Tragedy or Turning Point?

By: On December 16, 2012

I usually write about the intersection of strategy, leadership, and customer relationships.

Not today.

I usually try to provide a straight-shooting, snappy perspective on situations we all face when we go to work each day. I go for tongue-in-cheek on regular occasions.

Not today.

It’s been grey in Chicago the past two days and I’m glad. It matches the mood that has fallen over our country since the bloodshed at Sandy Hook Elementary. Some days ought to be gloomy. This is one of them.

If you’re at all like me, you’re somewhat affected by Sandy Hook partly because you have a natural empathy for people who are enduring unspeakable tragedy. But perhaps even more, something strikes you that makes you put yourself in the scene. It’s like a funeral I attended for a friend’s father recently: I grieved because I saw my friend completely undone by the sudden loss of his dad. But privately, I was living – in advance – my own father’s funeral. I know that’s coming someday. For an hour, I was previewing it in living color.

Sandy Hook was someone else’s story… until it wasn’t.

Maybe it was when I saw an interview with a 4th grade boy who told of bullets flying past him in the school hallway. Over the past seven years, I’ve coached scores of 7-12 year old boys  on my soccer teams. That boy could have been Austin or Aidan or Joe or Brad. Suddenly, I was closer to Sandy Hook.

Maybe it was when I saw a 3rd grade girl telling her story as her mom held her. Some of my closest friends have a 3rd grade girl. She was at my house last night, full of personality, smiles, and attitude. Watching her and enjoying her presence, Sandy Hook was that much closer.

Maybe it was the fact that the Christmas liturgy my church had been using all this past week had focused on solving problems without violence. I had been puzzled by that theme as I listened to it. It didn’t seem Christmasy. Now it seems eerily prescient.

Like you, I’m left with more questions than answers. The deepest ones – why did this happen?, why do horrors like this happen at all?, what is God doing in the middle of all of this? – were the kinds of questions that led me to major in philosophy in college. The wise teaching of professors and mentors and pastors gave me some answers to those questions. When the sun comes out again, I think they will be helpful. Today they taste like dust.

My friend, Eric Anderson, took a really good swipe at some of those questions in his post yesterday. It’s worth reading though I need more sunshine, Mozart, or Verdi before I can completely get there.

And then…

I guess I lied at the beginning of this piece when I said I wouldn’t write about strategy and leadership today. I do have one question for us all as we consider Sandy Hook: Is this going to just be a tragedy or will it be a turning point? Sadly, our world is full of tragedies. We had many bombings and mass killings before and after 9/11, but that day was a turning point for our country. Nothing was the same afterwards. You could easily argue that the results of those changes were far from positive, but that’s not my point. I’m simply saying that together, we collectively said “We’ll never be the same” after 9/11.

Will Sandy Hook be only another sad day for us – another Columbine, Virginia Tech, or Aurora – or will it be a turning point? Issues of violence in our culture are complex and no party or interest group has a monopoly on the insight into the problem or the potential solutions. But for all of us who have any sort of influence, the question that should rightly haunt us is this: tragedy or turning point?


A Purpose Wake-up Call

By: On August 10, 2010

Many of you probably heard about the killing of 10 NGO aid workers in Afghanistan late last week.  For most of us, this event was one more in a line of senseless deaths to which we are exposed on a regular basis. To our family, it was personal.

Tom Little, the optometrist who led the aid team, has been a family friend as long as I can remember.  While his family spent most of the last 35 years living in Afghanistan where Tom used his skills to bring eye care to rural Afghans, their US base was usually in the upstate NY town where I grew up.  In fact, their current home is less than a mile from the one where I spent my childhood.

As often happens when you’re a kid, I didn’t really know Tom and Libby very well myself.  They were grown-ups, after all. But they influenced my family in many ways nonetheless.  And in death, he got me thinking.

Most of us (me included), spend too much of our lives and work trying to achieve objectives that in the long run don’t mean a hill of beans.  Most of us spend too much energy envying others, plotting our political rise, and being ticked off with those around us.  Most of us get sucked into ourselves and our own stories.

I’m sure Tom had some of those tendencies too.  He was human.  But he had something else.  He was crystal clear on his purpose – to bring eyesight (and eventually other basic care like dentistry) to people who would never otherwise have access to it.  In life he had no glamor. In death he has great honor.  Through it all, he had vision of a different kind – and that vision fueled his efforts when nothing else would.

It makes me think – what purpose is driving me? What purpose is driving you? What purpose is driving your organization? Is it worth it? What could we do to make it more worthwhile?

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