This was written for the students in our Presidential Leadership Academy.
It is cliché to say that leadership comes in many forms, but of course it does. It also often comes upon us when we are not expecting or even wanting it. Such has been the case for my wife and I since our son died. We have unexpectedly become models for others in our loss.
This is the kind of loss that no one should have to endure and yet the reality is that millions have, do, and will. It is simply my nature to share my thoughts and feelings through my blog, very openly and honestly. My wife has shared via her Facebook page as well. What has surprised us is how many people have thanked us for being so open with our grieving. Some were grateful that we were simply open to conversation, making it easier for them to talk with us about Mack and their own feelings of loss. Others shared that they too had lost a close relative (it is surprising how often it was a child) and often these are people we are fairly close to and yet did not know of their loss. They too felt that our openness allowed them to open up and process their feelings. We had, in some sense, become leaders in loss.
Of course we did not set out to take on this role and I still eschew it, feeling woefully inadequate to lead anyone in anything so personal. While I had actually done quite a bit of academic research into the question of theodicy and lament in Judaism and Christianity, we are hardly experts in the psychology of grief or counseling. We have come across a number of excellent books that are helping us along the way and as we read them we have shared their insights. But we did not look to become leaders or mentors on this terrible journey.
And for this blog, for the Presidential Leadership Academy, that is the point. We did not expect or plan to become leaders and yet it happened. Now we have options. We could have stopped sharing, taken down the posts, and become very quiet and kept to ourselves in this process of mourning. We chose not to in large part because we did now feel a responsibility to others. (This was in no small part due to the fact that Mack’s friends, we felt, needed us and needed to see that we were able to bear this terrible burden. We believe that this will help them in some small way heal and be able to continue on in their own lives with the joy they deserve.)
The consequence of all of this is that we have become even more mindful of the impact of our words and actions. They clearly have a huge impact on others, it is just that most of the time we never see it. I am convinced, however, that it is still there. We all must consider this, not so that it leads to a paralysis, constantly worrying about how what we say or do might be construed, but keeping in the back of our minds that we are constantly leading in some way.
That being true (and it is), where are you leading others?