Great coaches inspire their athletes to strive for excellence in both performance and behavior. Great business leaders inspire their employees at all levels to achieve excellence on the job, personal lives, and in service to their community. Great teachers encourage and mentor their students to reach high levels of academic mastery, become good citizens, and be warm and caring human beings.
Effective leaders build on the strengths of their people, but they also work to correct attitudes and behaviors that are deterrents to individual and organizational success. Entities that fail to address problems soon diminish their influence and sometimes collapse under the weight of their own mistakes.
So it is with the task of examining our wonderful country. We are great, but not without our need to challenge our shortcomings. Far too many believe that studying our history will diminish our love for our country. That kind of thinking is analogous to a coach thinking that addressing a team’s shortcomings and mistakes will diminish their desire to achieve excellence. Good coaches, including those in the business community and government, know that correcting mistakes only improves their ability to achieve excellence and paves the way for continued growth. So let’s look at the benefits of a thorough examination of our history, including our successes and our mistakes.
Nima Marshall, a history professor at the College of Muscogee Creek Nation in Stillwater, Oklahoma, says, “History is not there for you to like or dislike. It is there for you to learn from it. And if it offends you, even better. Because then you are less likely to repeat it. It is not yours to erase or destroy.”
What a powerful philosophy to help us eliminate racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination. What a powerful message to help us work to correct rather than criticize our country and preserve our precious democracy. People from all walks of life and from both sides of the political aisle can unite to live up to the claims of the preamble to our constitution and the words of our pledge, proclaiming equality, liberty, and justice for all. We can engage in courageous but civil dialogue and encourage each other to recognize and respect the dignity of all human beings. I am asking you, as an educator to lead the way.
Eli Wiesel gave us all a track to run on. “I swore never to be silent whenever or wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
In his last interview, Representative John Lewis said, “I have been so moved and so inspired…by people of different backgrounds from all over America and from around the world. It gives me great hope that as a nation and as a people, we’re going to get there. We’re going to make it…and this time there will be no turning back.” As a nation, we have come so far in the past 60 years and it is up to us to make sure we keep moving forward.
In his last message, published In the New York Times on the day of his funeral, Representative Lewis offered this challenge. “Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.” Let us unite to answer the call.
Have a great school year.
Denny Smith is a former teacher and coach, a motivational speaker, and an author committed to making our schools and communities safe and welcoming for all people. Excerpts from his latest books, Emotional Intelligence 101 and Coaches Make the Difference,” can be previewed at http://www.dennysmith.com.