It is difficult to fully communicate how tragic the losses were and how challenging the dynamics continue to be.
One year ago, a teen boy took his life at our community high school.
Within six months, our small town of 4,000 had lost two more boys to suicide.
Anguished families. Distraught friends. Caring citizens asking questions…many unanswerable.
Frightened parents. Bewildered teachers. A community…diminished.
Initially, my energies were consumed with my own grief and helping my family and friends maneuver their grieving. These boys were close to my son’s age with younger siblings the ages of my daughters. Friends would call in a panic, asking if something they were observing in their child was a warning sign.
The day I told my kids of the third loss remains clear in my mind. It hit my son particularly hard. A track teammate whom he had seen just the day before…was gone.
Alone in a quiet house after school drop off, I looked at the Walking with Justice manuscript sitting on my dining room table. The editors had been understanding of the challenges I was facing, but the deadline we had agreed to was approaching.
I sat down with a cup of hot tea, picked up my pen, and began editing the next chapter: Quiet Leader.
This chapter shares the story of how my mentor, Judge Max Rosenn, taught me that leaders do not lead because they want to be a leader. It is not about them. True leaders step up when they see a need and they believe that they have the education, skills, and connections to bring relief and healing.
The context of this chapter was how Judge led his community of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania through the worst natural disaster up to that point in our American history. One billion dollars of damage done in a weekend when Hurricane Agnes roared up the east coast in 1972. The devastated community turned to Judge for help. He promptly said yes.
As I continued editing, a paragraph spoke to me about a message that was needed in my own community…
My mentor’s message to his community after the flood was one I heard him repeat over the years to local youth. Keep hope alive. Even though your conditions may be limited, there is opportunity. With thought and planning and persistence, you can overcome the obstacles and inadequacies that exist. “In times of great uncertainty and need, you will have doubts,” he said. “Also have hopes. Have dreams.”
The Uncommon Lesson at the end of the chapter jumped off the page: “A noble leader answers not to the trumpet calls of self-promotion but to the hushed whispers of necessity.”
It really was this simple: in this moment, at a deep core level, I knew.
I knew that my education as a social psychologist… my skills as a resilience researcher… my experience as a peak performance coach… and my connections to some of the top trainers in the country put me in a position to help bring the relief and healing our community desperately needed (and continues to need).
My options stood before me with great clarity.
Walk away from completing Walking with Justice and the challenge it was laying on my heart. Not an option I would entertain.
Publish Walking with Justice as a hypocrite. Not an option I would entertain.
Step up and put out the call to other leaders in our community: We must keep hope alive. Not only can something good come from this, but something good must.
I sat down at my computer and penned another paragraph for the quiet leadership chapter:
Judge understood as a leader that the gravest danger in a crisis is the death of hope. His leadership refocused attention from darkness to light. See the light emanating from within – that is the light of potential. See the light in the distance – that is the light of possibility. See the light directly before you that will illuminate the way as you take a first step, and then another. This is the light of hope.
When I recently read Start Something that Matters by Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes, his description of servant leadership resonated deeply. Walking with Justice talks about Judge as a servant mentor.
“Today’s successful leaders are those willing to share credit as much as possible, who give away as much as they can, and who promote an environment of creative cooperation instead of rabid competition. I confess, when I started in business more than a decade ago, my goal was to become a rock-star business leader, someone whose name would resonate throughout the world, someone whose fame would supersede that of others of my generation – the typical cult CEO. But the more I learned about business and, along the way, about the world, the more the urge dissipated. In its place rose the desire to lead with a softer, more human touch…. A leader can create a company, but a community creates a movement….as a leader, your job is to help others do their jobs better. This is why I tell my top people to help serve everyone in their group.”
My Start Something that Matters project began that day at my dining room table and progressed out the door into my community. It continues to grow with the establishment of a non-profit Community Resiliency Project dedicated to providing post-crisis recovery support and long-term resiliency tools to build healthy youth and vibrant communities.
Our world is being challenged more than ever by natural and manmade disasters. Many are experiencing deep losses and unprecedented turmoil. The needed solutions are innovative, holistic, and long-term…and will originate and grow organically from within as people come together to strengthen their individuals, families, and community as a whole.
What is speaking to you right now…as YOUR Something that Matters?
What steps are you taking to do business or lead in a way that goes beyond yourself?
What questions do you have about your next best step?
What advice do you have for those seeking to make a positive impact in this world as a servant leader and mentor?
Don’t listen to any voice that says the steps you are taking are too small to share. Some days it may feel like you’re trying to refill a lake with a teaspoon. No matter how small the steps, you are making a difference with each step that heads you in the direction you seek to go.
Please share your thoughts, questions, and wisdom. One commentator will be randomly selected to receive a copy of Start Something that Matters and another will receive a copy of Walking with Justice.
All of you will receive my gratitude and a prayer to help you develop and share your unique gifts in the service of others.