Inspiration is in the Air by Al Sikes

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Inspiration is underestimated. At the seminal level, it is the reason there is a United States of America. It is the reason the Civil War concluded as it did.

Saints were inspired to act sacrificially and we lesser humans can all tell stories about those who inspired us. Never sell inspiration short.

Inspiration writ large is both simple and complex. Historians are able to identify it, but they need time to fully appreciate its immensity. And time is needed to understand how it moved both leaders who stepped up and those who walked along side them.

Seminal acts of inspiration are endlessly studied and reported. NPR notes, “Some 15,000 books have been written about Lincoln — more books ……… than have been written about any other person in world, with the exception of Jesus Christ.”

Simply, an inspiring moment is elemental and frequently visceral. Topically, three stories of the last week stand out.

Hands down, at the recently concluded Olympics there were two moments that literally took the breath away and reminded us of the enormous power of the Olympic spirit and individual motivation.

The first, in a report by Team USA began, “Five years ago, Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins did something that had never been done before. The two American women won a cross- country skiing world championship gold medal in the team sprint.”

At the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, the same two American women did one better. They won the first Olympic medal for the US. women’s cross-country skiing team — and it was gold.

In a final dash to the line, Diggins passed Sweden’s Stina Nilsson with about a meter to go, threw her ski across the line, then fell into Randall’s arms.

“Did we just win the Olympics?” Diggins gasped as she fell to the ground.”

“Yeah!” screamed Randall.

Around them teammates, US. Ski Team staff and fans went wild. “I broke down,” said Luke Bodensteiner, an Olympian cross-country skier back in the 1990s who’s now the US. Ski & Snowboard’s Chief of Sport. “l was on my knees in tears.”

The second moment of Olympic inspiration was described in two sentences by the LA Times: “It was a hockey game transformed into an anthem.”

“The winner’s gold glowed in triumph over ignorance.”

The women’s hockey victory was simply a puck being skillfully placed in the Canadian goal by Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson. The complexity is that the team achieved a stunning conclusion

to “their boycott-threatening fight for pay and benefits equal to the men.” They won the fight for equity and the game.

Inspiration, when paired with leadership, can be an extraordinary force. So let me turn to the third inspiring moment.

Tragedy is often the foretelling of inspiration. The bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942 foretold America’s entry into WWII and the eventual defeat of Hitler and his poisonous ideology. It took inspired and remarkable public and military leadership to achieve the victories over determined adversaries.

This last week’s school shooting in Florida and the inspired leadership by a handful of students who fight under the NEVERAGAIN banner is, in my view, the kind of inspirational moment that can breakdown untold barriers. It is already having that effect as political leaders reverse their rigid stands on gun control. While the story has yet to go beyond chapter one, the power of the movement is inescapable.

A similar moment of inspiration occurred after the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina in June of 2015. In the aftermath of the shooting, attention was turned toward Columbia, the State Capitol where the confederate flag still flew in a position of honor. The State’s Governor, Nikki Haley, led a bipartisan collection of peers, a law was enacted and the flag came down.

Reflecting on the remarkable event, Scott E. Buchanan, the Executive Director of the Citadel Symposium on Southern Politics, noted: “The South Carolina legislature doesn’t move rapidly on anything, so the fact that this has all come about is remarkable. I think we’ll look back on this in future years and just be astounded.”

Whether in seminal moments or in Olympic contests or in the face of political resistance, never underestimate the power of inspiration and leaders who have the capacity to both understand and lead.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Letters to Editor

  1. Kristen Greenaway says:

    Al, this made me go back and watch again the sensational finish by Jessie Diggins. And I shed another tear!

    Too, I desperately hope–and encourage–that #NEVERAGAIN is a true beginning.

    Thank you.

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