So I’m watching the Masterclass by Doris Kearns Goodwin on Presidential Leadership, and I’m struck by a couple things that stand out:
- A lot of the great presidents were great affected by the adversity they faced. With Abraham Lincoln, it was a bout of severe depression that nearly did him in, so bad that his friends actually went to his home and hid his knives. For Teddy Roosevelt, it was the death of his wife that led to him essentially high-tailing it for the hills. For Franklin Roosevelt, it was Polio.
- And what came out of that adversity was a powerful urge to do something great. I don’t mean “presidential” great, either. For Lincoln, it was about getting involved in politics. For Teddy Roosevelt, it was establishing a love for the environment. For FDR, it meant something more personal: helping the handicapped and Polio-stricken.
I’ve never faced that adversity. I’m privileged enough to have avoided anything along the lines of a deceased spouse or a crippling disease. I wonder sometimes how that affects my character. If I’m missing something crucial about what it means to live a real life. I wonder even more often whether I can make something positive out of that privilege.
Another thing Lincoln did was he would write letters to people he was angry with, but he never sent them. You can read some of these. I really like this idea. Lincoln used it as a mechanism for working through his feelings, not necessarily as a simple form of catharsis. Lincoln was a very empathetic individual, and this empathetic intelligence drove his decision-making process (which is why he never sent the letter in the link!). I’d like to try this. Who would you write a letter to?