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A Leadership Tribute to Kindness, and my Dad


I have been thinking about kindness a lot this season, partly because it’s a season for thinking about such things and mostly because my dear dad who was 98 died peacefully in his sleep on December 18th.  My dad was the kindest man I know, unflinchingly so.  I described him to friends as a ‘salt of the earth’ kind of guy, and they all agreed.  I know my dad did not have an easy life.  At 98 he experienced the great depression, and great recession, and lost buddies in World War II as the commander of a ship (at the age of 24 which itself is shocking).  As a testament to his leadership he continued to get together annually with a group of guys from his ship for over 50 years while the group dwindled from 60 to two guys who were alive and could travel.  It would certainly have been the appropriate context for ‘command and control’ leadership and yet having been to more than a few of the tin can (the type of ship) reunions, I saw the deep affection among the men of all ranks and races and learned that my dad understood a lot about connected and adaptive leadership. I wish I had asked him more about that now and hope that I will continue to grow and be influenced by his leadership, and his kindness. 

As a tribute to my dad I would like to share one of my favorite poems about kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.