On Karen’s Campaign Trail

My inner voice said, “You need to do this or you’re going to die.” The voice did not say I was going to win. The voice did not say it was going to be easy. Or fun. It just said that I should do this – you know, if I didn’t want to die and stuff. So. Yeah.

I wasn’t really sure what the voice meant by “die” – physically? mentally? emotionally? – but running for office seemed preferable to death. So one drizzly day I found myself walking down to the courthouse during lunch break. My shoes squeaked as I crossed the lobby – the long line of people waiting to get their cars licensed looked over at me – I grinned sheepishly and pointed to my shoes – and got some chuckles from the people in the line. I went to the elections office, was greeted by some cheery ladies behind a desk who pointed me to another office, where the mother of one of my former students asked me if I was running for school board. I told her yes, and I’d never done this before, and… how do I sign up? She smiled and put me in front of a computer where I typed in my name and other particulars and the next thing I knew it I was a political candidate.

I’d signed up on the last day a person COULD sign up – a Friday. It wasn’t until after I signed up that I learned the names of the other folks I was running against. One of them had a Spanish surname and I found myself feeling a huge sense of relief – like – oh! I can withdraw my name and use this woman with the HIspanic name as my excuse! I can say I want her to win because I support diversity and equality and rainbows and so forth. But the thing is – I knew the real reason I wanted to withdraw my name was because I was scared. Plain and simple. Yes, of course, I support diversity and equality among all people – but taking my name off the ballot wasn’t in any way going to promote those things. It was just going to give the voters less choices. It wasn’t going to guarantee that people who would have voted for me would now vote for the woman with the Spanish last name. It wasn’t going to help my school district to take my name off the ballot. In short, taking my name off the ballot was just going to make me a chicken shit. And so when Monday rolled around – the last day I could take my name off the ballot – I fought my cowardly urges, and kept my name in the race.

I am a responsible person who doesn’t particularly like responsibility. Maybe you’re like me? You take on responsibility because you know you’re the best one to take it on? I don’t enjoy being the boss. I don’t enjoy being responsible for other people. But my career as a teacher and my experiences helping my elderly parents have shown me that I’m good at it.

I think I could do a lot of good on the school board. I believe I have the background in education, and the maturity and experience, to bring progress to my school district. But – and how do I explain this part? – I am not afraid of failing. I’m not afraid of losing. What I am afraid of is not trying. What I am afraid of is not having the courage to do something that I feel is the right thing for me to do.

I’ve never thought of the other candidates running for this position as my opponents. It feels more like we’re teammates together – all working towards the same goal of helping our community. And I believe that whoever wins is going to rise to the occasion and do a good job for us. I believe the person who wins is the one who’s meant to win. And that might be me. And it might not.

It has been a wonderful trip so far. I’ve met some really amazing new friends, and reconnected with old friends and former students, who have stepped up and offered their support (and their lawns and corners for signs). I’ve had a lot of fun getting out in the community and meeting people – it has given me hope for the world to realize how many good people are out there being kind, being honest, doing right by each other.

There’s some reason my inner voice guided me down to the courthouse that day. There’s some lesson I’m supposed to learn, or something I’m supposed to do that’s going to help someone or something. I’m not sure, yet, what that is. I’m still not even sure that winning is a part of the whole deal. But I’m going to go forward and do my best to be honest and live with integrity, and trust that everything is unfolding as it should.

McCain: The One Thing I Know…

Here’s how McCain’s death has affected me, in a personal way – I’ve come to realize what a chicken shit I am – I stand on the sidelines criticizing the GOP, criticizing the DNC, criticizing the politicians who don’t support universal health care, criticizing the political leaders who have allowed corporations to take over our country, criticizing the politicians who aren’t giving shelter to those seeking asylum and the homeless, poor, and unemployed – I send my letters, post my blog posts, march in the marches, criticize my fellow human beings who aren’t doing what I think they should be doing – and what the hell?! It’s easy for me to stand on the sidelines and lob my criticisms at the people who are “in charge” – it’s a lot easier than actually stepping up to the plate and running for office myself. I am humbled because I realize I am lacking the courage to put myself out there in the fray and open MYSELF up to criticism, and the slander, libel, and rumors that always seem to circulate around people who are willing to shoulder our responsibility for us.

I am deeply conflicted about McCain. I find it hard to stick pins into a man who endured five years of torture – who refused to be released from prison so long as his comrades were still in there – and I can’t help but wonder how *I* might have been changed if I’d gone through the same circumstances. I’d like to think I’d be really noble about it all, and forgiving, and so forth. But I don’t know. I don’t know how an experience like that would have changed me.

There were things McCain did that were horrible. Horrible. I would agree with anyone who said that. But I find I don’t have it in me to hate this man.

Right now I find myself thinking about that moment when he cast his vote against dismantling the ACA. I find myself thinking about that moment when he stood up for his rival, Obama, against that woman’s prejudices and misinformation. I find myself thinking about how he refused to be released from prison until his comrades were released. I find myself thinking about the family who loved him.

This is the one thing I know, for sure, about McCain – he had courage. And I’m not sure I have it in the same quantity.

I don’t see how anyone’s anger towards this man is going to make the world a better place.

A New Ending for an Old Poem

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools…”
– Rudyard Kipling, If

Karen’s ending:
If you can think bigger than what’s best for you alone
And consider the needs and wants of others before your own
If you’re able to function without a computer or cellphone
And in the midst of crises keep an even-tempered tone
If you’re willing to give your life to serve a noble cause
And not expect to be appreciated, thanked, or be “The Boss”
Then you are the woman or the man I want for Pres.
You are the person who might lead us out of this mess.
– Karen

When the Traffic Lights Don’t Work (and we don’t have a leader)

The power was out yesterday and some of the traffic lights weren’t working. But something really cool happened: At each traffic light I witnessed people being courteous to each other, taking turns, allowing those cars stuck on side streets to come into the flow. At one point the driver of the car to the left of me stopped to allow a car on a side street to enter traffic. In order for the car on the side street to enter, I had to stop, too, though – we all had to work together to help the car on the side street get into the flow.  There was no one directing traffic – no one standing in the intersection telling us when to go. But somehow we managed to take care of each other. 

And that’s what America looks like to me right now, too. We don’t have anyone directing traffic. We don’t have a leader who’s trying to help the people on the side streets get into the flow. We don’t have a leader who’s telling us when to stop, and showing us how to take turns and behave ourselves. We’re having to do that for ourselves.

What an incredible opportunity to find out who we are as human beings.

I want a leader who…

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the kind of person I’d like to see running for President of the U.S. of A. Here’re my thoughts, thus far:

  • I do not care what gender this person is, or what religion or non-religion this person practices. I don’t care about this person’s ethnicity, or what generation this person is from, and I don’t care if this person ends sentences and phrases with dangling prepositions.
  • I want a leader who can inspire the people of my nation to be kinder, braver, more honest, more selfless, less hateful, and less bigoted.
  • I want a leader who values education, and has made an effort to keep learning and seek wisdom.
  • I want a leader who is humbled by power, and knows when to use it – and when not to use it.
  • I want a leader who understands that a President is an employee of the people – elected by the people to serve, not be served.
  • I want a leader with a vision for the future that includes peace and prosperity for all.
  • I want a leader who can give us hope.
  • I want a leader who cares about others.
  • I want a leader who believes that good can win.
  • I want a leader who believes that love is power.

Anybody got anything they’d like to add?

heroes

Reluctant Heroes and Reluctant Leaders

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
– William Shakespeare

 “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I’ve always enjoyed the “reluctant heroes” and “reluctant leaders” of literature and film, and real life – the people who don’t really seek to be heroes or leaders; who don’t really want to risk their lives; who have some concept of what might happen to them if they step forward and do the right thing, and sigh and take a deep breath, and do it anyway. These aren’t the people who are seeking the limelight. They aren’t looking for glory. They don’t want medals and awards and accolades and power. They’re doing the right thing in spite of their trepidation. They’re doing the right thing simply because they don’t have it in them to NOT try to save someone else’s life, or rescue the puppy, or stand up for what is right and fair, or to lead when there is a need. They are, in my mind, the best kinds of heroes and leaders.

In literature, one of my favorite “reluctant heroes” is Frodo Baggins. Frodo clearly does not want the responsibility of The Ring. He’d much rather have given that responsibility to someone else, and gone home to his quiet life in the Shire. But he realizes that he’s the only one equipped – mentally and emotionally – to take on the responsibility. He’s the only one humble enough. In short, his very reluctance to be the hero is exactly why he’s the best one fit to BE the hero.

In “Are You a Reluctant Leader?” Walt Grassle writes: “…often, reluctant leaders are the best leaders. They lead from a desire to serve, not a desire for power.” And in “The Reluctant Leader” Lainie Heneghan writes: “Adaptability, humility, a capacity to bring others along in their efforts, and a plain old willingness to listen are defining qualities of reluctant leaders.”

In thinking about reluctant leadership, the death of one of my dad’s climbing friends in an avalanche on Mount Rainier comes to mind. Dad’s friend, Willy, had been leading a group of climbers from Evergreen State College up Mount Rainier when an avalanche struck the team.  Willy and another climber were buried under the avalanche. The other team members were able to uncover the snow from the two victims’ bodies, and tried to resuscitate them, but without success. The team’s leader, Willy, was gone, and the remaining members were in a perilous situation – exhausted, traumatized, and in shock. It was then, according to Dad, that Ian, one of the student-members of the climbing team, stepped forward and assumed leadership. As I understand it, this student had been one of the quieter members of the team until that moment – a strong climber who had earlier helped Willy scout out the route to the summit – but not someone who had sought attention for himself. I’m sure that Iain would rather not have been in a situation where he had to assume leadership.  But, as Dad tells it, Ian was an observer and he’d seen there was a need – recognized that someone needed to step forward and give direction to the team – and he had done what he knew needed to be done to get the surviving members of the team safely off the mountain.

I’m guessing the world is full or reluctant heroes and leaders – people quietly making the lives of other people better; people stepping up to the plate when a leader is needed, or a hero; people who recognize that in their neighborhood, or workplace, or political organization they are the ones best equipped to create a positive atmosphere or lead in a positive direction – and then quietly go about doing so. Without fanfare. Without hope of recognition or credit. Just because it’s the right thing to do.

But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant…” – Matthew 20: 25-27

Walt Grassle’s article: http://researchcareersblog.com/2014/12/08/are-you-a-reluctant-leader/#sthash.ifYrR64X.dpbs

Lainie Heneghan’s article: http://www.jmw.com/assets/JMW_Reluctant_Leader.pdf

reluctant heroes

Photo of cannon at Fort Ticonderoga, NY (Karen Molenaar Terrell)

 

 

 

Leadership After Defeat

The greatest glory lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.
– JK Rowling

Our beloved Seahawks lost last night and in the most heart-breaking way. I stood there, mouth open, looking in disbelief at my TV screen. “What the…? Did that really just happen?!”

As anyone knows who was watching the game last night, the Seahawks last offensive play was a doozy. Who the heck called THAT one, we all wondered.

Pete Carroll, the head coach, took responsibility for it. And then Russell Wilson, the Seahawks quarterback said HE was to blame. And… it’s kind of refreshing to see the blame game being played out in this way – with two people competing to TAKE the blame, rather than rushing to find someone else to pin it on. That is leadership, isn’t it?

Far too often in my experience the “guys at the top” – the politicians, managers, bigwigs, and Grand Poobahs – are the first ones to try to find someone else to blame when things head south. That whole “buck stops here” thing seems to rarely happen anymore. So it warmed the cockles of my heart when I read this on profootballtalk.nbcsports.com:

“Wilson credited Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler for making a good play and said the (sic) he didn’t question the play call while also pointing the finger at himself for the way things played out.

“’I put the blame on me — I’m the one who threw it,’ Wilson said. ‘It’s something you learn from, it’s something you grow from. I’m proud of our guys about the way that we got down the field there in that situation. We had so many great plays, and we’re right there. We’ll just keep learning and keep growing.’”

Maybe losing the Superbowl when they were so close to winning it is the best thing, in the long-term, that could have happened to the Seahawks as a team last night. I mean, it would have been awesome if they’d won – duh! But the big thing that the Seahawks have always had going for them is their collective character, as a team. They are family. And when family members go through hard times together – support each other, take responsibility for each, encourage and inspire each other – they come out even stronger in the end.

(And we all know that neither Pete Carroll nor Russell Wilson was to blame for that doozy of a call. But aren’t we proud of them for being willing to “take the rap”?)

Winning is great, sure. but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.
– Wilma Rudolph