There are a few words that we tend to throw around on a regular basis without really have a sense of their weight or meaning. Then out of the blue there is an occurrence with brings perspective.
Two of these are ‘service’ and ‘leadership’.
In these Notes, I have vowed to keep silent about all but the most infuriating political issues. Anger is pernicious. So, I will not comment on the state or non-state of government leadership. I also find that where things are happening, it is not Federal or even State leadership that matters the most. If we wait for the capital-L Leaders to provide tangible help, it may be too late. As one of my political heroes Tip O’Neill always said, all politics are local. We can extend that qualification to leadership as well.
The fascinating part of this pandemic is how leaders have emerged, not from the ranks of the powerful but from those of the average. We have seen folks spearheading fund drives and outreach. People have stepped up to champion causes. Even those who have decided to put music and entertainment into the social media sphere have performed courageous acts of leadership.
‘Service’ is a similar process. I have been a member of the Rotary Club for almost four years now and have been involved in both raising contributions and actual hands-on service through that august organization and others. Even then, in times of relative normalcy, it is easy to pass over the importance of service. Planting trees, serving meals, donating dictionaries all feel good. There is satisfaction and humility to be found in the warm gratitude that these acts of kindness elicit. We could smile the smug smiles of “job-well-done” and go back to our lives or planning the next run of service. Until now, though, there has been no feeling of urgency or essence.
When the task at hand is so great that we can’t see the ‘done’ part of our job, it is hard to know how to even start in service. We are reminded then that service often occurs when there is no feel-good scenario – when the work is overwhelming, and we just roll up our proverbial shirtsleeves and get to it.
In those moments, the two words, ‘service’ and ‘leadership’, must overlap and become cognates. Every gesture of service is an expression of leadership. In times like these, it is those local gestures that have the most impact.
[This Post was adapted from a essay originally published on Facebook the day listed above]