I once had a group of leaders that I had the opportunity to mentor for a season of time. One of many frustrations I have with people who have had a relatively easy journey through their education and have been placed in a prominent position in an organization is this – they often have a sense of entitlement, lack the ability to struggle through a situation, and often can’t relate with others less fortunate. There! I said it!
Trying to bring attention to the needs of others around us is always a great challenge, but I believe it is important for people in leadership to have a good understanding of the world. Helping others sounds like a great concept, but too many of these leaders wanted all the glory and recognition but never wanted to invest the time, energy, and effort to help. The greatest problem with this philosophy is that it goes against what I believe when helping those around us. I believe that there shouldn’t be a lot of fanfare around the giver, but that the person receiving the blessing should be directed to the generosity and love of Jesus.
Matthew 6:1-4 1“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
As part of being a mentor, I believe I am also supposed to call attention to social issues. One in particular is the problem of “bullying.” Bullying is one of those words that can spark memories of the past where many have been victims of the cruel and mean-spirited actions of others. Bullying happens in all season of life. From the schoolyard playground, to the middle school locker-rooms, on college campuses, and even in offices and on assembly lines everywhere. However, most people have probably never been victimized as much as a young lady by the name of Lizzie Valasquez. And for those who have, go find Lizzie and learn that life is worth living and your story can change the lives of others.
Lizzie has a non-terminal genetic disorder that very much resembles “progeria.” Possibly a form of “Wiedeman-Rautenstrauch syndrome.” She is unable to gain weight and has never weighed more than 64 pounds and is currently in her late 20’s. Lizzie is also blind in her right eye and has some impairment in her left eye. But you see, with all of her medical conditions, some of her most painful moments have come through being bullied throughout school and even finding a video on YouTube about her titled, “The Ugliest Woman in the World.” As terrible as the video was for her to watch, the comments went far beyond mean-spirited. Many of the comments called for her death saying things like, “Set that thing on fire!” Other comments questioned why the parents didn’t abort her before she was born, while some were much kinder just calling her a monster and suggesting putting a bag over her head if she goes out in public.
Lizzie has an amazing story outlining how she has taken those mean and negative things said about her and turned them into motivation to make a difference in this world by calling attention to bullying. So how does all of this tie into working with leaders and helping them be aware of social issues? Sadly, apathy often lurks through the places where leaders dwell. The same lack of understanding for the person who struggles through life can seep into and create the same unresponsiveness to other people’s problems. Don’t get me wrong, some leaders are formed and created out of these struggles in life, but all too often, they forget where they have come from or become blind to the needs of others that aren’t in their circle of peers.
While sharing Lizzie’s very touching and emotionally moving story through a documentary – A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story (2015) , I looked around the room to realize that many of these leaders were talking, reading books, trying to catch up on work they had fallen behind on, dozing off, or just “checked-out” and not paying attention. Part of me wanted to shake each one of them and ask, “How can you not be moved by this person’s struggle and plight?” Part of me was angered and wanted to abruptly end this leadership session. Another part of me wanted to shut down the presentation and confront each one individually, yet another part realized that unless something affects an individual personally, they rarely give any attention to it and are not moved by the struggles of others. Much like those late night infomercials of the abused animals being shown while the music played and Sarah McLachlan sang, “In the arms of an angel….”
I hope, as a leader who attempts to motivate other leaders, I never become calloused or apathetic to the plight and struggles of others. I also hope I will never turn a blind-eye when I am confronted with what others are struggling with. I want to think that I can spend a very small moment in time to give notice and recognition when someone is sharing with me because I just might be that “leader” that could lead others into action. For that leadership session that showed such a lack of interest or dispassion, you’ll have a story to tell one day and just might find that your interest to make a difference will be met with a lethargic response. Don’t be discouraged! Don’t give up on those you are trying to lead! However, know that your frustration might begin with the question, “How can you not….?”