leads to upheavals is as noticeable as a line of thunderheads on the horizon. You just have to look for them.

And that is why many leaders are caught off guard by revolts - because they really don’t want to see them coming. Like a person with an overloaded credit card, they live in denial that collection day will ever arrive. Why? Because if they admit that people are that unhappy, they have to look for a cause. And if the cause lies in their own leadership, well, that’s a hard pill for anyone to swallow.

Some might say great leaders, whether in politics, or business, or communities, are so successful that they never face the possibility of uprisings. I disagree. I think great leaders listen to their followers every moment, take seriously their complaints and concerns, and treat with great respect the real power of those people. Great leaders are successful because they do face the possibility of uprisings - honestly, and openly, and with a great willingness to admit their own failings, and if necessary, to even step aside.

Hope your weekend is a good one.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. dale caldwell

    i should probably say up front that i am not a member of any "youth group:" i am 64, a celtic orthodox monk, and almost never watch the news. but if i do, it's usually anderson cooper 360, despite how sad it is to be informed about ken and barbie dolls.

    but, i wonder, wouldn't it be a potentially fascinating story if cnn would interview young people in, say, israel and jordan and the west bank about what is happening in egypt? it might even be interesting to hear from some young americans, who probably have not advised any presidents, and probably don't even have a red tie.

    just a thought.

    pax et caritas,

    February 7, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  2. E llis P Monk

    It's never too soon to teach a child about race, ignorance and injustice . I red this in the Detroit FREEPRESS BY. Kristen Jordan Shamus. My 5-year-old came home from school on monday all fired up about what she'd learned . She was incensed about racism, segregation,about people being cruel to one another based on nothing more than the color of there skin. MOM! Mom! I have something really important to tell you, she shouted,arms waving. Did you know that they used to not let people with dark skin in the parks,Or sit on the bus? Or use the bathroom? They put up signs that said Whites only! Isn't that terrible? And then a gay named MARTIN LUTHER KING came and he changed the world,but somebody shot him. I'm glad I wasn't born yet when that happen. Every body schould know about this school.

    February 7, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  3. nancy

    When Obama speaks on any issue, over and over again he must retract his position and is continually, poor representation for our country. The US has always had better than this!

    February 6, 2011 at 2:08 pm |