Miami's first-year students are all in Oxford and the rest of the upperclass students are completing the process today and tomorrow. That means classes are on the horizon and the seriousness of academic pursuit is just around the corner.
Miami chooses a book each year for new students to read. The author then addresses the class and discussion groups follow under the guidance of faculty/staff and students. This year's book is Ahmad's War - Ahmad's Peace by Michael Goldfarb. I generally enjoy all these books so it's not unusual for me to resonate with the themes they include. However, this year, my imagination was stirred more than usual by this amazing story of an Iraqi citizen who lived through the dictatorship of Hussein, hoped for so much during the invasion of U.S.A. and British forces, worked so hard to help his fellow citizens learn how to engage in democracy, and then lost his life by assassination. This story is the epitome of leadership through acting on conviction. Not only is Ahmad's story one of conviction but the author as well. They both represent wonderful examples of what can happen both positively and tragically when we act on our convictions.
I don't mean to be morbid or melodramatic in this post. Most often, acting on our convictions does not lead to death. But, the fact is, in the more courageous circumstances, we don't know if our leadership might lead to assassination - by loss of life, loss of reputation, loss of stability, loss of privilege. There are so many kinds of losses that are possible. When we step up to leadership, the world has the potential of becoming a better place and we have the potential of immortalization because we stand for something. But even with these positive possibilities, there are devastating outcomes that can come to us at the hands of those who oppose our convictions. Most of us work toward compromises that keep others with us and work toward mutual goals and benefits. However, there are times when this is not possible and we don't really know when we might face one of these.
If leadership has the potential to take us places we don't want to go, then why would we want to go down that path? For starters, most of the paths will take us to positive places. In other cases, we won't know what lies beyond the twists and turns of the path. We are likely to start with an innocent perspective that is uninformed about the potential negative consequences. We cannot worry about the pessimistic outcomes or we would never act.
This afternoon, Nick Longo and I will speak to the Morris Hall "Leadership, Excellence, and Community" residents about how to begin the journey of leadership. I intend to use the Goldfarb book to position the topic and hope that students understand what I'm talking about. It's hard for 18 year olds to grasp the importance of leadership and the power they have within themselves. However, I think it's our responsibility to help them to begin taking themselves seriously and that, after all, is what being an educator is all about!