I had an interesting conversation with a Bernie Sanders supporter recently and was treated to a vehement, negative rant about President Obama’s endorsement of Biden.

This person is under 25 and said they will, in fact, vote for Joe Biden despite their deep disappointment and utter lack of faith in the “traditional” political system. That good old practical, incremental political change being peddled by the folks in power is a bitter pill that some are refusing to swallow.

But the open anger with Obama’s message startled me.

I have rarely heard anyone under 25 (in my somewhat limited circle) openly criticize Obama, let alone exhibit such disgust and disappointment with his message. 

Apparently Obama’s choice to only endorse Biden when it was apparent he had the delegates to be the Democratic nominee made some young folks lose respect for him. 

I talked about what I thought the strategy around Obama’s choice of timing meant. How endorsing Biden early would cause people to accuse Obama of trying to influence the race. Or how endorsing anyone other than Biden would automatically sink Biden because it would signal a lack of confidence from his boss.

We went through a few more scenarios and explanations but nothing shook their opinion. The bottom line was that Obama lost respect because the endorsement didn’t feel true. The timing was so strategic and calculated that his endorsement had lost all authenticity.

It no longer mattered. 

When I think of the “leadership moments” so many are experiencing with the Covid-19 pandemic, I can see how choices to focus on controlling the message, the brand, or “the optics” can lead to a loss of authenticity.  Too much time spent plotting strategy like its a chess game can destroy years of social capital and good will.

In addition to the strategy and planning necessary to make decisions and respond to this emergency, it’s clear authenticity and servant leadership are going to be equally important to those impacted.

How will you be an authentic servant leader during this constantly evolving crisis? 

Often people think these kinds of questions are only for those with broad authority like the politicians, industrialists, and corporate executives. But even those without authority have opportunities to lead in some “realm of influence”, even if it’s only ourselves, or with others in our home. 

We have some good examples of servant leadership from politicians (Mike DeWine, Governor of Ohio comes to mind), business owners like Chef José Andrés, and an ongoing litany of groups and individual citizens stepping up when and where they can. 

Those examples of everyday people, celebrities, and local store owners remind us that even in the midst of a pandemic, with chaos and high, (high!) anxiety about the future, we still own our actions. 

It will be interesting to see if Barack Obama can recover the trust he lost and how, if at all, the Biden campaign will incorporate Sanders campaign slogan “Not me. Us” which is an unambiguous call for authentic servant leadership.  

And finally, a Public Service Announcement you may have heard before.

Long ago I decided to openly share my political leanings on my blog and business website.

Mainly because folks who disagree with the work I do are going to assume I’m a bleeding heart liberal  (do people still say that?), or an “elitist”, or a Commie, or a Socialist, or whatever pejorative is au Courant. It’s simpler to be clear.

If you’ve worked with me as a coach, or participated in one of my workshops, you’ve heard some version of my core beliefs:

  • We are all good people doing the best we can – and we can do better.
  • Assume ignorance before malice.
  • To know the good is to do the good.
  • The common good is worth individual commitment.

These are beliefs that inform my thinking and my actions. The language may change depending on the audience, but the guiding principle is static.

Maybe its 6 weeks of isolation, or maybe its my over-dosing on the news, but I am struggling damn hard today to live my values.

The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified behaviors that once upon a time in our society would have been unthinkable. The one that’s getting to me today is the appropriation of the language of civil rights struggles to promote a fringe, anti-quarantine agenda.

It is twisted and cruel.

Some may call it framing or spin, but I fully believe “words create worlds” to paraphrase David Cooperider.  So calling “Stay-at-home rules” a “Lockdown Order” makes space for all kinds of outrage and false equivalence.

Citizens unhappy about actions meant to protect the majority – to which they belong – are posturing as if their civil rights are being trampled. I want to know:

  • Who is marginalized?
  • Who is disenfranchised?
  • Who is being sacrificed because “we” are more important than “them”?

There’s a big difference between believing you are marginalized or disenfranchised, and demonstrated evidence that you, in fact, historically and currently, have fewer rights and less power.

Anti-quarantine rallies have appropriated phrases like “My body, my choice” to support not wearing a mask. The same “choice” that they would withhold for a women’s personal reproduction decisions.

When I say “My body, my choice” I mean I will fight for everyone’s right to make their own reproductive decisions and I won’t interfere with your choice.  Appropriated that phrase means “My choice will be your choice too.”

Anti-quarantine folks equate their “struggle against injustice” and loss of their liberty to shop, dine out, and watch sports, to Rosa Parks’ fight for integration and civil rights after slavery and Jim Crow.

Even though public safety is a common good, not evidence of oppression, anti-quarantine folks are falsely equating pandemic safety measures to actual genocide – to Hitler putting “Jews on trains”.

I support Free Speech because I value my rights enough to fight for your right to express your views even when I find them morally reprehensible. Like the statement about Hitler.

Today I can feel myself struggling to find my balance and grace in the face of the appropriated language and the many inflammatory, falsely equivalent headlines.

So I am reminding myself right now, out loud and in front of you,  “I am a good person doing the best I can, and I know I can do better.”

I know we can all do better.

FDR Memorial, Washington DC

I remember the first time I felt like I was rich.

Standing in the check out line at the grocery store I realized I hadn’t mentally added everything up to make sure I stayed on budget, I just put what I wanted in the cart willy-nilly.

And I was shopping at Heinen’s, a “more expensive” Cleveland grocery that met a lot of our vegetarian needs cheaper than Whole Foods.

Heinen’s was the store my husband grew up with but I struggled with shopping there because they have a policy that you leave your cart in the store, take a number, and then drive up and they put your groceries in the car for you.

I’m sure this keeps the carts in good shape, helps the parking lot be less insane, and makes the elderly, infirm, pregnant and exhausted feel grateful, but I was none of those things.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it and so I would carry all the bags to my car in one awkward, often painful trip to avoid making the workers wait on me.  

I carried my own bags for years from some misguided idea about solidarity mixed with guilt over being able to afford shop there in the first place. 

Over time I came to notice and understand my visceral reactions that make me feel “rich” or “poor”.

Wealth is relative and external comparisons are imprecise at best. I’ve written before about how comparisons are usually rigged to make us feel either inferior or superior, but feeling rich is different somehow.  

I am still frugal in a lot of ways and can pinch a penny until it pinches back, but buying whatever food I want still feels indulgent. It’s not like I’m buying caviar, truffles and $50 bottles of wine, rather it is the sensation of being able to choose food without restraint.

I feel rich, and privileged and happy walking through a farmers market knowing I can buy things because they are beautiful.

I fall in love with peppers and leeks and fresh dug carrots. I can spend an excessive amount of time choosing from 7 kinds of lettuces and heirloom tomatoes. I want the eggs from the organic, patchouli-smelling hippy that puts out pictures of his happy chickens, and olives from the man who spends 6 months of each year in Greece on his family farm. I want to sample and buy the expensive cheeses from the tiny boutique creamery run by two sisters.

Unfortunately my bougie love of shopping for food that inspires me has been completely wiped out during the COVID-19 safety measures. And thats more than ok, its outstanding. I would eat only frozen vegetables 😦 for the rest of my life if it meant no one else died from the virus. 

And I know how rich I am because I can stay home.

Now, as we continue to struggle with adapting to a reality shaped by SARS-CoV-2 (it’s real name by the way), I see more and more people expressing gratitude for health care workers and deep appreciation for the wage workers who keep the groceries running and deliver the take-out. 

It makes me hopeful that we will soon have open discussions about the historic and current systems that perpetuate marginalization, oppression and gross inequity in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. 

And I continue to wrestle with the ways that I want to communicate about these tough topics when folks are under profound levels of stress. Maybe that makes it an even better time?

Meanwhile, I stay home and walk around my neighborhood – masked and very distant! – taking pictures of whatever is in bloom to share with friends on Instagram, and remind myself there are many ways to feel rich.