“Leadership is not for sissies”

So, it’s been a great week. Is it because I haven’t been in the classroom much? Rubbing shoulders with philanthropists and politicians? Hard to say.  On Thursday afternoon, I was thoroughly impressed by the humble demeanor  and playfulness of F.W. de Klerk. Moxie gets a little star-struck at times, not by A-list actors or musicians (well maybe a little), but face-to-face with a former head of state? I melted.

My question: “When did your ideology change about blacks and whites in South Africa? When did you come to realize that all should be equal under the law?”

His Answer: “It wasn’t a road to Damascus moment, rather it was a gradual change over time. Ask me that in the Q&A, rush right up there, and I will give you a fuller answer.”

Below is a blurry shot I took while I listened to a rather ignorant undergrad ask the President his thoughts on a federalized Africa. OBVIOUSLY, de Klerk debunked the idea by praising Africa for its love of multi-culturalism. He reminded this young man of how difficult it has been for the relatively homogeneous EU to become federalized, a tremendous continent with varied regions would not benefit from such a system.

While I wasn’t talking to the guest of honor, I snooped around a little and learned that he had flown in that morning on his private plane from Naples, Florida (we have so much in common), and now that he is retired, he spends much of his time on a yacht in the Mediterranean. Must be nice.

Before the speech we had about an hour to kill, and since it feels like spring in Atlanta these days, my professor, another former student, and I basked in the sun and discussed black nationalism. (glorious) Our question: Can you be a black nationalist and believe that race is socially constructed?” In other words, if race is a created concept, how can one promote black unity?

My initial response: I thought all educated people believe that race is a social construct, certainly it is not biological, is there something beyond the obvious binary?

Dr. R: Saying that race is socially constructed says something about power. It means that it is something created by human choice. In the case of race, if white people created an oppressive system, then they created the social construct, which undermines black nationalism…

To introduce his speech, Bridging the Gap: Globalization without Isolation,” he told the audience that after talking to us “students” beforehand, he realized that we wanted to hear about South Africa’s radical transformation over the past 20 years. He was right, and what an incredible formative assessment! He proceeded to discuss the role of leadership in a time of dramatic change. He gave eight qualities leaders need to possess to be successful. I’ve c&ped some of my notes below…

  1. Impartial, dispassionate assessment of reality: relentless self-assessment

South African context: The Nationalist Party could have held on, they could have endured sanctions and international isolation, but they decided  to admit and confront the fear that they had failed to bring justice to South Africa, that their policies had led to manifest injustice, and they had to change course. In history, we know that the prospect of imminent disaster has not always caused leaders to change; this is a hard decision since resistance to change is deeply seeded in all of us. We naturally fear unknown, unchartered territory.

2. Take calculated risks.

It is riskiest to do nothing

3. Avoid temptation of pretending to change

Ex: Gorbachev’s perestroika—didn’t want to admit that there was something deeply wrong with communism, tried to simply alter it to make it better, but that didn’t work

Ex: white South Africa fooled themselves into thinking they could reform softly to avoid dramatic decisions and risks.

They had to abandon separateness and embrace inclusivity. Only then could they initiate real change.

4. Real and achievable vision that gives direction and purpose

You need to be able to measure your progress and convince others to come along with you.

5. Outstanding communication skills

6. Good timing

Even if you are right, if you have the wrong timing, it can be ineffective

You can’t move so far ahead that your followers can’t hear or see you

7. Leaders must persevere until they achieve their objectives

There will be far reaching and unforeseen consequences to decisions, and you will feel like you are steering a canoe in a storm. Many crises will cause or almost cause the canoe to capsize, must learn to endure and react

8. Plan for his/her own departure, leadership is not for sissies!

Accept that change is a never-ending business

Biggest take away: De Klerk’s greatest achievement and legacy is his surrender of control

Genuis or Mad Man?

Disclaimer:I’ve taken Sufjan’s fascination with deconstruction to heart in this post–it’s pretty scattered with no determinate direction.

Saturday was quite the day before THE day…I spent the early afternoon at the High Museum attempting to understand the madness of Salvador Dali, and later Sufjan Stevens was “my entertainment for the evening” at the Tabernacle. I didn’t connect the two until the following morning; both men exemplify the thin line between genius and crazy…or maybe thinking of the spectrum as a line fails to account for postmodern influence. Maybe it’s not a continuum, but a circle. Either way, these dudes are kooky and trippy as hell. Neither is limited to a particular style or medium. Both have a symbolic complexity beyond the ordinary and comprehensible, often (but not always) embodied in the way they title their work: The Remains of an Automobile Giving Birth to a Blind Horse is as intricate as some of the tracks from Illinois like “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois” or “A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the way in Which Sufjan Stevens has an existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze.”

Sufjan walked on stage with wings and a flock of musicians–not a new thing for him, but many in the audience have only google imaged this majesty. He opened with “Seven Swans,” and he slowly spun as he played to reveal the full spectacle of the wings to the audience. In person, he is…beyond description. It felt like Lady GaGa meets Indie rock—lots of costume changes and choreography, but in a subtle, deceptively smooth way. His movements are sharp but soft. Throughout the beginning of the show, I was mesmerized by his beauty.

Check it out in this video someone posted of Vesuvius. My favorite line of this song is “Sufjan, follow your heart…” like he’s talking to himself.

From the title track: he described this song as an “apocalyptic love song.” He must have used the word “apocalyptic” nine times throughout the evening.

For what you see is
Not fantasy, it’s
Not what it gets, but gives
This is the Age of Adz
Eternal living

Gloria, Gloria
It rots
Victoria, Victoria
It lives in all of us

To me, the name Victoria symbolizes colonization—English explorers naming their acquisitions after their queen. After all, land is gendered female. Do you think that like me, Suf is fascinated by the idea of colonization of the mind? Is he saying that each of us harbor a spirit of conquest in some way or another?

Sufjan dedicated “Get Real Get Right” to Royal Robertson, who Wikipedia describes here: “Numerous hallucinatory visions of space travel where aliens predicted the End of Days through complex numerological formulas and warned him about the dangers of adultery and fornication led Robertson to believe that he was a victim of a global female conspiracy. He believed that his ex-wife’s betrayal would be the cause of the cataclysmic destruction of humanity, and that his art was divinely sanctioned.” Sufjan told us that Robertson had been visited by angels, UFO’s, and even God himself on several occasions. Again, the line between genuis and mad man blurs. Robertson is responsible for all of the album artwork, and the screen displayed his trailer home with his prolific work scattered around. It was some crazy a$$ s***.

So where does my crushing stand after seeing him in person? In some ways, the lyrics “Boy, we can do much more together…it’s not so impossible,” from “Impossible Soul” ring true, but as Jeff aptly pointed out after one of his long pontifications on alternate realities and the space age, “You wouldn’t want to come home to that every night.” He’s so heady, it’s almost much too much. SufJohn (as he pronounced it falsely on stage one time) might be too deep even for Moxie, but the fascination persists.

And after all, he did pull through with Casimir Pulaski Day in the encore; I should never have doubted him.

How’s Teaching?

I often get this question. I often don’t have a good answer. Today I do. It is good, very good.  See example here…

Hello Amy,
I am a representative from [Moxie]’s US History Class. We are learning about modern day slavery, and we met you at the Dignity Conference. We were inspired to go further than just learning. We are holding an assembly to inform our fellow classmates about modern day slavery, and were wondering if you were interested in helping us do so. We don’t have all of the details, but it should be in the next month. If you are able to help, please email me back or call back at… Thank you so much!