Heart of a Leader

Leadership Matters

What’s In a Name?

Once again, our four-year old Michael shows what an amazing teacher he is. We have recently moved from suburbia to southwestern Wisconsin. This has been a dream of my wife and I for some time and we are very content with our move. As with any new location, we are finding some of the local peculiarities that people may have forgotten to mention the sixty times we visited the area.

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I was traveling (fortunately for me) one September day, when I called home to learn from my excited wife that our home was being invaded by asian beetles. These lady bug look-a-likes were pouring into our home from any crack that was bigger than a pin head. I am not exaggerating when I say pouring in. The windows and doors of the house were coated with these little creatures. Hundreds were making their way into the house, in fact, my wife resorted to using a vacuum cleaner to hose them up as they sneaked in through the doors and windows.

We found out that this is a normal occurrence each fall. We also discovered that a small population of these beetles make a permanent residence in your home until the spring.

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If this wasn’t enough, we also experienced the fly emergence. Flies are the fall companions of the asian beetles and anytime a door is opened, they invite themselves in for our hospitality. In addition to vacuuming beetles, we also had fly strips up in logical places, like light fixtures and ceiling fans.

Most of us were pretty annoyed with these squatters in our private space, but not Michael. Michael liked these little beetles. In fact, he liked them so much that he started calling them “Burts”. Like, “there goes a Burt up the wall”, or “look at that Burt on our dinning room table”. He even felt like the flies should have a name too, so they are Freds.

About this time, our 11 year old, Kamran was at the farm for the weekend. He is not fond of insects at all and these beetles were really annoying to him. When he heard Michael calling the beetles Burt, he stopped his normal complaining about the bugs. He started talking with the Burts in the house and his frustration with flies seemed to dissolve as well as he followed Michael’s lead and called them Freds.

This relationship with the beetles (Burts) and flies (Freds) continues into winter. There are still a small cadre of Burts enjoying the warmth of our home and when they crawl onto the table or land on our heads, we smile, invite them to go somewhere else and that’s that. Just yesterday, Michael came in to the kitchen holding a Fred and said with great reverence, this Fred died. I am going to take him outside now.

So what is the lesson of Michael? He has shown me that if I can identify personally with something in my environment that I might normally want to either marginalize or treat in an inhuman way, my whole experience changes. Rather than treating something as an anno

ying thing, I realize that it has value and should be treated with respect. Yes, even insects are living beings. They may not have a mind such as ours (actually, that may have some advantages at times), but they are still a wealth of mystery. How do they know when to awaken from their long sleep? How do they know how to find food and water. How do they find others of their own kind? Mysteries that I can’t explain.

Michael shows me that there is benefit in engaging these insects rather than being focused on their elimination. Even the death of a fly can be an event that is treated with reverence.

How does this play out in a broader context? I first think of the term “collateral damage” that is used by the military and politicians to explain civilian deaths and injuries in a military conflict. It can also be used to explain the displacement of people because of war. When I hear about collateral damage of over 1 million in Iraq, what do I feel? If I don’t have a personal picture of those who are affected, its not much more than words to me. How can I personalize something that I knowis not in keeping with my values so that I am aroused to action?

Thinking about the lesson of Michael, I know that I can use my intuition to have a sense of the people impacted. I can remember that they are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, grandmas and grandpas. I can remember my grandparents or parents. It is in that moment that I begin to get a sense of the impact of what has happened, and I know I can’t stand idly by.

This awareness extends everywhere. Since I am a middle class white guy, how can I feel what its like to be poor or disenfranchised? I can talk to those who are and get to know their stories and from that understanding I can remember that everything is personal.

This is a beginning for me. I will continue to work with the lesson of Michael as I become more aware of the places where I act with inhumanity and change that behavior, as soon as I know it is happening.

I would love your comments on the lesson of Michael.

Until later,

Thomas

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