Confronting Our Big, Fat Collective Anxiety

I recently checked in with Paul Schrijnen, an old friend who lives in London, and asked him, “What’s going on over there?” I was referring to Brexit, the UK’s departure from the European Union. I got back this stunning reply, “We face the greatest peril in peacetime since before 1914.”

How similar that statement feels to my own experience of politics in America, where our president lies and grossly misuses his power and almost half the country does not care. It is a frightening reminder how fragile democracies can be.

As I humbly remind myself, it is all too reminiscent of the hazy, distorted world I occupied as an alcoholic, a world where self-centeredness ruled supreme.

Who is flying the  plane?

Paul’s email got me thinking about a way forward. The economist and diplomat John Kenneth Galbraith said, All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.

What an amazing observation: the willingness to confront the major anxiety of their people in their time.” Wow!

What I find fascinating about his statement is it has nothing to do with politics or punditry. it’s about leadership ministering to the spirit of an age — recognizing what people are anxious about, affirming the validity of what people are feeling, and addressing the underlying causes of the anxiousness.

For many people Winston Churchill demonstrated precisely this kind of leadership during the Second World War. How could Britain possibly have survived if they hadn’t been so led? And yet the very man who led his nation through its darkest hour was the same man who lived with bouts of frightful depression, something he called his “black dog.”

His good friend, Lord Beaverbrook, said he was always either “at the top of the wheel of confidence or at the bottom of an intense depression.” Perhaps this is why he understood the anxiety of the British people so well. He suffered right along with them.

And yet times change. The anxiety manifested in one generation is not that of another. We now appear to be in search of a leader with the willingness to confront the major anxiety of their people in their time.” Who that will be no one yet knows. We can only hope whoever emerges has taken the journey to the bottom of their own soul and discovered the common wellspring that feeds us all.

Churchill was successful in getting Britain to confront the major anxiety of their time. He helped them understand it would be only in facing up to it that they would survive. “One ought never to turn one’s back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!”

As we do our best to find leadership on the big stages of national politics, how about we all do our best, in every little (or not so little) way, to be that leadership ourselves? Every chance we get, every way we can, as big and brave as we can be.

Just a thought…

Pat and Marsha

Copyright © 2020 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.

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