On January 28, 2016, we were preparing to land at the end of our flight across the Atlantic from Paris to Newark, the penultimate leg of a journey home from the Gambia that had begun with a take-off from the emergency Space Shuttle landing site that serves as the Banjul Airport runway.

Thirty years ago, that same Atlantic received the shredded remains of the Challenger and all her crew.

Five years ago I wrote about our own experience watching that disaster unfold, so I won't repeat it, except to add that in all the launches I watched before and since, the vapor trails were quickly dispersed.  That time the sky's tears streaked the cold blue for hours.

What struck me this time, thirty years after the fact, was something I didn't pay much attention to at the time:  President Reagan's speech in response, which he gave instead of his planned State of the Union Address.  It was written by the then relatively unknown Peggy Noonan, and delivered as only the Great Communicator could.

What Reagan (and Noonan) knew, as did Winston Churchill, was how to inspire people to be better than themselves.  You don't make children learn more by telling them how stupid they are; you don't make people love others better by insisting they are racist, sexist pigs; you don't encourage the weak to become strong by pointing out their failures.

Nor do you regale them with how strong and smart they are, and insist "you can be anything you want to be."  You don't imply that success should be easy or that love doesn't require sacrifice.  You don't suggest that the best way to fight terrorism is to continue buying and selling as usual (President Bush after 9/11) or partying on (some Parisians after the recent attacks).

A good leader is not afraid to insist that there is no gain without risk, no success without effort, and no victory without battle.  The way is hard, the road is long, and it is not safe.  A great leader goes on to encourage others to believe that they are the kind of people who will rise to meet the challenges; that the benefits will be worth the cost; and that the way, though difficult, will be sprinkled with joy.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 30, 2016 at 10:15 am | Edit
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