We were [civic] soldiers
Last night was the quarterly meet up for my Leadership St. Louis cohort and as always, it was great to be with those that could make it. The quarterly get togethers serve two purposes: 1) have fun catching up, 2) hand out a roughly $1,500 check to a local cause we select for the foundation we established.
I was reminded at one point during the evening that my bond with this group is not like many others I have. Our relationships endure because we enjoy each other’s company but were founded in an environment of struggle. We got to know each other while being regularly exposed to upsetting long-term systemic problems in our region. Some subjects surfaced remedies while others only revealed pain. The impact this program had on us was evident simply by the number of people in the cohort I have witnessed cry, yell, speak in exasperated tones and stare silently when they were overwhelmed. In some small way, “I’ve been on the battlefield" with these people.
More people need experiences like this in their life. Whether you take part in a civic-focused program like this, are a part of a group inside a faith community or a tight-knit fitness club, experiences of struggle are too few in our society.
The author Sebastian Junger was embedded at length with soldiers in combat zones and wrote in his book Tribe, “Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It's time for that to end.”
The hardship I experienced with that group makes me feel bonded to my cohort and necessary because I cannot unsee how much work remains. The respect I hold for them comes with a sense of obligation to support them and strive in my own ways to ensure I don’t let them down when it comes to contributing to my community.
One example of striving is I recently shared with them a new podcast I am creating with a fellow cohort member and dear friend Osei Kweku called “Comfort Not Required". The feedback we have received has been supportive of our effort but also has pointed out perspectives we probably should’ve considered prior to the particular episode. More than anything, their feedback inspires me to do better for them. I want them to be proud of me. Our relationship was forged among uncomfortable conversations and this is one way I aim to soldier on.
Go Forth Boldly
“How long will what you have seen today continue to bother you?”
Professor Jack Kirkland after a housing discrimination tour