I have many heroes, I am embarrassed to list some of them here. People who have played positive roles in my life and inspired me to do as well as I can. A random partial list—people with an incredible strong sense of integrity, and wisdom: Harvey Milk. Gustav Mahler, Golda Meier, Winston Churchill, Malcolm X, Theodore Heschel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hermann Hesse, John Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Menelik II, Johannes Brahms, Martin Luther King, Jr, Senator Phillip Hart. Part of my embarrassment is that I know to many people some if not al of these people had their very negative sides. That’s what fascinates me.
I have come to ask myself what a great leader is? I think one must separate a great leader from a great person. No one is perfect and we are all a product of our times. They were flawed people, they had traits we deplore, some did absolutely terrible things but they also attained great things. Things that inspire me. Things we certainly could not have attained and without them our lives would be significantly less than they are now.
So, I wonder what makes a great leader. What makes someone you can respect for what they have achieved if not for the person they are.
I also look inward at myself and at these great people and know they achieved tremendous feats from which I benefit and which I certainly could have never attained myself.
I look at myself too and I see myself in their time and in their situation and I dare say I would have made fare greater errors in my own stumbling road to mown imperfection.
As I contemplate these heroes of mine—I am reminded of a prayer from the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people: the ashamnu. The ashamnu is a prayer where we confessor sins from a-z—literally according the Hebrew alphabet. When I was a kid I remember saying to my Rabbi that I thought the prayer was silly because why did I need to confess—for example to murder as I had never committed such a crime. He did not respond to my question until his Yom Kippur sermon when explained that we confess our sins communally and though we may not have commit this or that sin as a community have committed all of these sins. As a community we therefore confess our failures—even if we did not commit these sins we have failed to prevent them and failed to live in a community that does not participate in them.
In a way, if you take the arbitrary list of heroes I list at the title of this post, I think you would end up with an entire Ashamnu’s worth of sins and failures.
I won’t nor do I want to apologize or defend or even justify the shortcomings of my heroes. They have inspired me and they have inspired me to do well. To do better. To think better. And to realize in my own humanity I am not a bad person but imperfect. I look back on 2018 and see mistakes as well as achievements. My mistakes and my flaws do not diminish me—even when I think they should. They are a testament to 2019 where I will continue to make mistakes and attain achievements.
At the end of the my life, as Jean-Paul Sartre put it, they will draw a line under my acts and deeds and tally up my life. Though I live in the shadows of my heroes and on the backs of generations who have fought before me so that I can be a step ahead. I realize, with warts and all my heroes still stand tall because we still reap the benefits they have given even with the pain they also have imported on us.
Harvey Milk. Gustav Mahler, Golda Meier, Winston Churchill, Malcolm X, Theodore Heschel, Friedrich Nietzsche, John Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Menelik II, Johannes Brahms, Martin Luther King, Jr, Senator Phillip Hart.