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

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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).

The American Way

 

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Photo taken from the top of the St. Clement’s Island Lighthouse, overlooking the waters on which my ancestors traveled to the New World.

I worked very hard on a blog for today that I have decided to save for another time.  I think it’s time that someone try to speak out with a level head and calm voice and put some perspective into all that is going on in our country today.  I am so tired of the shouting, the threats, the divisiveness.  We are supposed to hold ourselves to a higher standard.  We are Americans.  Aren’t we?

 

In 1634, my mother’s family  landed on St. Clement’s Island, off the shores of what is today St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  They, and their fellow refugees, sailed aboard the Ark and the Dove, having left England four months earlier in search of a new land where they were promised religious freedom.  When they arrived, the first thing they did was celebrate Mass in thanksgiving for their safe arrival.  

I can’t begin to imagine how they must have felt.  Undoubtedly, every emotion ran through them on that four month journey that must have felt like a lifetime. They dealt with stormy seas, sickness, and death.  I envision nights of pitch blackness and days of unrelenting sun while mothers and children huddled in fear with little to eat, scarce medicine, and squalid living quarters.  But I also envision hope, the celebrating of Mass below decks, the promise of freedom, the songs of a group of people on their way to a new life.  

This vision brings to mind my friend, Antonio, who left Mexico at the age of thirteen to find a better way of life in America, worked hard, and eventually managed to bring his brothers here so that they, too, could prosper in the land of the American Dream.  I think of my friend, Meredith, whose husband came here from Iran, joined the US Army, fought for our country, and became a US citizen amid growing animosity toward people from the Middle East.  I think of my cousin, Ivan, who left the mountains of Guatemala to live in the land of freedom and opportunity.  How are these people any different from my ancestors who crossed the ocean almost 400 years ago?  How are their hopes and dreams any different?  Why do their lives, and the lives of others like them, matter less?

Not long after my mother’s family arrived in the Colonies, my father’s family came here from Scotland and Ireland and also settled in St. Mary’s County.  For many years, the Irish and Scottish were unwelcome intruders in this land.  They were treated as second class citizens relegated to working as servants for the “already established Americans.”  The working class Americans resented the Irish, who were seen as people who would work for a dime and were taking jobs away from Americans.  It took many years for these “newcomers” to be accepted into American life and politics.  It was a Boston Kennedy, grandfather to JFK, among a handful of others, who finally broke the stereotype and became a trusted citizen and politician.  How hard it must have been for my family and the other Irish families along the Eastern seaboard to face resentment and scorn, to be treated as less than human, to be degraded and relegated to a lesser class.

I have many friends who have come here from foreign lands — Mirta’s parents and our friend, Millie, from Cuba; Michelle’s family from Mexico; Libby’s family and Bianca’s grandparents from Italy; Jenny and Joonkie from Korea.  They all came here for one reason – to find and live out the American Dream.  Does that make them any less American or less welcome here than my family just because my ancestors came here so long ago?  Is my family less American or less welcome than the Native Americans who were here before us?

Over the past 400 years, my family has grown to include Native Americans, Polish Americans, Ukrainian Americans, German Americans, and Latino Americans.  My husband and I have decided to see what other Nationalities are hiding within our DNA and are anxious to receive the results.  I strongly believe that every American needs to investigate where they came from and what secrets their DNA holds.  We might all find that we are all more, and less, American than we thought.

So what to do about the current situation in America?  The bottom line is that we all want what’s best for our country, but getting there isn’t easy.  It never has been.  Even the fathers of our country were all over the place when it came to the issues facing them at the time.  Ironically, they are almost identical to the issues we face today.  They worried about being inclusive but not losing our American identity.  They wanted to welcome those people looking for freedom but not endanger national security.  They knew that their decisions would matter for years, decades, hopefully centuries to come.

Hailed by many today as a liberal icon, Alexander Hamilton believed, “the United States have already felt the evils of incorporating a large number of foreigners into their national mass; by promoting in different classes different predilections in favor of particular foreign nations, and antipathies against others, it has served very much to divide the community and to distract our councils. It has been often likely to compromise the interests of our own country in favor of another.”

George Washington contended, “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respected stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges…”

I suspect that both of these arguments sound familiar to anyone listening to political debate today.  And there’s more:

“The United States should be an asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty.”   -Thomas Paine

Immigrants “will bring with them the principles of the governments they leave, imbibed in their early youth; or, if able to throw off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness, passing, as is usual, from one extreme to another. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty.”   -Thomas Jefferson

I could go on and on.

My point is that the Founding Fathers disagreed on these and many other issues, but they did one thing that Americans seem unwilling to do today.  They talked.  They debated. They listened.  They reasoned.  And they worked together to come up with the documents that are the cornerstone of our nation. So, I propose that in this time of widespread disagreement, let’s put away our propensity to argue about who is right or wrong.  Erase the lines drawn down the middle between liberals and conservatives, women and men, parents and children, whites and blacks, Muslims and Christians, and everyone else who represents US and THEM.  Let’s show the world what it truly means to be Americans.  We should demand that our elected officials see to it that America continues in the spirit in which it was founded, the spirit of the American Dream, welcoming and encompassing all.  We need to demand that the government find a way to work together to help our country as well as the world.  It’s what America has always done.  How can she stop now?

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)