My Father part 4 – Leading by Example

Dad's Birthday
Dad’s Birthday

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” ~ John C. Maxwell

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” ~ Lao Tzu

“Example is leadership.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

This past weekend I had a Facebook conversation, if you can call it that, with one of my friends. His politics are conservative judging by his posts and there have been times when he’s posted photos and memes that are, in my opinion, hateful toward Muslims. Sometimes when I see those, I hide them, because the photo or sentiment promotes violence and hatred, and I don’t want them on my feed. I have not unfriended him, because one thing I learned from my father is that the only way to change someone’s mind is to try to understand them and then lead by example.

Now, this person and I only have contact on Facebook. However, I believe social media can be a powerful tool. With it you can spread any message you choose. I choose to try to spread compassion, understanding, kindness and love. I’m not perfect and sometimes I post questions that are nagging at me about our current national dialogue on so many issues. And sometimes I post memes that express something that I hope people will think about.

Thursday, I found this meme on my newsfeed, which I reposted: “There are well over a billion Muslims on this planet. If Islam was really about violence you’d all be dead by now. Stop letting your TV and Newspaper tell you who to hate.” Most of my friends liked the post, however, it set off a firestorm of nasty comments from the above mentioned Facebook friend. I admit it is rather confrontational and unlike me to repost such a thing, but sometimes we do need to state clearly our point of view which this meme did for me.

However, as I was reminded by the debate I set in motion, you can’t change anyone’s mind once they’ve become entrenched in that point of view. My dad used to say that and he was right as I relearned last week. Fortunately for me, this man did not unfriend me. I stopped trying to convince him of my point of view and he did the same. Maybe if I continue to post my viewpoint about treating others with compassion and empathy, eventually he and I will change our feelings toward each other.

I know it seems like there is so much hatred in the world but if you look you can find messages of hope. Saturday I reposted this meme from “Parliament of the World’s Religions,” after the attacks on Brussels. It reads: “If you are not Muslim, say to someone who is: ‘I’m glad you’re here.’ If you do not know a Muslim, meet a Muslim, then say to them: ‘I’m glad you’re here.’” Whoever created this meme is trying to get us to think in new more loving ways instead of continuing to perpetuate retaliation which only exacerbates a situation. Insert any word that describes a group different that you into the meme and be kind not confrontational with them. That’s easier said than done for me when it comes to politics especially since the extreme conservatives have entrenched themselves and are, figuratively speaking, arming themselves for political battle. It’s been like this for almost eight years and the situation seems hopeless. Yet, we can change the situation by taking a new tack. I’ve read two articles recently that give me hope that the tide is changing away from attack to empathy.

The first is from Popular Resistance titled: “History Teaches That We have the Power to Transform the Nation, Here’s How.” The authors, Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers published this on June 12, 2013, but it seems even more relevant today and points out all the times in history when regular everyday people banded together to effect huge changes in their societies. Most of their examples are based on non-violent movements, but our country was formed by people banding together and saying, “We want to govern ourselves.” It seems we’re having to do that again. I hope we accomplish it using empathy this time.

Another article I read recently on the same theme of non-violent change, was a much more personal piece published on March 18, 2016 by George Lakey on the Waging Nonviolence website It’s about his experience protesting outside a Trump rally. The title of the article is “How empathy, not protest, can defeat Trump and right-wing extremism.” In the article he asks these questions: where does the violence of the Ku Klux Klan, and by extension other hate groups, come from? And where is empathy honored in our culture? He believes empathy is the vital tool to bridging the gap in the wide divide between political groups. I think he makes some important points in his article. Each side has been attacking the other. That hasn’t worked to solve our problems. Maybe using empathy will.

These are just two examples of people who are advocating that instead of continuing to confront our “enemies”, we should lead by example and use compassion and understanding to create a bridge. I’m all for that and will continue to plant seeds and show compassion and use empathy wherever I can. My first act of compassion is to keep as friends people who don’t agree with me and show as much empathy toward them as I can. Remember, “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” ~ Lao Tzu. My father was soft when dealing with people. I want to be that too.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share this post with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

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