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Leadership Thought #427 – Weakness Is Infectious (and Dangerous)

March 7, 2013

Free Man in Brown Suit Jacket Sitting on White Sofa Stock Photo

Weakness (emotional and physical) holds many people back from living a full life.

At the risk of sounding like an old codger (which I am not), I can’t believe how worked up people get up over common issues these days.  It’s as if any level of adversity is intolerable.  You would have thought the end of the world was near the way everyone, especially the media, reacted to the recent winter storm.  We were bombarded with worst case scenarios and impending doom.  People raced to stores to stock up just in case they lost power for a few days. My goodness, can’t we handle a few days of discomfort if required?  As a friend said yesterday, “Why the huge interest in toilet paper, can families really not survive a few days without TP?” Are they that close to the edge of hygienic catastrophe?  I’ve seen it happen in families, businesses, schools, and communities: if you are not careful, weakness and worry is infectious.  Like all momentous change, it all starts with small symbolic gestures and begins to gain momentum elsewhere.

As a parent of two children at impressionable ages, I am concerned that our collective societal weakness is leaving an undesirable impression on the next generation.  Life isn’t always meant to be easy.  Character is built through navigating whatever difficulties emerge in your path and proving to yourself that you are capable and resilient.  So, what if it snows a bit, school takes place anyway and if you are an adult you are expected to show up at work.  Of course, there is some risk.  Life is full of risk.  Somehow my school system in New York managed to navigate much worse storms and not call off school anytime there was some threat of precipitation.  Missing school or work should be the exception not the norm.

We also need to be able to differentiate between real and perceived threats.  If everything is a crisis, then nothing truly is.  And, distractions minimize your focus on what truly is important.   I am often fascinated and a bit depressed when I have conversations with my peers and their many neuroses quickly rise to the surface.  Guess what, America is much safer than it used to be, contrary to popular opinion.  Our largest immigrant population tends to have strong family values and a wonderful work ethic. They are not threats to the system; they keep it afloat (just like their predecessors). Our economic model depends upon immigration.   China is not a threat to our global economic security. They are, in fact, potentially the biggest market in the world for our goods and services and are the top purchasers of U.S. debt.  Can our national budget not weather single digit cuts without the economy tanking?  Wall Street is not the sole reason for your financial woes.  It is usually your own personal attitudes towards wealth, debt and money that make your economic life difficult.  When did it become okay to be a victim?  There are true victims out there and lumping yourself in that category only diminishes the severity of the real problems in this world.

I am not a historian, but I would bet that the downfall of all the great nations partially started when the people became too comfortable with status quo and lost the edge that made them successful in the first place.  They started to look backward not forward.  Instead of setting an example for other nations to emulate, they ended up falling victim to their own vulnerabilities/insecurities and started substituting strong rhetoric for actual affirmative action.  They also spent a disproportionate amount of money defending what they already have rather than investing in their future.   Individual and collective strength of character is a prerequisite for a healthy and vibrant society.  The history of mankind is that we have proven that we, as human beings, are up to any challenge.  However, the strong do survive and the weak will wither – this is also a fact of nature.