Today’s thought-provoking and compassionate guest article is by Deborah Costello. She’s a teacher, Math department chair at Trinity Prep School in Winter Park, FL and a consultant for the College Board. Connect with her on Twitter as @costelloland. Deb is passionate about human rights, peace, education, leadership, triathlon training, and most importantly family and friends. She believes that in the end all you need is love.
Are you a leader? Maybe you are a manager at work, an usher for your church, or the president of your bridge club. Hopefully you are the leader in your own home. Certainly you lead yourself. Many people struggle with the idea of leadership and conclude they just cannot do it. It’s too difficult or no one will want to follow them. I would suggest that this is not true. In fact there are leaders everywhere we look, people changing lives and making progress. They are neighborhood watch captains and Girl Scout leaders, community treasurers, and PTA presidents. But even if you don’t have a named position or a title, there are ways you can lead in your community that are meaningful and exciting, ways that enrich lives. Let me tell the story of a pair of such leaders.
On Valentine’s Day I showed up in a field outside an art museum with a couple hundred people I didn’t know. I had been invited by two women that I had met a few weeks earlier. The event was called, “The Human Heart: An OUTright Love-In.” Envisioned by Nicki Drumb four years ago, she and her wife, Rachel Gardiner sponsor this yearly Love-In to celebrate the strides that have been made over the past year toward marriage equality.
As I walked toward the field, I was greeted by a friendly stranger handing out red necklaces made of hearts. Another gave me a glow stick to combat the gathering darkness. A third came forward saying, “Your face looks familiar.” As we talked, she walked me down into the crowd. I eventually saw a few people I knew, but mostly it was strangers — men, women, couples, children, families — gathering together to celebrate a simple idea. Love. That’s all it was about. Celebrating the beauty, the wonder, the joy of love.
- Photo of Rachel and Nicki by Mike Haddad
On the ground there was a giant heart, formed with candles, and we gathered there. A few people spoke, detailing the year’s events, sharing their own stories. Nicki and Rachel’s story helped me understand why people had come. That afternoon they had made their annual pilgrimage to the county clerk’s office. In the past they had tried to apply for a marriage license. This year they were hoping to have their existing license recognized, for they had recently married in New York City. They brought the pastor of their church and stood before the same clerk again this year, but her answer was the same. No. The state of Florida does not recognize same-sex marriages. This year the clerk mentioned that she would retire in five years. Rachel hopes they won’t still be visiting the county clerk in five years. Despite four years of rejection, she is hopeful. You can see it in her eyes.
As we lit the candles, one from another, and stood together forming a heart, I looked at the faces around me. There were no protestors shouting, no anger or frustration at what had not been accomplished. There was only a feeling of gathering strength, of bearing witness to love and knowing that the year to come would bring progress and setbacks, good news and bad. But no matter what, we would withstand it all and there was great cause for hope. These two women had led us all to this place and for a moment we stilled our stress and our sorrow, our too much and not enough. For a few moments we stood together, in love.
Rachel and Nicki are committed to each other and to helping others find the love that they so generously share. So they keep on. Each year the event grows a little bigger and more complicated. This year they included art submissions from local artists on the subject of love. We met afterward to support a local bar and a food truck outside that had provided a delicious feast. It seemed so simple from the outside, but I know there were a thousand details. Maybe this event doesn’t seem all that amazing. If so, then here’s your challenge. See if you can inspire a couple hundred people to show up in a field on Valentine’s Day and listen to you speak.
In the end, that’s all leadership really is, a little idea, a little commitment, a little hard work, a little time. There are so many ways that we could lead in our communities, our neighborhoods, our businesses. Everyday people do amazing things. Every day we all could do amazing things. And yet we don’t. Too busy. Too tired. Just too.
So if you are in that “too” camp and just can’t imagine a way to lead, start thinking. A good leader is a combination of three simple things; ability, integrity, and compassion. In some areas of our lives, each of us is all of these things. I’m asking you to dig into your heart, where your love lies, where your passions lie, and ask some simple questions.
What can I do? Can you share your ability and make a difference for someone else? Do you see a problem in your community that you could help solve? Are there needs in your neighborhood that are not being met? I find it impossible to believe that you do not see these things in the world.
Do I believe in my idea with all my heart? Can you support it and stand by it with honor? Do you know that by leading in this way you are making a difference? Can you stand up for what you believe and stick with it even in tough times? Are you true to your word? There’s your integrity.
Am I making things better? Will other people’s lives get better? Will you improve your community, raise awareness, offer opportunity, bring people together, or promote understanding? By leading with compassion, others will want to join you. We all long for a better place.
Nicki and Rachel have this incredible capacity to love and by sharing it in this way, have led others to a better day, a positive place where they can peacefully share a moment of compassion and love. Their community leadership inspired others to join them on Valentine’s Day. They were able to support local artists and businesses. Their event inspired me to tell their story. Perhaps it will inspire you to do a little leading for the Girl Scouts, to share your abilities with the neighborhood watch, to offer your compassion at the PTA meeting, to show your integrity as the community treasurer.
In the end, we are all surrounded by leadership. The best leaders have the ability to turn a difficult any day into an amazing every day. Just get up and lead.