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Lessons from my band teacher

| Wednesday, August 19, 2020

We can all think of a teacher who had a profound impact on our life. They are more than a teacher — they are our friend, supporter, mentor, even a parental figure. That teacher is the person without whom our life would never be the same. In short, they are a leader. For me, one of these individuals was my high school trumpet teacher. Reflecting on his life, particularly his compassion for others and commitment to truth, I am reminded of the topic I want to discuss today: leadership.

Our world has a serious leadership problem. The COVID-19 pandemic, bringing the world and its economy to a halt with no clear end in sight, is only the latest chapter in world leaders’ mishandling of their duties. War, famine, disease, escalating global tensions, political polarization and a lack of empathy for others are symptoms of a world riddled with misguided and ill-equipped leaders. This is not an attempt to bash a specific political party; rather, it is a criticism of the leadership seen in governments, world organizations, industries, social movements and even our local communities. Regardless of your personal views, we can agree that improvements can be made across the board to reduce suffering in the world and empower our citizens, just as our teachers inspire us.

Notre Dame prides itself on being an institution that produces the next generation of leaders. I firmly believe in that sentiment and offer two essential qualities of leadership in pursuit of this mission.

Use your G-d-given talents

In Book I of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, the famous Greek philosopher argues that an individual has a specific function in life that defines him or her. For instance, the function of a knife is to cut sharply, a pen to write well and a car to drive well. According to Aristotle, the achievement of one’s function is necessary to live a good life — in other words, it is one’s purpose. He describes eudaimonia as a kind of human flourishing experienced by this, a feeling of happiness and accomplishment unmatched by anything else. A musician who plays an instrument well, a scientist who produces worthwhile research and a teacher that teaches well all achieve eudaimonia.

In these examples, the individuals are cultivating their G-d-given talents. They have identified a set of skills they are particularly good at and work towards developing those talents in a spectacular fashion. The great figures of history are those that best fulfilled their talents. No one would listen to Albert Einstein if not for his genius. Charlotte Brontë would be an unknown name without her masterful writing. In short, these individuals became leaders of their respective fields largely due to their exceptional talents.

Talent is a necessary component to leadership. Thus, we should identify and cultivate those talents granted to us by G-d. Everyone has exceptional abilities in an area, whether it is a major, extracurricular, job or something else. We have an obligation to nurture those talents for our personal benefit and the benefit of the world. First, recall Aristotle. The process of cultivating one’s talent and being exceptionally good at them is the achievement of one’s function, and therefore eudaimonia. An individual with talent for acting should pursue it, as nothing else would create the same prosperity. Second, sharing our talents with the world helps others. If the leaders of a field are those best equipped to practice, the progress and work in that area will perform at the best possible potential. We should feel comfortable and confident in our talents, combining them with ambition to become leaders in our fields. With our abilities, we can create a better world.

Sometimes, however, our talents do not align with our goals. They might not produce the best income, fail to meet others’ expectations or other discouraging thoughts. While those concerns are legitimate, we should also consider if failure to pursue our talents would prevent us from living a good life and building a better world. Do you really need that congressional internship or are your talents better spent helping underperforming students prepare for the school year? This is a personal decision that requires an evaluation of your values and the best possible use of your abilities.

Lift others up

I have always been infatuated with the shepherds of the Torah. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the 12 tribes and Moses were all shepherds. There is an analogy to be made between these Jewish leaders and their occupation, one that was often looked down on in the ancient world. Shepherding exemplifies the point of leadership: helping others. It is leaving others in your care with the sole purpose of making their lives better. While the shepherd does personally benefit from his work, he is nothing if his flock is malnourished or hunted.

We should all aim to be shepherds, working towards helping those around us. The point of leadership is not for personal gain, but to lift others up. We become leaders by using our resources and insight for the benefit of others. Sharing our talents and guidance with newcomers is essential to prepare the next generation in any field, just as previous wisdom prepares us to become leaders. Our goals as leaders should be to help others, whether it is directly through our work or mentoring. Those in leadership positions have already established themselves as respectable and innovative, and that trend only continues if the torch can be passed on. Just as our teachers guided us, we have an obligation to mentor others. That is true leadership.

We live in a world where politicians stand for the latest polling data and not their convictions, movements operate without unity and individuals seek resume builders instead of meaningful work. We can be different and set a new example as students of a university that is well-resourced alongside deep moral beliefs. We have the capacity to be successful while also helping others because both mean the same thing. All it takes is the first step.

For Mr. Haydel

Blake Ziegler is a sophomore at Notre Dame from New Orleans, Louisiana, with double majors in political science and philosophy. He loves anything politics, especially things he doesn’t agree with. For inquiries, he can be reached at [email protected] or @NewsWithZig on Twitter if you want to see more of his opinions.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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