In Search of Leaders

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A month ago we had a discussion about how to begin solving America’s race bias and grab for power (“History Helps Heal”, MLN, July 14, 2016). Both plague our country. We are fully aware that our economy is in need of work and our old and overused infrastructure needs repair. The mere fact of acknowledgment is enough to assure that, eventually, these problems will be fixed.  

The deeply buried racial bias that still plagues the United States 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after segregation was legislated away, along with Americans’ false sense that wealth and power bring individual happiness, will not be eliminated any time soon–unless we bring to the surface the fact that these are problems that hold us back from real progress.  

I suggested that a big step in the right direction would be to develop leadership in our citizens and offered some of the actions of Bobby Kennedy as examples. 

It is not enough to state the obvious. We must scour the attributes of people who value the human race and eschew power as a means of personal achievement for clues about what leadership is. When it is important, even sanctioned, for an individual to feel superior to another for their own wellbeing, and the model is to strive for personal gains over community welfare, we’ll continue to have these discussions. 

This is not a political column. Leaders come in all varieties, and from every arena. Political leaders need to be supplemented with a plethora of folks with the ability to speak and write directly into our souls. One or two holding political office will not suffice. 

There are examples to hold up. The danger of doing so is that no one is perfect and no one can withstand every nook and cranny of their existence being scrutinized for rebuttal. Knowing this I offered Robert Kennedy in my previous column. He came from privilege, but spent a majority of his life working for community. During his shortened life he fought against the power of individual labor leaders taking advantage of our larger community and was working tirelessly for racial justice when his flame was extinguished. 

There are other choice examples. Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela jump out at us. There are others too. Elie Wiesel and James Baldwin both saw injustice and with disregard for their own safety, wrote passionately about it. 

John Locke thought and wrote volumes about how people should be governed. His

eye was always on balancing the rights of individuals with the betterment of community. His statement, “No one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” ended up, slightly modified, in our Declaration of Independence. If Locke influenced Thomas Jefferson, he truly was a leader. 

There are untold others, millions who never became famous. If you have a relative, teacher, favorite author, anyone to whom you look up and admire, that person is a successful leader. 

I worked for the same principal for 22 of my 32 years in public education. She is my shining example of the strongest of leaders. She was thoughtful about the people with whom she worked, and assessed and accepted their strengths and weaknesses. She gave me countless jobs to do over the years and then went on to the next item on her to-do list. She didn’t doubt for a second that I’d accomplish the task and it just never, ever occurred to me to let her down. 

Those are the people, and education is how they got that way. Education is the silver bullet that will allow us to advance as a society beyond bias. 

Our schools are filled with teachers who understand that teaching test answers is not enough. They know we have to also teach, mostly by example, that civility and respect; mixed with self confidence, and a large dose of humility reveal the best of the human condition. 

Family, along with a willingness to serve, mixed with aggressive education that fosters students to reach their greatest potential make up the formula for building successful leaders. Every person can and should seek leadership to learn and in turn strive to be a leader for, at least, a few others. Dr. King looked to Mohandas Gandhi for the word about nonviolent resistance and then paid it forward. Like Locke to Jefferson and Gandhi to King, if you’re a leader to a leader, that is way more satisfaction than a pile of money and a mansion. 

We’ve got our work cut out for us, but with sunshine on the problems and an earnest effort, we’ll get there.

 

 

 

 

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