I do not believe in miracles, but I cannot explain this,” said the doctor.  My 89-year old mother – vaccinated and careful – had been exposed to COVID and because of a pre-existing condition, it hit her hard.  Family had gathered from around the country to be together and hopefully have a chance to encourage her.  But the morning after determining that no ventilators were available, after leaving the hospital beginning to grieve, we were met with that message.  Mom was rallying, eating, entertaining the staff with funny stories about her family.  She is still 89-years old with severely impacted lung capacity, so we are realistic about her prognosis.  But she is now in a rehabilitation facility, surrounded by pictures, mementos and hosting regular family visits.  For the record, I do believe in miracles.

But I also believe in the extraordinary power of the human spirit:  throughout history, we know of its capacity for achievement.  The human spirit is at the core of a soldier’s ability to run toward danger, a researcher’s racing to develop a life-saving vaccine, an artist’s resolve to capture profound insights in a creative expression.

At this confusing, challenging time in our lives, leaders – of families, of organizations, of communities, of countries – need to count on the capacity of the human spirit to accomplish extraordinary things.  But like my mom’s rally, the conditions must be created that inspire or enable the human spirit.  Resources; Hope; Support; Purpose. 

We have too often expected extraordinary results without creating or providing those conditions. A few examples come to mind:

  • Educational systems were stripped of resources to meet the increasing demands of learning in a technological, fast-paced world – and then we criticize the quality of our schools. That is not an ideological throw-away line:  the data show that over almost thirty years, the resources going into public education were sliced, diced and squeezed.  We, as a society, have to be honest about that. We can and should push to reimagine how education is delivered – but we must provide the resources to do so.
  • Ditto in access to health care. While the passage of the Affordable Care Act was a move in the right direction, we still have grotesque disparities in access to care, which undermines hope.  In this nation with its vast resources, extinguishing hope seems a most crushing blow to the human spirit.
  • It has taken too long, but I have optimism that support for recognition of systemic racism in our country is making headway. Repulsion triggered by George Floyd’s murder really did create a different trajectory for our future: while the resistance to ideas like reparation or critical race theory exist, that resistance is fueled by wariness about what reconciliation will look like or feel like or cost – and not so much by unwillingness to acknowledge our history.  We can and must keep making real progress toward a better future.
  • Perhaps my most optimistic reflection relates to how purpose can not only ignite the human spirit, but can trigger institutional innovation and momentum, as well: the global recognition that we are in a race to save our planet. Decades after the most insightful conservationists began sharing dire warnings, the data is now irrefutable, we have an existential challenge before us.  The clarity of that sense of shared purpose is enabling collaborations and explorations that would have been impossible to imagine just a few years ago.  Now our capacity to imagine, fueled by the power of human spirit, must keep that work on track.

If we can help your organization illuminate how best to bring the power of the human spirit into the work ahead, we would love to have that conversation.  Resources. Hope. Support. Purpose.

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