These are first draft stories that touch in some way on my experiences with leading and being led, our conduct, how we act and with what intent.
My early years
My first experience with personal leadership was at 3 years old. My family and I were walking through Central Park in NYC. I started singing “Glory, Glory, Halleluiah” at the top of my voice marching in front of everyone. As time went on a small group of strangers started following me and singing too. I remember turning to see my recruits. I recognized I was a leader. Wanting to set a good example I sang a little louder and my stride had more purpose, swinging my arms as I went. Our task was to bring joy to the world; this continues to be my mission.
In my teen years I was anything but a leader, typically self-absorbed and boring. I wanted desperately to be a part of the in crowd and allowed others to lead me to uncomfortable places. There was one incident where I was “shopping” with a friend at the mall and she begged and begged me to steal a shirt. She stole things regularly as did most of the other kids in the clique. I stole a halter top. It was devastating for me. I knew it was wrong. I wore it once and was so humiliated with myself for succumbing to peer-pressure. I never wore it again. It sat in my drawer as a reminder. This was a small moment of enlightenment where I recognized the importance of acknowledging and following our moral center.
As a young adult I didn’t think too much about the influence I might have on others although was happy to (and still do) voice my opinion about what I thought was best for them; solicited or not. Always interested in community, I volunteered regularly, joined the board of my neighborhood and the Site Council at a local school. Here my involvement was more civic participation than leadership.
Becoming a parent while life changing, didn’t have me wake up and say now I’m a leader I must act appropriately. Nor do babies come with owner’s manuals and instructions for developing the model citizen. Not to say the information wasn’t out there. I just wasn’t hearing it. Focusing on my son, it wasn’t until he was about 3 or 4 that I realized the true influence I had over him. Of course his interpretation of my influence may not have been my intent. For example he started mimicking back goofy behaviors that I had meant as a joke; he took them seriously. I would say things like “you are so talented” as he stood on one foot balancing awkwardly. At some point with every physical feat he would say “Look mama, aren’t I talented?” Of course this manifestation took 3-4 years to develop and there were likely a multitude of un-manifested behaviors I had inadvertently instilled upon him, desirable and not. The idea of becoming a role model started to sink in, yet it was still unclear what he was paying attention to and how it would get digested.
As time went on and our children began to understand they had a choice in their conduct, I made it a daily point to ask them to “do the right thing” as we parted. My intention was have them connect with their moral centers as they made decisions.
An early Christmas gift
The best gift I received for Christmas one year came early on the night before our departure to Lisbon to visit Alice our eldest daughter. In a discussion with my now 17 year old son around coordinating last minute work and one last visit to Children’s hospital to see our young friend Stella before we left. He made the comment:
“You must really have good Karma”
to which I said “Huh? What do you mean?”
He went on to say “You never do anything wrong.” (Untrue)
To which I said “Huh? What do you mean?”
He responded “You’re always doing the right thing and helping people.” (Also untrue).
Regardless of truth, knock me over with a feather. I leapt out of my chair threw my hands into the air and exclaimed “YES!” This was a moment every parent dreams of, that moment when, if you’re lucky, you realize your child was (somewhat) paying attention. This was Success, with a capital “S”; my work was done. My heart felt joy. I hope everyone gets to experience a similar Success.
Not so joyous …
>>> Blog post February 13, 2012
After returning from a trip, my son now 18, greeted me wearing this hat. This picture reminds me of how society objectifies women. It may happen unconsciously, but regardless it happens. In this case I raised this boy to think it was ok to wear images of women as sexual objects. Interestingly this image is commonly seen on the mud flaps of trucks. Pause for a moment to absorb the symbolism. This image is placed on a vehicle where mud and road dirt are spewed at it.
It is the quintessential metaphor of disrespect. Don’t get me wrong, I love my son with all my heart, I just didn’t care for some of his younger behaviors, reminding myself- I raised this boy.
There was also period of time when too often I would see him he was wearing a t-shirt with this funkadelic image. When I saw it I would cringe. I wanted to throw rocks at him. I tried to explain how vulnerable that position is for a woman. He thought the image was cool. I think he had a sophomoric perspective. Today there are still countries where women don’t have the right to vote, are sexually mutilated, and sections of our society that ask women to submit to their husbands.
Back in the day, I was not raised with an overt oppression to be submissive. It didn’t matter; the cultural expectation was there. I remember in junior high hearing I was a nominee for class clown. I was mortified thinking girls weren’t supposed to be funny; they’re supposed to be demure and submissive. Ingrained in me was the collective unconsciousness from hundreds/thousands of years of bad behavior.
I often think of what I could have done differently to have encouraged better manners. I wonder what girls today think?
In 2009 Jimmy Carter wrote an article “Losing my religion for equality”. The article describes his struggle and brake from the Southern Baptist church in support of human rights and equality. Go Jimmy!
I recently watched an old TED talk of Tony Robbins, (yes that Tony Robbins). He told a story of how strangers in his community brought Thanksgiving dinner to his family when he was 12. It changed his life forever to find out that strangers cared.
When my son was in high school he asked if his friend J could stay with us. J’s step father had just passed away and his mother was having trouble adjusting. Of course we said yes and J stayed with us off and on for the next 2 years. The boys eventually moved out and into a house with other roommates. They loved their new independence. Unfortunately is was short lived when one night the house had an electrical fire destroying all the contents leaving them literally on the street in their underwear.
The burned out kitchen
Back they came to our basement. They were crest fallen especially J. He had finally felt like he was moving forward, past numerous devastating experiences. It was hard for him to see that this was temporary.
I felt it important that they knew strangers in the community would care enough to help. I canvased friends, family and co-workers and asked them to donate just a small amount of money ($10) to show that community matters. People were incredibly generous and we raised $2,600. Their receiving the money was conditional on them writing a thank you note to those who contributed. Here’s the boys response, written by J.
It would be nice if life were easy. If you could pause and rewind, life would really be different. It sounds cliché to say that everything in life is a lesson, but it really is true. What we have learned is that many good things can come out of a bad situation.
What happened to us in January was a huge burden on our shoulders. We had just moved out on our own and it felt like we were starting a new chapter in our lives. All of a sudden it was like we were back where we started, as if we had climbed half way up a mountain only to fall back to the bottom. We had fallen and at the time we did not know when we would be able to stand up again. What we needed was help and hope, and that is what we found.
It has been four months now and our lives are finally getting back on track, all in part to your kindness and generosity. We cannot write in words how appreciative we are. Although we are truly grateful for the economic support you have given us, what matters most here is the sense of community that was raised out of this crisis. We now see that no matter what happens in life there will always be something to fall back on.
As most of you know, we will be using the money you have donated to find another house and also for therapy/school.
Again thank you so much for your compassion. You all have shown us humanity and we are truly indebted.
It’s been 9 years since this event and the boys, now men are healthy and happy. Thanks in part to strangers caring. Community matters.
Although a decade away, I’m heading at what feels like warp speed into senior citizenship. Now what?
I’ve been reading a wonderful book, “Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom” by Angelis Arrien. One of the things she points out is that we are living decades longer than our ancestors, so asks, what are we going to do with that extra time? Great question for us all. How will we conduct ourselves as we enter old age, and with what intent? Will we actively contribute the better part of our wisdom?