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Gratitude and Leadership, Where Have You Gone?

| July 08, 2016
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An open letter from a heartsick but hopeful Dallas citizen

Gratitude:

The quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

Leadership:

A practical skill encompassing the ability of an individual or organization to guide other individuals, teams, or entire organizations.

As a citizen of Dallas, I am heartsick today.  Twelve officers shot, five of them dead.  (I will refrain from using the sterile term ‘deceased’ so that we don’t gloss over the hard reality that they are gone.)

As an American, I wonder where this great country is headed.

As a human, I am baffled by what engrosses us anymore, and how we become electrified by tragedy, just to move on and leave the wreckage to the families and communities to sort out.

In churches, in business journals, on blogs and in schools, the terms “gratitude” and “leadership” are bandied about like emblems of some higher degree of humanity, some level of self-realization that makes one better than another.  If we boast that we have gratitude and leadership, then we should attempt to make it meaningful.

But when the media splashes our screens with two citizen lives and five police lives taken in one week, each by the hands of the other, I have to ask how we got here.  And I have to ask… If we had the level of gratitude and leadership that we talk about in the world, would we be where we are today?

I am not in the business of finger-pointing, of blaming, of criticizing others.  I quite frankly don’t know how police men and women are bold enough to do their job.  I was taught the reality of this when I had the opportunity to ride along with a police officer one night a few years ago.  As we departed the station together, she called back to report what I was wearing.  “Why did you do that?” I asked.

“In case we have an altercation, so the other officers know not to shoot you,” she replied.  She was twenty-five. 

I also can’t imagine so many other events that have been reported in our country over the past year, senseless deaths of people of many races, religions, and genders.  I will refrain from bearing my opinion of these events, as any opinion these days seems to rain down piercing intolerant criticism from all directions. Suffice it to say that I am not at all numb to these events.  No, I am instead enraged and astounded that they continue.

So I return to leadership and gratitude.  If we truly have gratitude for others – for what a day in their shoes feels like, for how a life in their circumstances influences their decisions – would we allow so many events to be reported without demanding change? And if we truly have leaders in our midst, wouldn’t they be leading the change?

I am amazed that anyone can withstand the gauntlet that must be run to land oneself in the White House, to be the leader of this great country, and indeed viewed as the leader of the free world.  But when our ultimate leader will be one of the two least liked candidates (as reported by polls, not by my opinion) in history, it is no wonder that “big” leadership no longer seems what it used to be.

I am a proud Dallas citizen. I was even more proud to watch Dallas Police Chief David Brown and Mayor Mike Rawlings talk in a joint press conference about our city, our police force, their relationship to our community, and how important democracy will continue to be in our city, state, and nation despite yesterday’s horrific event. Without doubt, their actions will eventually be picked apart and dissected, criticized and condemned by those who didn’t have to live through it. But for now, I am relieved to have these two men leading our city through this, and reminding us of the good parts of our community.

We all have the ability to be leaders – as a business owner, a teacher, a friend, a big brother, the list goes on.  And we certainly have the ability to show gratitude to others – for a kindness, a favor, or just for being a fellow human being.  We each can influence national leadership with one vote, but think what we can all do in our communities if we ask ourselves: How can I lead today?  How can I show gratitude?

I can answer this only for myself: in my family, in my business, in my community work, and in the circles of friends and colleagues who are the collage of my life. I bet you can do the same.

For those of you reading this who don’t live in Dallas, I want you to know that this is a vibrant city.  There are many people here who love and support each other.  We are big, and we are bold, but we are heartbroken today.  We will still greet you with open arms, which is one of the things we do best.  Please pray for us, and for the families of the fallen officers. 

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