Leadership

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My mama would never forget the calm that Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor brought to the American people during World War II. She often spoke of gathering around the radio to listen to updates, encouragement and calls for a national effort from the president. She quite proudly outlined the many sacrifices that citizens made and the overall unity of purpose that spread across the land. She would get quite emotional when describing how things were and she always ended such remembrances with tears as she described how she felt when President Roosevelt died. 

My mother also held up Eleanor Roosevelt as an exemplar of womanhood. I suppose that I grew up admiring this wonderful First Lady because of my mom’s influence. Mama told me about Ms. Roosevelt’s intelligence and compassion. I would later learn even more about this remarkable woman in books and documentaries. She was the favorite niece of Theodore Roosevelt and her influence on her husband and our country was profound. 

I’ve had a fascination with the era of World War II when my mother was still just a teenager. My interest in life during that time only increased when my mother-in-law told me stories that added to my knowledge of the incredible efforts made by ordinary people to help in the battle against Germany and Japan. In the face of early losses the American people remained determined to support the Allied Forces even if it meant enduring great privation. 

I suppose that I have always believed that the American people are living heroes and people of great selflessness and resolve. Even as I see a deterioration of those important values I am not yet ready to accept that we have somehow lost our willingness to work for a common good even when it is difficult. I still see incredible resolve and compassion in the work of our medical community that is being battered by Covid 19. In spite of the dangers and the exhausting schedules they return day after day to save lives even as they hear whispers that they are somehow hiding information or cures from us. 

I see our nation’s teachers preparing for a new school year that will most certainly be wrought with problems. In spite of concerns for the health and safety of themselves and their students they are gearing up with masks and face shields and disinfectant in the hopes of keeping everyone safe. They are marching into the unknown with the resolve to educate our children and allow parents to return to work even as they know the dangers that may lurk ahead. 

Our first responders continue to answer calls for help never quite knowing what they may encounter. Already their ranks have been thinned by the virus and sadly some of their comrades have died. Still they do their jobs just as they have been trained to do. 

The vast majority of citizens want to help beat back the virus. They wear masks, ignoring their discomfort in support of a cause bigger than themselves. they keep their interactions with others to a minimum, avoiding crowds and large gatherings. They are very conscious and respectful of other people’s needs. They listen to their doctors and follow guidelines in the hopes of keeping Covid 19 at bay. 

So why is there still so much pushback in the country and a rapidly growing feeling that Covid 19 is out of control? I suspect that the problem lies in a lack of proper leadership. More than  anything we need to see politics set aside and a united effort from national, state and local offices. A successful program will have to begin at the very top with honesty and compassion, not efforts to undo safety measures or cater to a fringe group that is unhappy. Here a a few suggestions for our president:

  • If we should all wear masks then make it a nationwide program and lead the effort by modeling mask wearing behavior whenever you are in a public gathering. 
  • Give us the data without boasts about how much better we are than other countries. This is not a contest. 
  • Help us to believe that you actually care. Do not dismiss the suffering by noting that most old people and those with underlying health issues are the ones who are dying while it’s just like sniffles for everyone else. 
  • Have some earnest compassion without ever drawing comparisons or using the “I” word. 
  • Support governors and mayors regardless of party affiliation. Help them rather than pointing out their faults.
  • Ask the First Lady to speak to us as well. She is a charming woman who seems to have a genuinely kind heart. Allow her to show it in ways other than redoing the  White House garden.
  • Ask the members of your base who are ignoring the guidelines to join in the united efforts. They will listen to you and do whatever you ask of them.
  • Help us to believe that doing the right thing is more important to than winning the election.
  • Bring us together so that we can be the kind of Americans  who helped the world the eliminate the tyrants of World War II. Let us join the rest of the world in defeating Covid-19, not to win glory for ourselves but to save lives everywhere in a spirit of cooperation.
  • In other words, pull us together like FDR did. 
  • Be a true leader and we will follow.

I want to make America great again. I want a leader who is sincerely working for the good of all  of us. Is that too much to ask?

 

Healing Our Wounds

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We should be able to have differing opinions about just about everything as long as our ideas are not hurtful. It should not matter to anyone what religion a person follows or even if that individual chooses not to believe in God as long as nobody is prevented from having their own views about faith. Many people came to the shores of North America because they were being persecuted for holding beliefs that ran counter to those of the majority. Some were part of abused religious groups, others sought economic opportunity, and still others had encountered troubles of some kind from which they needed to flee. Eventually a band of enterprising men created a new type of government that they called the United States of America. It was to be a democratic republic with liberty and justice for all.

Sadly from the beginning there were folks left out of the equation, namely women and slaves. While there were some among the founders who thought that slavery would rather quickly become a thing of the past, the actual passage from from bondage was a long time coming. The country resisted votes for women until the twentieth century in spite of Abigail Adams’ entreaties that the ladies not be forgotten. Struggles for true equality and justice for everyone have tended to take far longer than might ever have been thought. Protests and resulting push back are as much a part of the national environment as the Fourth of July and apple pie. There always seems to be someone for whom the American experience is incomplete as well as someone who is unwilling to change regardless of the reasoning or the unfairness.

The kind of protesting and unrest that we are presently experiencing is actually nothing new in the grand scheme of our history. What makes it feel more discomfiting is its scope and reach in a time of pandemic. In truth it is often moments of economic or political uncertainty that create the rationale for publicly voicing concerns that have been quietly festering. Fears and discomfort with the status quo come to a head and boil over into protests and those demonstrations often result in violence. We need look no farther than the anger of the American colonists to find the DNA of disruption that follows years of quiet resignation. It has appeared over and over again when frustrations with inaction become too much to bear. Inevitably there will be those who choose sides and even those who decide to simply look away in the hopes that it will just go away. 

Right now any opinion that anyone holds is bound to be annoying to someone on the opposite side. Relationships are severely tested as the arguments fly back and forth. Sometimes the war of words becomes so intense that it devolves into personal attacks and accusations. Each side sees itself as being the most patriotic force for the good of all when the fact is that everyone is ignoring the obvious idea that we are supposed to embrace differences, not engage in uncivil wars. We should be able to engage in debates and then walk away as friends.

If we all truly believed that all men (people) are created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness we would want to know whenever someone or some group feels that their most basic rights were not as equitable as they should be. Taking note of their concerns would be highest form of reverence for democracy and patriotism. We would want our country to be its very best and we would understand that when one among us is suffering we  all need to render aid. We would not place our selfish interests or even our personal beliefs before insuring that the very heart of our grand experiment in freedom continually becomes a bit more perfect.

We just laid John Lewis to rest, a man who became a Freedom Rider in a time when people like him were not allowed to travel on a public bus in the deep south. He was beaten and threatened and jailed simply for sitting peacefully next to white citizens. He understood the necessity of breaking through the indifference to the horrific practice of segregation. He had to shed light on a problem that should have been obvious even without his actions. So too did women wanting to vote spend time in jail after being harassed for championing their cause in the streets of America. These were courageous souls who should be seen as the true descendents of the revolutionary spirit of old. They are the founding men and women of a more perfect union.

it pains me that we allow ourselves to be manipulated into accepting a picture perfect fairytale account of the history of the United States when the true story of brave men and women unafraid to fight for a better version of ourselves is a far more worthy narrative. The battles to make our country an honest and true example of its ideals are worthy of honor. The changes that have moved us closer and closer to being exceptional should be celebrated, not deplored. 

There are indeed outstanding moments in our history and they began with a hard fought, violent and bloody revolution against tyranny. The true patriots of our country rose again to defeat those who would have torn our union asunder and to free people who should never have been enslaved. Time and again we have mounted efforts to rid ourselves of imperfections in our freedoms and even to fight against tyrants abroad. We are moving ever closer but there are still problems to be addressed. Those who alert us to such things are in fact the very souls who love our country enough to want to make it better. We need not hark back to a more imperfect time but instead look forward to doing whatever it takes to continue to heal our wounds.

The Trifecta

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Who knew that 2020 would bring us a trifecta of Covid-19, civil unrest, and an election year? Sadly our national response to all of it has turned into a three ring circus. It surely would have been nice to watch our governmental representatives forego their usual baiting and backbiting in favor of just doing the right thing to keep things calm and focused on getting our people and our systems well.

Of course it appears that such cooperative thinking is a thing of the past, something relegated to the World War II era when Franklin Roosevelt was president and George H.W. Bush’s Republican father worked with FDR. Or maybe we saw something similar after hurricane Katrina when George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton traveled together across the country raising funds to help rebuild New Orleans. Anyway we’ve been left to our own resources and luckily there are still heroes quietly working to set things right. It seems that emergencies almost always show us both our dark and bright sides and the good will always rise to the occasion.

At the dawn of 2020 I had to change my medical insurance because my former carrier had dropped the doctors that I see. I had done a great deal of research before choosing the medical team that keeps me as healthy as a seventy one year old might be so I was surprised that my insurance company thought that my loyalty would be directed toward them. I feel the same way about politicians, well meaning friends, personalities and random medical folks who attempt to dissuade me from following the advice of my carefully chosen physicians. I really have no interest in hearing from any of these sources because I know for a fact that my doctors do a great deal of research in addition to treating me and their other patients. If there is some wonderful cure or preventive measure out there I believe that they will find it and alert me to it just as they often do with other aspects of my health. So in the meantime, I plan to stick with the advice that they provide me which so far has been to wear a mask, keep a distance from other people, avoid crowds, stay at home when there is an outbreak in my area, follow proper hygiene procedures, continue to exercise, eat healthy meals, and take my medications.

If by some chance I actually contract Covid-19 I will contact my primary care physician and take his advice on what to do next. So I really wish that those who think they are being helpful with their suggestions would understand that I do not take medical advice from lay people. I stick with the professionals many of whom are in my family circle and among my friends. Since they are highly respected and credentialed doctors and physician’s assistants I count their information as being far more valid and useful than those whose expertise is questionable at best.

When it comes to the our present state of civil unrest it appears that we have mostly chosen sides and instead of making attempts to actually consider alternative ideas we are so tightly wound to our own thinking that we have lost any ability to bring the stand off to a mutually beneficial end. We have become like the differing religious sects in the Middle East who refuse to find ways of coming together. Hopefully we do not resort to all out war like they have.

I have decided that the only way to safely voice my own concerns will be in the sanctity of the voting booth. I do not need to explain my choices nor does anyone else and I will not be gathering my information on the issues and candidates from memes or questionable videos. I do a great deal of research before I make my decisions and I have never been bound to any one party, idea or candidate. In fact I abhor the lemming like behavior that I witness all too of late. I tend to believe that every single candidate has both good and bad ideas and so I weigh the facts and decide from there. I am wary of soundbites and instead look for overall abilities and behaviors. In the past I have voted all over the political map and generally felt quite satisfied with my choices even when my favorites were defeated. I like to go to sleep each night believing that I have done enough homework to make wise choices.

Since so much of the disastrous situation in which we find ourselves embroiled is only being stoked by the very people who are supposed to be our leaders it would be nice if we would all come together on our own to quash the hoax theories and the concerted attempts to drive us apart. We should not be challenging one another to love this country in exactly the same ways or leave. Not even our Founding Fathers thought it was a good idea to be tied to identical philosophies. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson argued about what was best for the nation until the day on which they both died. Some thought that Alexander Hamilton’s nationalization of banking would lead to the demise of the fledgling country. In the end it was the saving grace. In truth no single one of these men had everything right nor were they perfect so why should we suddenly believe that we have unflawed individuals in our midst today who must be followed at all cost or we will all be doomed? It is a dangerous game to blindly follow anyone. We have to be willing to be honest when assessing the character of our leaders. When they are wrong we have to be willing to say so, otherwise we give them permission to be authoritarian. 

I suspect the the rest of this year of 2020 will be as rocky as it has been all along. I fear that our trifecta of problems will only be exacerbated in the coming months as the political campaigns heat up even more. As the saying goes we need to buckle up because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. God help us!

Celebrate Our Freedoms

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This has been a strange summer indeed. I suppose that if I were not concerned with the health and well being of all of the people that I know I might have enjoyed my time in solitude. After all I am an introvert at heart and quiet away from the mad rush has always been a form of healing for me. I literally enjoy the slow routine of the life I am living right now but of course I miss the interactions with family and friends. What really has me longing for a reprieve from these pandemic times is the unrest and divisiveness that I witness happening across my country. I realize that much of it is being stoked by forces intent on maintaining power and I hate the thought of watching so many people being manipulated. I am also stunned by the level of ignorance that I am witnessing as well. It is in all of these things that I feel the most disappointed because I wanted to believe that we would ignore our differences during this difficult time and work together for the common good.

Cancel culture has me particularly befuddled. I find it quite sad to watch people becoming incensed over our individuals rights to our particular beliefs. Perhaps our most important right as citizens is our ability to speak our minds without fear of retaliation. There is nothing more American than freedom of speech and yet I am more and more often witnessing the disturbing trend of folks who decide to purge people and products from their lives simply because they disagree with something that an individual has done or said. Even worse is accusing those using their rights of free expression of being somehow unpatriotic or even hating the country.

I truly wonder if those who would restrict free speech to only that which they fully endorse understand why our Founding Fathers decided to include the First Amendment. Certainly they must know that those individuals who signed on to the Constitution and its Bill of Rights did not always walk in sync with one another. They had widely varying beliefs about how our republic should unfold. They wanted to insure that nobody or no group would ever be able to restrict us to a narrow way of thinking. When we see differences in the thoughts and actions of our fellow citizens we should be thankful that all of our rights are still in tact.

I don’t have to agree with the athlete who kneels during the National Anthem to feel a rush of joy that I live in this country. The very fact that I am able to stand with my hand over my heart while he/she kneels in protest is the surest sign possible that our freedoms are safe from demagoguery. I rejoice when I see this and my thought is always, “God bless America!” It is in my mind a truly wonderful sight.

If a business person fawns over a politician that I do not like I am thrilled that he is able to do that without worry that he will become a target of governmental ire. I have the right to purchase his products or not. If I happen to like what he sells I will probably continue to buy them because his politics are his business. Again it is the true beauty of our system of government. We are free to be you and me.

One thing that does, however, disturb me is the lack of understanding that freedom is always tied to responsibility. We have to consider not just our own needs but those of others. We understand that we cannot harm someone physically and so we have laws that prohibit assault and murder. We might have a car capable of attaining speeds of a hundred miles per hour but we agree not to drive around town speeding for the safety of the public. We wear our seatbelts and wait to drink our beer until we are no longer driving. We follow rules at work and school and inside private businesses. Somehow people have forgotten these basic ideas when it comes to a simple matter of wearing a mask. Some among us seem to think that it is their God given right to ignore the health and safety of others if they so desire.

All of this confusion about right and wrong has lead us to a very dangerous place. Our misinterpretation of patriotism and freedom and democracy is leading to ugly behaviors even among those who once thought of themselves as friends. A common response these days is either to just ignore what is happening in hopes that it will go away or to sever long time relationships with anyone who has differing beliefs. Putting our heads in the sand is not the answer any more than attempting to beat someone into submission. It should not be an either or progressive or conservative thing to love the country and have ideas how to improve it. If I mention disturbing trends that I see it does not mean that I hate my country. In fact it is more likely that those who wish to make positive changes have a love of America otherwise they would just ignore the issues or depart altogether. We do not want a one size fits all way of thinking. We should embrace those with out of the box ideas, not tell them to love the country or leave

I’ve had more time to think about such things during the pandemic. I would like to think that we may one day realize that we all want essentially the same things for our country but we just have different ideas about how to achieve them. No one party or individual has all the best answers just as no citizen is more right or patriotic than others. I want more than anything to keep our freedoms intact. If that means hearing or seeing something that I don’t like, then so be it as long as it does not hurt someone else. Celebrate freedom of speech. It is the very thing that makes our country great.   

Good Trouble

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I have not said much about the death of John Lewis even though I have wanted to do so. I’ve been a bit too weepy thinking about his life story to be able to put my thoughts on paper in a coherent manner. Losing one of the last of the big Civil Rights leaders has brought back so many memories of a lifetime ago. I had thought or perhaps wanted to believe that the racial animus of my childhood was long gone. I actually believed at times that Congressman Lewis may have been exaggerating the extent of modern day problems  with race. All of that changed in the last few years as I observed an underbelly of our nation that seemed to be festering and growing like a toxic virus. I have been stunned by racism that I have seen and heard that should have died long ago. I knew that we have yet to complete the journey to justice and equality for all that he fought for so courageously for all of his life.

John Lewis was a young man when he decided to join in the struggle for freedom alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jim Lawson, and others. He was so passionate about the cause that not even multiple arrests and life threatening injuries were able to dampen his spirit. He marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday only to be viciously attacked. His skull was crushed but not his fervor. He often admonished all of us to engage in such “good trouble.”

When John Lewis was asked to speak at the famous march on Washington D.C. he prepared a speech that was so incendiary that his elders asked him to tone it down. He learned from them and always lived their creed of nonviolence and persuasion. He became known as a genuinely kind person. People described him as compassionate and sweet but he remained a fighter for the good of all people for the totality of his life.

I once visited Selma with a group of minority students. We stood in front of the church where John Lewis and others had gathered for their ill fated march to Montgomery, Alabama which was short circuited as they went over the rise of the Edmund Pettus bridge. They were greeted by law officers and snarling dogs who set on them with clubs, beating them to the ground. It was one of the ugliest moments in the history of our country and it changed the hearts and minds of people around the world.

As I walked across the bridge with my students so many years later I felt the spirit of those people who fought so valiantly for their right to vote. We were a motley group with our crew of black and brown students being led by mostly white teachers. We attracted a bit of attention and eventually we were even followed by a clearly marked sheriff’s car. When we got to the crest of the bridge I became breathless as I stared down its length and imagined how those brave souls, including John Lewis, must have felt on that fateful day.

Eventually our journey took us to Montgomery, Alabama where we once again reenacted history by walking toward the State Capitol building. I literally felt the living presence of the souls who had endured such “good trouble” to make the rest of us aware of the problems that they faced. I felt honored and humbled to walk in their shadows.

Now one of the greats among us is gone but I believe we can learn from him. I would tell the Black Lives Matter movement that their message is important but they need to be more tactical in the things they do and say. The protests of the era when John Lewis was young always had a specific message and purpose. They were respectful and nonviolent. They were not damaging to communities. They won the respect of the world with their passive resistance.

Today’s protests too often lose their focus. Looting never helps the cause no matter how many attempts there are to rationalize it. Destroying property only plays into the hands of the very people who have racist views. Being distracted by monuments and statues draws attention away from the real issues and results in only cosmetic changes. John Lewis understood all of these things and if the new era of protestors have any thought of honoring him they will study and follow his way of doing things. They will focus on voting rights and other systemic changes, not trivial symbolism.

It’s easy for a city to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee but if they do not also discuss changes that provide justice for Black Americans little will actually change. The Black Lives Matter movement is gaining support all over the world but it must be careful not to overdo. People become easily bored with a continual cadence that is not backed up with a seeable, doable plan. Now is an opportunity to honor a great man, John Lewis, by asking what he would do and then agreeing to make some “good trouble” with a clear goal that everyone can understand.