Silent Rituals, Eloquent Simplicity: Obama Honors September 11 Anniversary

Iʻve written about the dangers of jargon, and the power of action — physical presence — in leadership practices.

Today, on the anniversary of the September 11 bombings, itʻs difficult to know what to say. Thereʻs still so much pain and trauma, even though much has healed, and as a nation weʻve stood strong.

President Obamaʻs speech is eloquent in its simplicity, a great tool in these moments when words feel inadequate. He said:

“As painful as this day is and always will be, it leaves us with a lesson that no single event can ever destroy who we are.  No act of terrorism can ever change what we stand for.  Instead, we recommit ourselves to the values that we believe in, holding firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

That’s the commitment that we reaffirm today.  And that’s why, when the history books are written, the true legacy of 9/11 will not be one of fear or hate or division.  It will be a safer world; a stronger nation; and a people more united than ever before.

God bless the memories of those we lost.  And God bless these United States of America.”

Hopeful, for a nation so divided and polarized, but at the same time true to the heart of whatʻs best in the USA. Heʻs also calling on connections, relationships, solidarity in the face of the divisions that threaten to shatter our forward movement as a nation. Itʻs a good speech.

Even more eloquent was the moment of silence outside the White House this morning. (See the video at the White House blog here).

the Obamas observing silence 9/11/2012

The silent video (except for a warm, ringing solo of “Taps” and the frenzied clicking of cameras) is testimony to the power of physical presence in the face of pain. Quiet grace, an old ritual, fully and completely observed.

This also is an important quality of a leader — knowing the right place and time for silence.

Watch the video. Whatever your losses, whatever your opinions, whatever your party affiliation, the moment of silence is unifying. We become silent, when words might divide us, when the feelings we share in common cannot be adequately spoken. We are together.

It is a leaderʻs job to call for this ritual, to hold the space for our common grief, and then to move on, as we all must.

Today is a hard day for many of us. Obama showed the restraint and grace of a good leader to help us get through it. Now, letʻs get on with the dayʻs work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: