AN EXCEPTIONAL LEADER
Over the past few days, as we’ve watched Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ronald S. Johnson step in to take over security operations in the midst of this past week’s civil unrest in Ferguson, MO, it’s become obvious that he is a truly exceptional person. The immediate good news in this, as reported in a related Washington Post article, is that Johnson’s first day on the job resulted in “Hugs, kisses and a night of peace (replacing) tear gas and unrest.” The more long-term and more challenging part of this is that Captain Johnson is, in fact, exceptional. If all of our nation’s leaders would emulate Johnson’s conduct, thus making him the rule rather than the exception, our country could be vastly improved.
AN EXEMPLARY LEADER
A great way to begin learning how to go about this emulation would be by looking at statements Captain Johnson made in Friday’s (August 14, 2014) press conference and most importantly, by looking at his responses to the questions he received. The comments that I found to be most meaningful in this regard are outlined as follows:
A NEW DAY
Johnson stated that this is the beginning of a “new day” in Ferguson. He added to that by saying, “You’re gonna see a bunch of smiles, a bunch of hugs, a bunch of conversations …” And finally, he said, “We have to make sure we don’t burn down our own house … that does not help.” What an important message is contained in all that! For some time now, in articles like Listening For Our Best, I’ve been harping on that very theme. The heart of my message with these articles is “the strength that made America great in the first place (was) the synergy of the best of our differing ideas.” The only way to get back to that from where we are is by following the path taken by Captain Johnson – i.e. Acknowledge the existence of the matter at hand, be genuinely determined to resolve it to the mutual satisfaction of everyone concerned, do so by amiably hearing others and by having them hear you.
HEALING OLD WOUNDS
Of course, there were questions on race relations and justice for Captain Johnson. Following one very broad and lengthy question on this, Johnson’s response was, “The governor talked about old wounds. This is an old wound. It’s time to stop saying it’s an old wound, and close it for good.” Seeming to look beyond that, he later added, “Yesterday we saw what it could be. We saw what it should be. And we saw what it will be.” Those were the most encouraging comments I’ve heard on this topic in a very long time. As a person who was raised in a time when and a place where the racial caste system known as Jim Crow remained in practice, I also found these words to be a great blessing. Often, I find myself looking back in grief, recognizing the impossibility of undoing the painful results of that practice, both during that time and since. Obviously, Captain Johnson’s approach doesn’t undo those injustices either. Nothing can. But, it does accomplish the only logical and achievable positive alternative … closing the wound for good. That is unless we allow those, like Al Sharpton, who have made a profession of keeping the old wound open, to continue in doing so.
What I found to be most powerful, though, was what Johnson shared about a related conversation he had with his daughter. He said, “When I got home last night, my daughter said me this, she said, ‘Daddy were you scared?’ And I said, ‘Just a little bit.’ And she said, ‘Daddy I want you to remember what Jesus asked Peter to walk with Him on the water.’ And she said, ‘When Peter got scared, Jesus picked him up and said, “Have faith.”‘ And I’m telling you today, we need to be just like Peter. ’cause I know we’re scared and I know we’ve fallen but He’s gonna pick us up and He’s gonna pick this community up.” I must admit that, though it was just me and my dog, Figgins, in the family room when I heard Johnson say that on TV, I applauded.
AGGRAVATING OLD WOUNDS
Sadly, Captain Johnson’s second night on the job didn’t go as well. Once again, early Saturday morning, the streets of Ferguson erupted in chaos, with protests over the police-shooting of Michael Brown being used as an excuse for looting and rioting. In other words, completely ignoring Captain Johnson’s guidance, his fellow-citizens chose to “burn down (their) own house”. The overarching reason behind this was something else that Johnson pointed to – i.e. “This is an old wound” and the residents of Ferguson continued in choosing not to”close it for good”. No doubt, that choice was greatly influenced by “the wound” being aggravated through the stereotypical press conference conducted by Michael Brown’s family attorneys and through Al Sharpton and others like him showing up.
The disappointing outcome of Captain Johnson’s second night on the job in Ferguson does not indicate anything lacking in his ability as a leader, though. What is indicated is that we and the people of Ferguson, need to do a much better job as followers. We are still failing to; “Acknowledge the existence of the matter at hand, be genuinely determined to resolve it to the mutual satisfaction of everyone concerned, do so by amiably hearing others and by having them hear you.” And, most importantly, we’re failing to put the interests of our community above our self-interests and we’re failing to look to something far greater than ourselves in order to attain our long-needed resolution. Captain Jackson couldn’t have given us a better example of how to do that than he did in pointing us to the account of when “Jesus asked Peter to walk with Him on the water”. For me, this brought to mind a song entitled Oceans (Where Feet May Fail), by Hillsong United and specifically, to the song’s lyrics that say,
“Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now
So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves”
That is what we and the people of Ferguson must do. As followers, instead of continuing to look upon what we’re scared of, we must “keep (our) eyes above the waves”, focused on our faith and determined to attain resolution.