Hero Worship and the Making of True Leaders

Monday morning, I watched a very interesting interview on CBS This Morning. The guest was author, General McChrystal, and he spoke about his new book, Leaders: Myth and Reality. One of the things that most intrigued me about the interview was that, just two days prior, I lead a women’s retreat that focussed on female leaders of the Old Testament Coincidence? I think not. The response of the women to the retreat and then the surprise of seeing this morning’s interview have caused me to really think about what we are teaching our children about whom and what a real leader/hero is.

General McChrystal argues that “leadership is not what we think it is and never has been.” His opening example is the portrayal of George Washington crossing the Delaware. We’ve all see this famous painting by Emanuel Leutze, which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The problem is that historians believe that the actual crossing looked something more like this depiction by artist, Mort Kunstler.

For many years, Americans have accepted as fact the portrait of Washington in which he looks confident, standing with the flag, his troops bravely battling the elements. But Washington could not have taken such a stance without tipping the boat, and the troops would not have had a clear and glowing sky leading them onward while the snow and wind battered everything else around them. More likely, as Kunstler portrays, Washington would have been nervously holding onto the wheel of the hastily-constructed barge while the men, barely clothed for the cold, would have been fighting the weather and the current to make it safely across the river. 

Why is this important? Because there is a mythology that heroes and leaders are “ten feet tall, never scared, never wrong, have the answer to all our questions.” But, McChrystal argues, “this is almost never correct.” Moreover, it’s typically not the leader who solves the problem but the team he or she is commanding. We often give leaders certain attributes even though they may not be that way in real-life, or in private. We thrust greatness upon people, forgetting that they are in fact people. People are human. They make mistakes. They do things the wrong way. They have flaws and bad habits. They aren’t always honest or moral. They aren’t meant to be placed upon a pedestal, or to stand upright with their legs propped up on the side of a rowboat, lest they cause everything to be out of balance and go toppling into the waves.

McChrystal also says that we count on and encourage our leaders to solve all of our problems. He argues, and I agree 100%, that a leader teaches us how to solve our own problems. He or she helps us find the tools necessary to make things better. He “leads” us to find greatness in ourselves. The effectiveness of a true leader should be based on moral leadership not on looks or great speeches given, or portraits based on myth and not facts.

This past weekend, the women who attended our parish retreat learned lessons in leadership and in life from Miriam, Ruth, Deborah, and Hannah. These were women who sometimes made mistakes, who did not always do what society expected them to do, who had pasts that had to be overcome, who sinned and were redeemed. But they all strived for some common goals: to be people of character, to hold fast to their faith, to counsel and advise, to teach others how to live virtuous lives, and to be women of God. They were not queens, not rulers, not rich, and not always revered. They had flaws, but they worked for the good of the people and taught others to do the same. They weren’t about power and glory (and when Miriam did become haughty, she was punished, served her time in exile, and was forgiven), but they were about doing what was right for the glory of God. Not themselves. For God.

In this world where everyone bows to sports heroes, politicians, and Hollywood movie stars, hailing them as leaders and heroes, we are telling our children that, to be a leader is to be braggadocios, self-serving, rich, morally bankrupt, abusive, foul-mouthed, promiscuous, lecherous, and gluttonous. By holding up these people as those to emulate, we teach that it’s okay to lie, to tear down, to disparage, to make fun of, and to engage in all forms of debauchery. We forget that true leaders and heroes are ordinary people, going about their lives doing their jobs to the best of their ability. My friend, Susan, blogged about the heroes of the recent hurricanes. Those are the people I want my girls looking up to!

George Washington was not a hero because he was tall, strong, fierce, and out to be a great destroyer of armies and men. He was a hero because he faced his fears, he was good to his men, he was loving toward his family, he did his job to the best of his abilities, and fought beside his men. He wasn’t perfect; he made mistakes, and that’s okay. Sometimes, a leader does. But what makes him a true leader, a real hero, is what he learns from his mistakes and what he teaches others about how to do things better.

Our children need to know who the real heroes are. Let’s teach them about Miriam, Ruth, Deborah, and Hannah. Let’s make sure they know about the heroics of men like St. Peter and St. Paul. And let’s encourage them to model themselves after some of the real heroes of the world:
Nelson Mandela
The Dalai Lama
Pope John Paul II
Malala Yousafzai
William Kyle Carpenter
Candace Lynne Lightner
Rosa Parks
Jane Addams
Joan of Arc
Oskar Schindler
Martin Luther King Jr

It’s time to stop the hero-worship. It’s time to stop promoting myths about what greatness is and what it looks like. It’s time to redefine leadership and heroism. It’s time to recall the words of Isaiah, “He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil, he will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure.”

Isaiah 33-15-16.jpg

What I was writing about a year ago this week: Longing for a Little Sleep.

The second book in Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Promise, is now available in stores and online.

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).

Starting Today…

women_march_211.jpgIt must stop, and it must stop starting today.  Over the past few days, I’ve seen friends and family members argue, name call, and even bring each other to tears. I’ve watched as the media has poked and prodded and tried to stir up hatred and resentment. I’ve read article after article, blog after blog about who is “right” or “wrong” and who is to blame. After a lot of time in thought, prayer, and discussion, I’ve come to realize that we are making enemies of the wrong people and fighting fights in the wrong places.

Hear me out. I applaud the women who marched on Saturday for women’s rights, for the environment, for access to healthcare. I commend those who peacefully used their right to free speech without spewing hatred and disrespect. Our freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are great things but can only be effective when directed at the right people, institutions, and causes and done so with respect and a willingness to have an open dialogue.

In the United States of America, women are already equal to men in the eyes of the law. They can vote and hold office; become police officers, military personnel, and CEOs; have the same access to healthcare as men; can obtain driver’s licenses and the same levels of education; are equally protected by the law; and can worship, shop, walk the streets, and do anything else allowed under the law as they please, the same as men. Now before you argue with me, let me reiterate, they can do all of these things in the eyes of the law. That doesn’t mean that they are able to do these things in the eyes of society.

People are comparing Saturday’s march with the marches started by Martin Luther King, Jr. They herald it as the next Civil Rights movement. I would respectfully disagree. You see, when King marched, he did so because the laws were unjust and unequal. That is not the case today. The fight today is not with the government; it’s not even with the President or Congress or the Supreme Court. Sure, there are areas for which the people in those positions can be lobbied, but that won’t change what’s really happening in our culture.

So who is to blame? We are. Society is to blame. That includes our schools that teach that boys are better at certain subjects than girls. It includes the companies that refuse to promote women and refuse to pay them the same rate as their male counterparts. It includes those people who raise their voices in anger asking to be heard but won’t listen to their neighbors. We have become a nation that demands that the government fix everything without really asking ourselves who or what is actually responsible for the problems.

Let me share a story with you. When our youngest was in middle school, she took a test in an effort to advance to a higher level of math. When she learned that she had been denied, we asked why, only to find out that her male teacher didn’t think she could handle it. We pleaded with the principal, arguing that her test and class grades proved otherwise. They would not budge. The teacher had the final say. Throughout 9th grade, Morgan’s female teacher repeatedly told her that she was in the wrong class and needed to see if she could advance. When she learned that she could take an independent math class that would propel her ahead, she was told no even though she met all of the requirements for being able to do so. The reason? Her guidance counselor told Morgan, third in her class, that she was “not smart enough.” My blood still boils when I think about it. We appealed the decision, and with the blessing of the entire math department, Morgan took the class. Not only did Morgan pass the class, she passed with an 86%, no small feat considering the counselor told her she could ask for no help and seek no outside resources. At the same time, a boy in Morgan’s class had already been given permission and was allowed to seek help if needed. I’m quite certain that Morgan’s situation was not unique. The laws are in place ensuring Morgan an equal education. The government played no role in her being allowed to take the class or not. It was Morgan and her parents who took the fight to the next level and ensured that she got what she rightfully deserved.

Here’s another example. I have a good friend who works for a global corporation. Her department is the only one in the entire company that even hires women in high-level positions. She looks around at all of the companies with which they do work, and she sees no women in leadership positions. She is amazed that the mentality still exists today that the corporate world is for men only. The laws provide my friend with equal opportunity employment, but the corporations deny women the access to the jobs and deny the pay that they deserve.

How many times have you heard that men can buy cars for a cheaper price than women? That mechanics charge women more for car repairs than they do men? That service providers look to the man to make the decisions, pay the bill, or be the one “in charge”? Why is it the government’s job to fix this? Why don’t we demand better for ourselves? Why don’t women speak up when the man is the one who is being addressed? Why don’t we ask point blank why prices are lower for our husbands and higher for ourselves? Here’s why – it’s easier to blame the government and argue with each other than to do something to make a real change, to stand up for ourselves to the boss, to appeal to a higher authority, to take the measure to court. Last week, I wrote about the courageous and inspiring women in the movie, Hidden Figures, based on a true story. Those women stood up for themselves, pointed out what was unfair and unjust, sought work at higher levels, challenged the education system, and reaped the rewards for their efforts. And they did it while respecting each other and the other women with whom they worked. And those other women came to respect them as well.

So starting today, I implore you to take a look at your own situation, your daughter’s future, our society, and the world. Honestly, who is it that is to blame for whatever injustice you may be facing in your life? Starting today, figure out who it is you need to talk to, write to, or lobby to ensure that change happens. Starting today, stop asking “what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” and your fellow citizens. Starting today, find out what really needs to be done to make life better for your daughters and all generations to come. And starting today, put aside hatred, resentment, disrespect, name calling, and fighting with other women. Starting today, put your best foot forward and show the world that women can achieve everything they want and deserve, and they don’t have to wear hats depicting female genitalia to do it, nor do they have to tear down other women, scream profanities, or threaten to burn down the White House. If you really want to make a change, take a lesson from Civil Rights heroine, Rosa Parks. Take a stand (or a seat) and challenge the right people and the right institutions in the right ways. If we do things the right way, we can achieve anything. We are women. Hear us roar.

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages.  She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her book, Picture Me, is the recipient of an Illumination Award, placing it among the top three inspirational fiction eBooks of 2015. Her book, Whispering Vines,  is a 2017 Illumination Award winner; and her most recent novel, Island of Miracles, is now on sale.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017)