The picture you see is one I took personally on the Antietam Battlefield. The Battle of Antietam was fought on September 17, 1862 near Sharpsburg, Maryland and, according to Wikipedia, it was the first major battle of the Civil War to take place on Northern soil and was the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with about 23,000 casualties.
The picture itself was taken at Sunken Road, a site of the battle that became known as “Bloody Lane” because of the river of blood that flowed from it following a 3.5 hour battle that left 5,600 men dead and piled as high as the sunken valley along the 800 yard strip of road.
As a history lover who was born in Boston, surrounded by the Freedom Trail and everything it stood for, whose grandmother was born in a home behind Paul Revere’s, I find myself in historical places on many occasions – typically overcome with emotion.
Yes, you read that right. I’m the one you’ll find sitting in the Old North Church (One if by Land, Two if by Sea) with tears in my eyes, or sitting at a battle site like this one overcome with grief at what it must have been like to experience such a horrifying sight – more than 5000 dead men along this small lane – and to have somehow simply kept going…
The word that always comes to my mind in these situations is courage. It’s usually the ideas of sacrifice and loyalty that makes the tears roll but it’s the thought of the courage invoked by leaders and warriors in the face of death that genuinely inspires me.
What I found fascinating in looking up the definition of courage was that there are different traditions in Eastern and Western culture about what courage represents, and even the Catholic Church has its own clear definition – Fortitude – one of the four cardinal virtues. What struck me the most was the description hailing from Eastern traditions: “The Tao De Ching states that courage is derived from love and explains: “One of courage, with audacity, will die. One of courage, but gentle, spares death. From these two kinds of courage arise harm and benefit.”
Courage is derived from love.
Love of country, love of ideals, love of family, romantic love. It all makes sense when you put it into the perspective of love.
Think about successful leaders over time – leaders who made the world better inch by inch (or in some cases land grab by land grab) – you’ll start to realize that they had powerful convictions that drove them, yes, but that the reason they were successful was that it was love driving those powerful convictions. It was the love that tempered the recklessness to bring benefit and not harm.
Do you see that in leaders today? I do. But not necessarily on the world’s stage.
Rather, I see it in people like my friend Tim who I wrote about in Leadership is a Gift: 4 Signs You’re Worthy, who donated his kidney to someone he’d never met because he has come to feel real love for organ donation initiatives in the wake of his daughter’s death and subsequent organ donation. He works tirelessly sharing his daughter’s story, facing pain each time he does so, in order to inspire others. Tim is a courageous leader.
Leaders like Tim, who take risks borne of love and overcome hurdles in a quest towards an inspiring vision, are the kinds of leaders I wish to work with and desire to emulate.
How about you? Please share your thoughts about courage, and leaders you know who are demonstrating it, at our next #LeadershipChat on Election Night, tomorrow night, November 2nd at 8:00 pm Eastern Time. Steve Woodruff and I hope to see you there!
As always, please feel free to share your initial thoughts and insights with me here. I value your comments and appreciate you taking the time to respond.
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