Thanksgiving in the United States is now a memory. Yesterday, for many people, was a day of tradition, ample food, safe and warm housing, and the comfort of family gathered together.
At our Christian church, we joined with groups from other faiths, including Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim to share the food of our traditions and assemble baskets for families who otherwise might not be able to share in the Thanksgiving feast. We hosted, as we often do, people and families who needed a safe place to pray, talk, and sleep.
On a more personal level, much time and a few coins were spent preparing more food than we ate, as we engaged in excited discussion of the holiday season yet to come and our plans for continued celebration and joy.
However, recent events in our area remind me that everyone does not enjoy the comfort and peace that I have in my life. You have probably seen the video and heard the reports. The closer you live to St. Louis or the more ties you have to our region, the more attention you have probably paid, but the disruptions are now at a level to claim everyone’s attention.
Lives have been disrupted, workplaces destroyed, jobs lost, and deep divisions between neighbors and fellow citizens revealed for all to see. The ineffectiveness of our social structures and governmental organizations has shaken my belief in our traditional values of fairness, equality, justice, and freedom. The anger, fear, and despair of many of our fellow human beings is raw and real.
As a reaction, too many people want to do three things that simply do not fit into any transformational leadership model I know:
1) Hunker down and wait for things to get back to normal, especially when normal translates to “I don’t have to worry about this anymore”.
2) Cling to our memories (and we all know how unreliable memories are as objective truth or record of history) of seemingly kinder and gentler times past.
3) Pick a side and stubbornly dig in, which benefits the news media tremendously, but offers no real value toward peaceful or effective resolution of issues.
These are common behaviors during times of tumultuous change.
I have an image right now of someone on a cold December night just before the Christmas of 1773 somewhere in the Colonies saying:
“Why couldn’t they just write a letter or something? Did they have to act like pirates, use force, and destroy all that tea? That was someone’s property, after all. I hope everyone knows I had no part in that act of rebellion.”
However, as leaders of change, we have to resist the impulses above. Leadership challenges come in many forms and our rich holiday traditions in the United States offer ample opportunities to be instruments of transformative and positive change , but not by blindly clinging to tradition and trying to restore “The Good Old Days”, which probably were not all that good.
As leaders and agents of transformational change, maybe we are called to something different:
1) Create a new normal which works more effectively for everyone.
2) Appropriately treasure the past, but always remember we live into the future.
3) Avoid choosing sides and instead support and be part of positive actions and solutions.
How each of us will do these things will be a bit different, because we all have different situations and environments, but participate we must, if we are truly to be leaders of change.
So take a few minutes this holiday weekend, since you probably had too much to eat and are feeling lethargic anyway, to evaluate your own beliefs, values, and behaviors to see how well-prepared you are to live forward, rather than backward.
Then change what you need to, and then take action to make a difference.
Note, upon reflection, I feel my words to be weak when applied to the complex problems that face our area and our country. However, I do know that engaging in self-reflection is an essential first step, before we begin to work with others to change our society.
My thoughts above are based on numerous discussions with people across the spectrum of thought, some who are on the streets of Ferguson in and out of uniform, and others trying to live their lives both in proximity and in remoteness from the events unfolding here, along with an addictive consumption of articles and essays which address this social change from many aspects.
I honestly welcome and desire any and all comments on the above.