The Madness of Leadership
A Commentary by J. D. Longstreet
day may dawn when fair play, love for one's fellow men, respect for
justice and freedom, will enable tormented generations to march forth
triumphant from the hideous epoch in which we have to dwell. Meanwhile,
never flinch, never weary, never despair." ~ Winston Churchill
Did you know that Churchill was a depressive? Oh, yes. He struggled with depression most of his life.
world would be surprised, indeed, to know the depressives who became
great leaders in politics, in arts and sciences, and yes, in religion,
over the past decades and ages.
Why do you suppose that happened?
have a theory. See, depressives are great "thinkers." They tend to
turn inward under stress. Instead of relying wholly on advisers and an
entourage of sycophants, they rely upon themselves and their own
abilities and, for the religious among them -- they also lean heavily
upon their God -- for they have learned, more than most men, I
think, the inherent weakness of man from wrestling with that weakness
every waking hour of their lives.
Despair, as Churchill mentioned above, was a condition he lived with almost daily. He understood it as few did or do.
But, here's the thing about recognizing despair and over coming it -- or enduring it -- if you will: You
no longer fear it -- and -- you learn that each bout survived makes you
stronger much as a fiery crucible refines it's contents.
Having survived despair, the depressive knows the "worse that can happen"
and his mind has broken the shackles that fear had previously imposed
and he is free to think, to plan, to call forth his creative abilities,
to attack whatever the problem is before him. In Churchill's time and place it was World War Two.
I am convinced that Churchill learned to use the repressed anger and melancholic depression to his advantage. That is what great men do, nay, that is what great human beings do!
John Adams, 2nd President of the United States and one of America's founding fathers was a depressive.
Charles Dickens, that great British writer was, too, a depressive. So
were/are Buzz Aldrin, American astronaut, the second man to set foot on
the moon; Hans Christian Andersen, Danish writer; Dick Cavett,
American talk show host; Ray Charles, African-American singer; Charles
Darwin, British naturalist; Bob Dylan, American singer-songwriter,
poet and artist; William Faulkner, American author; Harrison Ford,
American actor; Ken Griffey Jr., American MLB player; Ernest
Hemingway, American writer; Abraham Lincoln, American lawyer and
politician, 16th President of the United States; John D. Rockefeller,
American industrialist; Leo Tolstoy, Russian writer; Mohandas Gandhi,
leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India; Mark Twain,
American writer; Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., American civil rights
leader; Mike Wallace, American journalist on 60 Minutes; and Boris
Yeltsin, first President of Russia; SOURCE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_with_major_depressive_disorder
tend to see the world as it really is. As a rule, they do not fool
themselves into believing they are "in control." Normal people do.
are pragmatic and have the ability to adapt to a changing reality even
when they don't particularly like it. They don't care about society's
"norm" and structures, nor do they care for doing "what is expected of them." Example: "When
Neville Chamberlain returned from signing the Munich agreement with
Hitler in 1938, only Churchill and a small coterie refused to stand and
cheer in parliament, eliciting boos and hisses from other honorable
members." SOURCE: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904800304576474451102761640.html
Churchill saw Chamberlain's blunder with the clarity and realism that many, if not most, "normal" persons lack.
also value, highly, other people's opinions. That, alone, makes them
next to unique! BUT -- a warning: those empathetic depressives may not
be out to defeat you as an opponent, but they are fixated upon showing
you the error(s) of your ways and changing your mind along with your
Nassir Ghaemi, (runs the Mood Disorders
Program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston) in an article for the Wall
Street Journal entitled: "Depression in Command," said the following: "When
times are good and the ship of state only needs to sail straight,
mentally healthy people function well as political leaders. But in times
of crisis and tumult, those who are mentally abnormal, even ill, become
the greatest leaders. We might call this the Inverse Law of Sanity."
Mr. Ghaemi continues: "Great
crisis leaders are not like the rest of us; nor are they like mentally
healthy leaders. When society is happy, they toil in sadness, seeking
help from friends and family and doctors as they cope with an illness
that can be debilitating, even deadly. Sometimes they are up, sometimes
they are down, but they are never quite well.
approaches begin to fail, however, great crisis leaders see new
opportunities. When the past no longer guides the future, they invent a
new future. When old questions are unanswerable and new questions
unrecognized, they create new solutions. They are realistic enough to
see painful truths, and when calamity occurs, they can lift up the rest
of us." SOURCE: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904800304576474451102761640.html
So, where DOES their strength come from? "Their weakness is the secret of their strength," according to Mr. Ghaemi. I believe him.
I am now, and have been for most of my life, acquainted with a number of depressives. One thing I have found to be -- oh, so true -- is their honestly in answering a probing question. Many
depressives are reluctant to offer an answer to an unasked question,
but, when the question is PUT to them, they tend to reply with clarity,
realism, pragmatism, truthfulness, and on occasion, biting humor.
asked for a suggested solution to a problem, they will often surprise
by offering a creative solution that defies the normal thinking patterns
and can be -- and often is -- described as being "out of the box."
Consider this: In
2006 an article was published by psychiatrists at the Duke University
Medical Center which reviewed the biographies of American presidents
from 1776 to 1974. This study, which was published in the Journal of
Nervous and Mental Disease analyzed the historical data of 37 presidents
looking for symptoms of mental illness as defined by the criteria of
the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. What they found was
startling. According to the Duke researchers, 49% of former presidents
had experienced some form of mental illness. Depression was the most
common type of presidential mental illness (24%) which some experts say
is a high percentage compared with the national average.
Here is a list of the presidents who have been diagnosed with depression through analysis of historical data:
John Quincy Adams
SOURCE: (We highly recommend that you read this article. You'll find it at: http://www.healthcentral.com/depression/c/84292/150467/7-depression
There is an old saw that says: "Have
you ever noticed that when all hell breaks loose, and destruction is
assured, there always seems to be one person who steps forward with all
the right answers, who knows EXACTLY what to do to save the day? Have you ever noticed that, more often than not, that person is insane?"
I hope that through these humble scribblings you can now see the truth in that old "saying."
It is also true that while it my not pay to be nuts, quite often it REALLY does help!
© J. D. Longstreet