In speaking about what it means to foster resilient hopefulness in our organizations, something needs to be said that as often as not has the most relevance to those of us who play essential and necessary leadership roles within organizations. Those who give hopeful leadership to organizations are meek. By this I mean quite simply something along the lines of the biblical understanding of meekness: that if we are hopeful, it means we do not carry resentments. We let be the wrongs of the past be in the past and we are willing to work with those who may well have wronged us and offended us and let us down. We get beyond vengeance.
Many of us grieved the encounter between two people in Central Park, New York City – both named Cooper – in the summer of 2020. Mr. Cooper, the Black birdwatcher was distressed when a woman – also named Cooper – had her dog off-leash in a birding section of the park. He called her out and she immediately panicked and started to phone the police saying she was being attacked by a black man. I was an unfortunately example of racism that was captured by Mr. Cooper’s video-tape on his smart phone. The outcome was that she lost her job and her dog as she was shamed in the national media for this a racist reaction. But what is also noteworthy is that Mr. Cooper really and truly did not wish Ms Cooper and her dog any harm; he did not seek vengeance; he did not want her to lose her job or be shamed. He very truly only wanted her to take care when walking her dog that she did not disrupt the bird life in that section of the park.
Without doubt, our journey in the work we do – as we give leadership within our organizations – will include one or more, if not multiple times – when others will do something that impedes our work, goes against us, undermines us, sets us back. We will be treated unjustly and dishonorably. This will happen. And these people will not just go away. And what we know is that It is relatively easy to live perpetually with the resentment.
But it gains little. I am not for a moment suggesting that we deny the wrong that has been done; it is merely that at some point we move on and realize that in the workplace – where we may well have been wronged – we name the reality of the wrong and then we set it aside; we refuse to carry the wrong as a perpetual burden or obstacle to our capacity to work with this person.
Are there limits to what I have just suggested? Can someone work closely with someone who in the past was their abuser? Yes, there are limits. But I have been impressed with the grace of those who have been deeply wronged and yet found in themselves the capacity to dig deep and find the inner strength to seek the greater good and not let their own resentments and wounds undermine their capacity to do the work to which they have been called.
What comes to mind is the words of the Apostle Paul, notably in his letters to the Corinthians: his refusal to pay back wrong for wrong but a resolve to give himself, as he puts it, to “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech . . . [even if, as he put it, they were “treated as imposters.”(2 Cor 6:5-10)].
Few things will impede our capacity to be vehicles of encouragement and hope, within our organizations, like underlying resentment and a residual grievance against someone who has wronged us.