Humility Helps

“Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?”

So begins Abraham Lincoln’s favorite poem.  It’s all about mortality, and poetically reminds us that our time on this Earth is short.  Many act as if they are immortal, yet all of them eventually return to dust.

Why was it that Abe had to remind himself of this fact?  Certainly he already knew this.  Being surrounded by the Civil War must also have been a constant reminder as to everyone’s eventual end.  And he was the first President to start receiving actual death threats (as far as I know).  So what’s with the poem?

Another way to ask this same question is why don’t modern politicians and leaders remind themselves of the same thing?  How many actually acknowledge their mortality, not only in words, but in deeds?  The newest pope comes close, by the way.  Why does admitting their own mortality matter for leadership?

Because the sin of pride distorts your world in your favor, and increases the distance between your view of reality and the rest of us.

If you are proud enough you expect to have a 747 at your beck and call.  You expect to live in a palace with a staff of 100.  You expect a legion of photographers to follow your every move.  And the more you come to expect these things as normal, the more likely you are to make decisions that reinforce your reality.

Do small airplanes get in the way of your 747?  Tell them all to stop flying wherever you fly.  Are the parks around your palace looking dingy?  Ask the government for a few million to tidy them up.  Are the paparazzi getting a bit too close?  Ask for laws to keep them at bay, or decide you’re above the law and do whatever you want to mislead them – like speeding.

But if you’re serious about making great decisions and seeing the world as the rest of us, then mortal, be not proud.

Don’t be afraid of your public, take a regular flight from Washington to Chicago in the economy seats.  Palace park has litter?  Go pick it up yourself!  Paparazzi want your pictures?  Give it to them, and stand there till they get bored.  Heck, hire some yourself and make some money yourself.  Better yet, lead a modest, quiet regular life and bore them to exhaustion.  If you really want them to go away, that is.

Abe was humble because he wanted to be the best leader possible.  He knew he was smart and powerful, he didn’t need sycophants for that.  But he also knew he had to understand, to the best of his ability, what the world looked like for ordinary Americans.

He may have been afraid that fateful night when he went to the theater.  He certainly knew he had enemies and crazy people threatening him.  But he also knew that he could not live in fear, not if he wanted to be a great leader.  Especially when his country needed a great leader the most.

I like to think that Abe would still go to the theater that night, even if he knew what was going to happen.  And to me, that is the greatest attribute of leadership – humility and the loss of fear.

Thank you Mr. Lincoln.

 

Dancing?

I think I’ve finally figured this one out. Why do humans dance?

I’m pretty sure that it’s only humans. At least, after all the hours I’ve seen of wild animals doing their thing, none of them have ever gotten up and boogied. Of course, who knows what happens late on Saturday nights when all the cameras are gone, right? Maybe there are rabbit raves? After all, where do all those rabbits come from?

I’ve never been a good dancer, and I’ve never understood why people dance. As a nerd I can blame my computerish tendencies. I can also blame my lack of skill, balance, and coordination. As you can tell, I’m pretty good at rationalization. I can also blame the fact that I learned to dance in the 80s, when disco was big. That alone may have traumatized me.

But why do others like to dance? I could never figure this one out. Every now and then I’d ask someone, usually a dancing partner. At which point they would promptly dump me. I never did get a good answer.

Anyway, after all these years, I think I got it.

People dance as a way to show that they are in touch with nature, deep nature. That’s it.

What is deep nature? It’s the rhythms permeating our lives; rhythms that are so old and so deeply entwined in our being that words are inadequate. Deep nature is life itself, and death; deep nature is breath itself, and the beating heart. Deep nature is hunger, sleep, love, and fear.

You probably already knew this, most people do. Some of us don’t, and we stand at the wall wondering what all the undulating is about.

Dancing occurs in all cultures, to many different beats, in many different forms. It changes slowly between generations, because the beat of nature for your generation is slightly different than it was for mine. Your dancing reflects that.

More women dance than men in our culture; not surprising because women are more closely tied to nature. Do we need music? No, but it certainly helps, as music reminds us of the beating of natural rhythms, like our heart, the tides, seasons, or the sun and moon. Do we need a partner? Again, not really, but if dancing is about communicating our ability to feel nature, then a partner is required, for who else are we talking to? The more people the more the need to dance. The greater the celebration, such as a wedding or even funeral, the more need to dance.

So the next time I see the group get up and sway, I’ll do my best to join in. I may not feel the forces that they do, but at least I can try undulating a bit. I just wish my relatives wouldn’t laugh so much!