“Teach them how to say good-bye”

My husband and I had the pleasure of seeing “Hamilton” on Broadway a couple of weeks ago. It was as amazing as everyone says it is. I am a huge fan of musical theater, but this was so much more than that.

“Hamilton” is history and tragedy and comedy. It was thought-provoking and heart rending and tear jerking. It was magnificent.

As taken as I was with the title character, I must confess that my attention, both when he was on stage and when I left the theater, was most often fixed on General and President George Washington.

I think what struck me as the most notable thing about him was his keen awareness of the duty he had as the first President to get it right. He understood that he could influence a great many future generations on what a great and good leader of the nation should consider and how he should conduct himself. And President Washington saw that he should spell everything out clearly and definitively, though humbly, in a memorable and meaningful way.

That document, his farewell address, was captured in a moving scene with Washington and Hamilton discussing what the address should say. Washington explains to Hamilton that he, Washington, must “teach them how to say good-bye.” The phrase is repeated throughout the duet and it struck me at the time, and I’ve reflected on it since, that Washington understood the importance of tradition.

I am a great fan of tradition, it will come as no surprise to those of you who know me or have watched my “Army Tradition” YouTube talk that I share in an earlier post in this blog. But I stress when explaining a tradition to people who are just learning about it, that the most crucial point is to explain WHY we do something. We must give the meaning behind the ritual, the event, the movement, etc. George Washington gets that.

He also understood that he and this newly formed country, they were all making history. So he shares as much as he can with regard to the reasons he fought for the country and the reasons he thinks it should remain. He steps down when he steps down because he knows it is important or, rather, that it will be important, for his successors to know when to step down. And so he shows them. He shows us all how to say good-bye and why it matters.

I hope everyone in the US gets to see “Hamilton” one day. It is that good, but the inspiration that created that music and the beautiful staging, the talent that gives us those unforgettable performances and amazing sets  is only as impressive as the people, our founders, were in real life.

What a foundation was set for us, what a model to try to emulate. Not one of those founding members were perfect, any more than any of our leaders are today. But those founding members, particularly George Washington, knew how to lead our nation into the future. Whatever his faults were, and there were many, he knew what he must do to keep our fledgling country moving forward. Interestingly enough, it had to move forward by instituting some rigid standards from which we should not stray.

When you have a servant leader who seeks what is best for the nation over his own selfish or self-involved desires, you have a true leader worth emulating. May we all be adherents to the concept: to seek the good of others over what we would like to do. Sometimes the best thing you can do for others is step down, walk away.

When you walk away it’s because you have more faith in them than they do in themselves. You can do that hopefully, if you’ve passed on what is important to those  you’ve served. You have to leave the scene so they are forced to move on and discover that they are capable of doing so without you. That takes genuine humility and a love for something bigger than yourself and bigger than your place in history. It requires an understanding that the long view is necessary for good things to survive beyond the moment.

Rest in peace, George. Thank you for leading with an eye toward the future, for considering all that future generations could learn from you. Thank you for trying “one last time.”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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