Reflections on Early April
Hope, renewal, and resilience, along with commonality of purpose
“The advantage of living is not measured by length, but by use.” — Michel de Montaigne, 1573
April is a month of renewal. A month when winter is solidly behind us (for the most part).
The first shoots of spring begin to show themselves. It is the month of Easter, a holiday and holy day that celebrates a resurrection, as is traditionally believed by Christians.
In short, it is a month of hope.
And hope is what fuels resilience in a time of despair.
Further reading exclusively for paid subscribers
Three on hope:
To Hope Is To Believe: Our toughest challenges require solutions that don’t yet exist. While hope itself isn’t the answer, it is a torch lighting our way toward growth.
How to Lead with Hope: Strength, focus, courage, peace, and contentment are possible when we lead with hope.
Finding Hope: There is hope and positivity in nearly everything, if you are willing to look for it.
Three on resilience:
Resilience & Grace: Misfortune helps us discover what we're made of.
Resilience & Patience: Two examples show how patience and persistence eventually pay off.
Resilience & Determination: Two cold and harsh tales that tell the difference that leadership styles can make.
There have been many times that families, companies, and countries have been under clouds of despair.
Times when they can’t see past today and tomorrow comes like a funeral dirge.
The year 1968 was a year like that for America. It was a year when the country saw upheaval and riots in the summer that followed the assassination of two major figures — Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, both of whom were advocates for the Civil Rights movement.
They were still fighting for the very principles promised in the Civil Rights Act, which President Andrew Johnson vetoed on a spring day 102 years earlier.
MLK and RFK would intersect in early April of 1968, as King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, which Kennedy discovered on his way to Indianapolis.
When Kennedy arrived, John Lewis encouraged him to speak to the gathered crowd. Kennedy gave these impromptu remarks:
“In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence there evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization — black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.
“Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love…
“My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote:
‘In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’”
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”
This episode of Timeless Leadership covered the notion of understanding, as we spoke with David Murray, author of An Effort to Understand:
Kennedy continued on to Cleveland the next day, where he addressed the Cleveland City Club and continued in the same vein, in part:
“This is a time of shame and sorrow… It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one — no matter where he lives or what he does — can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.
“Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition they desire.
“Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.
“Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear; violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.
“For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.
“This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all… When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies — to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.
“Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is now what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.
“We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.
“Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”
Consider these words — particularly what we emphasized above — as a reflection of where we are now as a society. Have we truly moved beyond these behaviors and limitations?
What can you do to model leadership in situations in which some are powerless?
Robert F. Kennedy made those remarks on April 5, 1968.
Two months later, like his brother before him, he would be felled by an assassin’s bullet.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.