Louie Anderson: Laughing in the Face of Pain

“I love to do standup comedy still. It still makes me really happy… I’ve worked so many hours to make sure that when you’re there, you are not burdened with this performance. You are hopefully forgetting every bit of your troubles. That’s my goal every night. Hopefully, at some point in my act, you have forgotten whatever trouble you had when you came in.”

That one statement, taken from an interview Louie Anderson did with Terry Gross in a 2016 episode of NPR’s Fresh Air, tells you all you want to know about what it takes to make people laugh.

One, you hone your craft. Two, you polish your act to make it seem natural and “unburdened.” And three, you make the audience feel special. All these things Anderson, who died recently at age 68, mastered.

One of eleven children, Anderson’s family was poor, and his father was an alcoholic. Louie suffered from obesity and depression. These conditions did not overwhelm him; he used them as material. As a performer, Louie saw himself as one who could alleviate it, if only for the audience’s time in the theater. 

Life as a comedy

As child number ten, Louie formed a close bond with his mother. So close that when Louie played the role of the mother to Chip (played by Zack Galifianakis) in the television series, Baskets, elements of his real-life mother seeped into the character.

As Anderson told Terry Gross, he would tell jokes, chiefly about his family as well as himself.

At Thanksgiving, my mom always makes too much food, especially one item, like 700 or 800 pounds of sweet potatoes. She’s got to push it during the meal. ‘Did you get some sweet potatoes? There’s sweet potatoes. They’re hot. There’s more in the oven, some more in the garage. The rest are at the Johnson’s.’” 

“My mom was a garage sale person, save money [to] save money. She’d get in that garage sale and point stuff out to you. ‘There’s a good fork for a nickel. Yeah, that’s beautiful. It’s a little high. If it were three cents, I’d snap it up.’”

“My mom ate every piece of butter in the Midwest, she lived till she was 90. And my dad, he smoked, he drank – we finally just had to kill him.” [“My dad quit drinking when he was 69,” Louie told Terry Gross, “and here was my mom’s response. She turned to me, and she said, ‘I told you he’d quit drinking.’”]

“My first words were ‘Seconds, please.’ Most kids in kindergarten napped on a little rug. I had a braided 9 x 12.”

“I’m a 7 o’clock act. My people want to go to a show, a dinner, and then go home and go to bed.” 

Keeping it real

Lessons managers can learn from Anderson is the commitment to work, continuous improvement over time, and a willingness to connect with others.

For all his stardom, Louie never lost the sense of himself. After his first appearance on the Tonight Show in 1983, he received a warm response from Johnny Carson, then the biggest arbiter of standup talent. Louie was on cloud nine, or as he says, “heaven.” 

The Comedy Cellar in Los Angeles held an after-glow party for Louie. “And a guy comes up to me and goes, are you, Louie Anderson? And I go, I am. And I put my hand out to meet him. And he goes, I don’t want to meet you. Could you move your car?”

First posted on Forbes.com 2.00.2022

How to Take Responsibility

Oops!

That was the sentiment many people felt when Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellin’s admission about inflation. “I think I was wrong then about the path that inflation would take,” Ms. Yellin told CNN about her comments from a year ago that inflation would be “a small risk” and not “be a problem.”

Secretary Yellin added, “There have been unanticipated and large shocks to the economy that boosted energy and food prices, and supply bottlenecks, that have affected our economy badly that I, at the time, didn’t fully understand. But we recognize that now.”

Ms. Yellin was not alone in this belief, but as the Secretary of the Treasury, responsible for fiscal management, it was a stunning admission. Many citizens regard inflation as the nation’s number one problem. Every time they buy groceries or fill up at the pump, they pay more. As a result, anger and frustration with Ms. Yellin’s boss, President Biden, rises.

Therefore, it takes a person of solid character to admit when they are wrong, especially about a significant issue. The lesson for managers is to admit a mistake and find solutions. While it might be tempting to duck and hide – as many in our political class do regularly—doing so merely passes the buck, allowing the problem to fester and worsen.

What to do next

Everyone makes mistakes. Rather than deflect, the challenge becomes to own the problem and become part of the solution.

Admit the mistake. Address the issue straight on without making excuses. Take responsibility without prevarication.

Stake the consequences. Explain why the mistake occurred. Talk about the consequences of the error. Layout the case in full. 

Find solutions. Make yourself part of the solution. Invite others to join you. 

Own the issue

“When you make a mistake,” said legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant, “there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.” Owning a mistake requires the capacity to demonstrate vulnerability and the commitment to learn from it. Learning requires the capacity to determine the root cause of the problem, listen to those closest to the program, and then mobilize for action.

There are exceptions. Mistakes due to incompetence or ethical transactions deserve consequences. Those mistakes require discipline and often removal. Doing so keeps the organization rooted in solid values.

Stepping forward

When employees see their managers own their mistakes, they see the “real person.” One of the traits that followers like to see in their leaders is vulnerability. A leader who can stand up and admit a mistake reveals his limitations. A leader who works to find solutions by enlisting the support of others demonstrates that the organization needs to move forward, and such movement can only occur when people coalesce and work together.

First posted on Forbes.com on 6.02.2022

How Executive Coaching Facilitates Positive Change

Executive coaching is a journey of self-discovery; the coach enables the individual to see themselves in a new light. It is the root of behavior-based coaching; it focuses on performance, the choices, and the actions the individual makes. The results can be both transactional as well as transformative. There is a caveat, however.

The results are measurable, but the coach is one step removed. 

However, it is practical to frame executive coaching in two different avenues. Transactional coaching is rooted in process—the how of what we do. Transformative coaching is anchored in discovery—learning the why of what we do. So let’s take them one at a time.

Change on the outside

Transaction coaching focuses on improving a skill. Michelle Tillis Lederman, executive coach and author of The Connector’s Advantage, says: “When there is a specific objective to accomplish such as, change an industry, get a new job,” transactional coaching is appropriate. 

Evelyn Rodstein, an executive coach with a background as a senior corporate executive, says, “The best coaching uses transactional skills as the foundation upon which to build the coachee’s transformational change into a leader performing at a whole new level.”

For example, a coach may discuss ways to become a better listener or avoid interrupting others. Listening is essential to effective leadership, so learning to do it better is valuable. In addition, listening forms the basis of connection. From that connection flows an ability to engage another’s interests as well as their aspirations. 

Change from within

Transformational coaching addresses behavior. Tillis Lederman says, “This is when we are seeking to make inner changes to how we think or act. Something is holding us back or not working for us, and we want to uncover the behaviors that are getting in the way.” 

Our perceptions of people are based upon their actions. Therefore, self-awareness is critical to personal growth and development. By gathering feedback from colleagues, the coach can present a picture of how they are viewed in the workplace. Using feedback can enable the individual to understand how their behavior affects others negatively or positively.

Fundamental to executive coaching, however, is the desire to change. No teaching or no feedback will change another. Instead, they must want to change and do the work necessary to make positive changes that facilitate more significant levels of engagement, performance, and self-understanding.

Transactional and transformational change

Many coaches mix both styles of coaching. Dean Miles, president of Bridgepoint Coaching & Strategy, says, “This idea of being either transactional or transformative I find to be limiting. If the goal is to motivate an unmotivated individual merely, you may need to acknowledge the limited amount of effort available. If, however, you have a motivated individual who needs inspiration with limitless effort available. Then use both in parallel.” 

Miles continues, “As an executive coach, and I must choose which path to journey I would take the client down the path of why (transformative). If there is a high willingness and the client needs to start fast, I feel confident to take a shortcut straight to the how (transactional).”

Rodstein also believes that transactional and transformational coaching can go hand in hand. She relates the story of a senior leader who was promoted to the C-suite. Early in his role, her client needed to learn to present to the board and negotiate with the CEO. Those skills are transactional. As the coaching progressed, Rodstein helped her client see himself in a new light to gain the confidence necessary for his expanded management role. That coaching is transformational.

“The best coaching helps the leader develop the transactional skill set to manage and deliver stellar business results,” says Rodstein.  “The best coaching also allows the coachee to expand his mindset, identity, and authenticity. It takes both to run a world-class business.”

First posted on CEOWorld magazine on 2/28/2022

Intuition in Coaching

My father, who practiced family medicine for more than 40 years, was a rigorous student of medical literature and was board certified multiple times. Yet Dad, who passed away in 2007, used to say that what he loved most about his practice was the “art of medicine.”

In medicine, the diagnosis may come from science, but it may also come from intuition. The same goes for executive coaching but first, let’s explore the role that intuition plays in medicine.

Art and practice

Anna Yusim, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist on the clinical faculty at Yale, believes that “intuition is important in the practice of medicine precisely because medicine is an art and a science. As physicians, our reason and rationality can help us delineate possible causes of a given illness based on our medical education, clinical experience, scientific data, and double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials.”

“Intuition,” says Dr. Yusim, is the still, quiet voice that can only be heard when the screaming voices of our thoughts and emotions temporarily cease.”

According to David Fessell, a retired physician, intuition in medicine “can show up when a patient looks sick’ even though their blood pressure, pulse, white blood counts are all within normal limits.” Yet, says Dr. Fessell, “An experienced nurse, physician, or other health care worker may have seen patients in the past who looked this way—before their numbers went downhill. So it can prompt a more thorough investigation that can save a life.”

Dr. Yusim adds, “Intuition can guide us when reason alone does not lead to a solution or cure. Intuition enables us to ask questions which may, at the outset, seem counterintuitive, but may ultimately lead to the proper diagnosis or treatment.”

Link to executive coaching

Intuition can play a role in executive coaching. Dr. Fessell, who is also an executive coach, author, and speaker on wellness, resilience, and humor, advises his clients to “develop deep domain expertise. Talk about issues and scenarios with people who have more experience.” Dr. Fessell adds, “Consider discussions with people who have different domain expertise. Track your intuitions over time and see if you can pinpoint the factor(s) that are impacting it. This [practice] can help you have an idea of your accuracy. It’s easy to forget the times you are incorrect.”

Dr. Yusim, who is also an executive coach and the author of Fulfilled: How the Science of Spirituality Can Help You Live a Happier, More Meaningful Life, says, “We help our [coaching} clients optimize their functionality in all aspects of life. A key component of this is enabling clients to become more comfortable trusting their intuition… The more attuned [clients] become to their inner world, the more their intuition will expand in ways they could never have anticipated.” Such practices “gives them greater clarity, confidence, and competence [when making] important decisions.”

Limits to intuition

However, there are limits, says Dr. Yusim, “When you make an important decision based on intuition,” says Dr. Yusim, “it may be difficult to justify to your colleagues if this decision is not also the most ‘reasonable’ decision. In this way, reason and intuition can sometimes be at odds with each other.”

Dr. Fessell agrees. “Data and analysis, when available, are fundamental and the backbone of most successful strategies. Intuition can be a spice to add sparingly. If you use it, know your limits. Be prepared to be wrong so that you, and others, don’t get hurt.”

Intuition, therefore, plays a role in executive coaching as it does in medicine, but it should be used in tandem with science and experience.

First posted on Forbes.com 00.00.2022

Coaching the Inner Self

When Sam Waterston was preparing to play the role of Abraham Lincoln—one he has played several times—he decided to visit the Library of Congress while he was in Washington, D.C. While there, he had the opportunity to see and physically hold some of Lincoln’s letters. He even held in his hands the contents of what was found in Lincoln’s pockets on the night of his assassination. It was an experience, as Waterston explained to Dave Davies on NPR’s Fresh Air, that helped him ground his performance and ultimately connected him to his character.

Connection is essential in acting. Actors have many techniques for finding a link to their character. Often directors help them discover. In his bookA Sense of Direction, Willliam Ball, a noted stage director, talks about the objective. One could call it motivation, but labeling it an objective makes it more tangible. Ball argues that the operative word for actors in finding their objective is “want.” 

What does the character want in life – wealth, a family, peace in the world? Knowing that objective grounds the actor in the reality of his character. Knowing what the character wants enables her to learn to act the role and play specific lines or do a bit of stage business.  Directors, as Ball argues, should not give actors their objectives. Actors need to come to their own conclusions in their reading of the script.

Connection + objective

The link between connection and objective is essential in executive coaching. As with stage directors, their role is to facilitate self-understanding so that individuals come to their moments and levels of self-awareness. 

Some actors create their backstories, either doing it by themselves or, in certain instances, with two lead characters developing it collaboratively. Thoroughly knowing their characters prepares them to play the role with a degree of authenticity, something that resonates with audiences.

Similarly, coaches prepare individuals with tools such as assessments and feedback. Assessments enable the individual to uncover his tendencies and biases that result in behavior. Feedback is a kind of backstory; it observes what you have done and how you connect with others. 

There also is the technique developed by Marshall Goldsmith calls “feed-forward,” which is the process of the coach, together with trusted stakeholders, giving an individual “notes” (an acting term) about his progress through the coaching process. These notes enable the individual to determine his progress in real-time.

Cautionary note

There is a significant difference, of course, between acting and coaching. One is for pretend; the other is for real. And when the two become confused, that is, the actor believes he is his character, or the coachee “acts” his role, the outcome is inauthenticity, the opposite of what’s desired.

Discovering your character

A comparison between the two disciplines is helpful, however. They want an actor strives for is the same as the behavior change a coachee aspires to. Both require work, and here are some questions borrowed from the acting world that can help an individual discover herself more genuinely.

  • What gets you up in the morning?
  • What is holding you back from what you want to achieve?
  • What do you need to STOP doing to achieve your goals?
  • How can you enlist others to support you in your change efforts?
  • How will you measure the success of this coaching process?

Self-knowledge

These questions are only a starting point. Together with the coach, the individual can come up with other questions that will enable more significant degrees of self-awareness.

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart,” wrote a father of psychiatry and psychoanalysis, Karl Jung. “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” Know yourself, and you know the world—and what you can accomplish in it—better.

First posted on Forbes.com 00.00.2022

Five Ways to Put Intuition to Work

“It’s difficult writing a cookbook with someone who is not an intuitive cook. It’s like making love to a German.” This line is uttered by Julia Child’s French co-author, Simone “Simca” Beck, who is exasperated by Julia’s sense of exactitude. Simca prefers, as she says, “je ne sais quoi.”

The line, which is said in the new HBO series, Julia, is played for comedic effect, but it does get to the heart of why we sometimes struggle. It may because we value methodology over our intuition.

Julia Child herself was a gourmet cook, but it was something she worked hard to master. Like her husband, Paul, she worked in the OSS—the precursor to the CIA. Post-War, Paul transitioned to the State Department and was stationed in Paris, where Julia attended the Cordon Bleu School. Eventually, she wrote a book, Mastering the Art of French CookingThe title implies that cooking is not always precise; there is an art to it. The art emerges from experience and, in time, intuition about how to do it better.

Art of management

There is an art to management as there is to leadership, too. Management is the practice of administration; leadership is the art of inspiration. Good managers practice both. They care for their teams by putting people into positions where they can succeed. Experienced managers have a feel about how things should work, and they share their understanding and intuition with others.

Intuition in business comes from seeing things that others do not. For example, one CEO I worked with had the uncanny knack of looking at a spreadsheet and opportunities where others did not. His insights came from his understanding of business and intuition, which lent him the ability to sift peril from potential as the resolve to act. Was he always right? Of course not. But correct enough to grow his business substantially.

So how do the rest of us maximize our management intuition? 

Learn the game. Know your market and how your business serves the customers. Find out what your customers not just want but desire to use or own. Think a step ahead.

Study “the chessboard.” Know the game you are playing. Too often, we are so close to the action that we cannot see the knights from the bishops or the king from the queen. This perspective means you see your competitors, but you fail to understand their intentions. 

Trust your gut. Pull the trigger. Second-guessing yourself is your prep. Decide and move quickly.

Fail fast. If circumstances change, be ready to act again. Surround yourself with people you can trust. These are the people who can tell you when you are wrong, even when you do not want to listen. Respect them enough to pay attention to what they say.

What it takes to lead

“Management is about arranging and telling,” best-selling author and management theorist Tom Peters wrote. “Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” Managers get their ducks lined up and then encourage them to fly. 

However, neither can happen without an intuitive sense of how organizations work and how people in them respond to stimuli. Intuition and discipline, therefore, go hand in hand.

First posted on Forbes.com 4.18.2022

Dispelling Ambiguity in the Hybrid Workplace

Set clear expectations!

That is rule number one in manager and employee relations. What a manager wants from an employee begins with the job description and gains credence when the person is hired, and the job is explained. Yet because this rule is so apparent, it is easy to forget.

Something fundamental to the expectations equation is even more critical now. It is clarity. Be specific about what the job is and what an employee must do to satisfy requirements. However, there is more urgency now to clarify that we are migrating to the hybrid workplace where employers and employees come to the office on an as yet to be a determined basis. 

Defining clarity

Clarity, as Bartleby, the workplace columnist for The Economist, writes, “One of the great theoretical attractions of hybrid working to employees is that they get to choose what days they come in. But the point of in-person working is to spend time collaborating and bonding with their colleagues: that is much more likely to happen if companies are clear about who they want in the office on which days of the week.”

Cali Williams Yost, Founder & CEO of the Flex + Strategy Group, a strategic advisory firm, advises managers to begin with clarity. “Not just the tasks of each person’s job, but also what are the broader strategic priorities of the business and the aspects of the culture we value.”

In short, there must be agreement on when and where employees work. And now, in a time when employees have been accustomed to determining their hours when working virtually, their sense of autonomy is heightened. Therefore, before management decides which days employees convene, managers should converse with their employees to determine their wants and needs.

According to Yost, who has been advising on flexible work environments for 20 years, management creates clarity when it is explicit about what needs to be done. Yet there must be wiggle-room. “At the enterprise-level, flexible operating guardrails should be as broad as possible to allow adaptation to the realities of different departments, jobs, and people deeper in the organization.” When such “guardrails” are established, managers “have the flexibility and freedom to work and manage their lives to make sense for the business and for them personally. Otherwise, it can feel like chaotic, inefficient whack-a-mole.”

New role for managers

Some companies are okay with employees mainly working virtually, but those same companies expect managers back in the office most of the time. “The realities of the business they run should dictate how, when, and where [managers] lead a flexible work team,” says Ms. Yost, author of Tweak It: Make What Matters Happen to You Every Day. “It requires mastering the basics of good management that are no longer optional, like setting clear goals and priorities, regular check-ins, providing feedback and development opportunities.” 

The world of work has changed, too. Management “means getting comfortable coordinating and communicating intentionally across onsite and remote locations and recalibrating the way work is done as realities of the business and people change,” says Yost.

Flexible options

One company, Ansana, cited in the Bartleby column, has “meetings free” Wednesdays. However, if a manager wants a meeting on that day, they must discuss it with employees first, e.g., something the firm labels as “re-contracting.”

This approach is in line with what Cali Yost advises. “One-size-does-NOT-fit-all in terms of how, when, and where the work is done best based on the realities of a particular industry, or even across departments, teams, and people. The consistency does have to come from the process an enterprise and a team follows to set their flexible operating guardrails, not from the same outcome for every job.”

As Yost explains, “some tasks and priorities may be done best onsite, while others they may be done better remotely or perhaps it doesn’t matter whether it’s onsite or remote. That task or priority gets done well” due to factors like “the nature of the job, the maturity, and experience of the team.”

This approach is not without difficulty. “It takes effort, experimentation, and time,” says Yost. “People are tired, and they want easy answers” that are not easy to come by in times of uncertainty. Such feelings do not go away quickly, but what Yost has determined through her work is that both managers and employees report that flexibility, supported by enterprise-wide guardrails, provides clarity as well as the ability to be productive.

Flexibility is essential

Ultimately the success of the hybrid workplace will depend upon flexibility, allowing employers and employees to determine the best working hours. And in doing so, they might discover that things go better when they are discussed openly and collaboratively and with greater clarity.

First posted on Forbes.com 5.17.2022

Marshall Goldsmith: How to Earn Your Life

Try this.

Step one. “Do for yourself what you have done for others.” You have shared advice with others when they could not see it for themselves. Therefore, “you are capable of imagining a new path. You’ve done it for others. Do it for yourself.”

Step two. Ask yourself: “What do you want to do for the rest of your life?”

This exercise, called “Flip the Script,” comes from The Earned Life: Lose Regret, Choose Fulfillmentby Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter. Goldsmith is a legend in human development because he is one of the seminal figures who pioneered the potential of executive coaching. Coaching over 300 CEOs gave him an unmatched cache. 

His impact, however, emanates not from his credentials. Instead, it is his plain-spoken “street cred.” In-person, as in print, Marshall is a generous soul. He makes the complex simple, not by giving you the answers. Rather he does it by challenging you to think for yourself. After nearly 50 years of exploring human behavior, The Earned Life is an insight into what makes us tick and how we can tick over even better.

Getting started

One of the central issues that forms the book’s backbone is what he calls The Great Western Disease, that is, “I’ll be happy when…” Nothing wrong with aspirations, but to let them define you, and worse, deprive you of joy on the way up is heartbreaking. So Marshall urges a different path. Stop beating yourself up. Live in the present.

Marshall offers the Earning Checklist that is anchored in four attributes he wrote about in his doctoral thesis when he was 27 years old. These attributes are motivation, ability, understanding, and confidence. Delving more deeply, Marshall dissects each in ways that challenge the reader to think about why they are motivated, what abilities they possess, and how our understandings have shaped up. Confidence is critical. As Marshall writes, confidence “is the product of all your other positive virtues and choices, and then it returns the favor by making you even stronger in those areas.”

Nothing happens overnight

“Earning your life is the long game. Check that: It’s the long game.” Playing that game, which is your life, requires two things: “self and situation awareness.” Work these disciplines until you feel that your earned life becomes a habit, something you do as part of your routine. In short, such a habit enables you to become a more fulfilled version of yourself.

Note of caution. Credibility is not a “do it once” endeavor. “It’s one thing to be competent, it’s another thing to gain credibility with one but not the other,” as Marshal writes. “You have to earn it twice.” Failure to reinforce your credibility diminishes your ability to “make a positive difference – and lessening the impact of your life.”

Practical and tactical

Filled with stories and exercises, The Earned Life also contains some of Marshall’s best practices that he developed and shared globally, sometimes for decades. Chief among them is Feedforward. As Marshall writes, “Feedback comprises people’s opinions of your past behavior, feedforward represents other people’s ideas that you should be using in the future.” 

This approach forms the basis of Stakeholder-Centered Coaching, which is a process that enables leaders to learn from their stakeholders who have a vested interest in the leader’s success. The process requires vulnerability, but the payoff is two-fold. As Marshall writes, “Leaders earned their employee’s respect. Employees earned their CEO’s gratitude.”

The Earned Life explores what life can offer us if we are willing to shirk self-imposed constraints. If we are ready to invest ourselves in becoming our better selves – however we define it — then, and only then, can we say that we have deserved our place. We have earned it.

First posted on SmartBrief.com on 5.13.2022

Close the Loop

Even the best managers sometimes fail in one aspect of their communications. 

But first, let’s talk about what they do well.

  • One, they communicate purpose, letting people know what the organization believes and how their contributions matter.
  • Two, they make vision and mission tangible. Their management behaviors reinforce what the organization is trying to achieve.
  • Three, they listen to their people. They pay attention and listen with intention.

All these steps are positive.

What managers forget

What do good managers – all of them well-intended – forget to do?

Close the loop!

Closing the loop means letting people know when and why vital decisions have been made.

Very obvious–and so apparent–it’s not always communicated.

The backstory

For example, good managers solicit the input of others when discussing important issues. Good managers encourage a healthy debate. Wisely they often speak last so as not to influence the discussion. (This practice avoids “going along with the boss” syndrome.)

At the same time, the boss may solicit advice on a course of action from individuals one at a time—all well and good.

So here’s what happens. The decision is made, and people who have contributed to that decision are not informed.

This habit makes people feel left out and in the cold.

What managers should do

A manager who solicits ideas is under no obligation to act upon those ideas. 

However, what she is obligated to do is thank others for their suggestions. Then let them know who made the decision and why it was made. 

We call this “closing the loop.”

Closing the loop does three essential things: 

  • One, it communicates the decision and reason for it; and 
  • Two, it affirms the value of the person who made the suggestion. 
  • Three, it lets them know their input is valued and will be sought again.

Closing the loop makes employees feel included and valued and crucial to the team.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 4.22.2022

Lesson from Ukraine

After Pablo Picasso received word that Nazi dive bombers, flying on behalf of Franco’s Nationalist forces, had destroyed a city in the Basque country of his native Spain, he was inspired to memorialize the devastation. 

The result, a huge mural on canvas, would become a commemoration of the horror of modern warfare.  

He called his work “Guernica.”

Today we see the equivalent of Guernica live on round-the-clock news. So our challenge becomes how we should react.

Our response

The human reaction, of course, is to sympathize with the Ukrainians whose worlds have been turned upside down. When we see footage of this disruption, we empathize. The video of the little boy walking all by himself into Poland is etched in our hearts. His tears may have moved us to tears. 

How we mobilize can take many different forms. First, it will be to stay vigilant and keep abreast of the news for some. Others will want to donate to reputable organizations that are actively using their funds to provide food, clothing, and shelter for the Ukrainians, both inside and outside of their homeland.

The Polish people have been exceptionally generous. They, whose people have known centuries of war, are opening their borders to Ukrainians. The refugees are given food, water, and toiletries at the train stations. At one point, authorities said they did not need shelters for the newcomers because many Poles were opening their homes to Ukrainians.

And it’s not just the Poles. One news report show told the story of a 75-year old widower who resided in a border town in Moldova. He had taken in a mother, her pregnant daughter, and two children. He told the reporter that these refugees could stay as long as they wanted.

It should be noted that few, if any of these Ukrainians, are seeking a better life outside of their country. They have been displaced, but they are not seeking a replacement country. Their loyalty, commitment, and love of country are something to admire.

Sacrifice writ large

Reflecting on the trauma overseas gives us a window into a fortitude. Ukrainian men are staying to fight; in fact, all men between 18 and 60 must remain in-country if they are needed for national service.

Service to the nation is the highest calling of a patriot. Flying a flag may make us feel good. However, lifting a weapon in defiance is an act of resistance with life and death consequences.

As we in the West look at the unfolding catastrophe, we are wise to consider what we would do in similar circumstances. Sacrifice for the greater good is heroic. It requires bravery.

“Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency,” wrote the poet Maya Angelou. “We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” And the people of Ukraine—and their neighbors–are giving us an example of what it means to live these words.

First posted on Forbes.com 3/10/2022