“Kites rise highest against the wind – not with it”. ~ Winston Churchill (1874-1965), British Prime Minister
As I sit and write this, the Iowa wind is howling outside my windows. And for those of you that live in an old house like me, you know that sometimes this sound can take on a far more eerie tone, as the wind finds all those creaks and crevices in its old bones. The sky has taken on a cold grey, almost as if to match the weather, as our once sunny afternoon slips away and temperature begins its slide towards freezing. As I look outside the window I can see my flagpole, with its star spangled banner flying bravely, yet the consequences of its stalwart resistance leaving it obviously worse for wear.
There is nothing like an Iowa winter wind that makes you want to hunker down and ride it out. Have you ever noticed that sometimes life makes you want to do the same? Ever feel like you are just blown around, tossed to and fro despite your best effort to stand against an unseen force, unable to withstand the cold chill that seems to come along with it? I understand that feeling. We all wish to have a warm and toasty life, without struggle, without pressure, without things that push us around and make us move in a direction that we do not want to go. We naturally fear that any upheaval will make us like my flag: tattered, worn and needing to be retired before its time.
As I watch my flag flap vigorously in the blistering wind, I reflect on how this can be analogous as to why brave words and brave actions are not the same thing. Anyone can say the right thing with little consequence, to give the appearance of bravery yet still stay out of the wind, but it takes a heart willing to be tattered and buffeted in order to stand against the wind for the right thing. The latter sounds painfully unpleasant, does it not? But that is only because we are looking at it the wrong way. Instead of seeing it as a pain to avoid, I rather think we should see it as a pain to be embraced. I see it as sort of akin to working out in a gym, as you attempt to build up muscle. The soreness you feel afterward is just the muscles being stretched and broken down, in order to heal up even stronger than before. Pain – be it physical, emotional, or social – is sometimes just the evidence of weakness leaving your body. It must come first before true strength can be realized.
Americans instinctually respect and admire those who are willing to stand for what is right and face down their adversaries, even at great cost to themselves. We love the underdog beating the odds, the unpopular kid making it good, the David defeating his giant. We understand what it takes to stand against the crowd, as it reveals a strength of character and resilience not usually found in those who take the path of least resistance. It is a far easier thing to bow to the pressure of the popular winds around you, be it in your family, your community, your church or your government. Yet true leaders don’t bow to the wind, they stand against it, even while tattered, as deep down inside they know that it will only be their weak, old self that ever gets retired.
“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are”. ~ Arthur Golden (b.1956), author of Memoirs of a Geisha