Like many, I’ve been reflecting on the current unrest and the deeply impactful scenes that have dominated the landscape over the past week or so. Like most, I’ve been challenged in many ways but one question I’ve given some thought to is how do we as individuals not to mention business leaders engage cultural issues that are complex, charged with uncertainty, and risky to broach? As is often the case, I turned to the Bible and reflected on a well-known story in the bible found in II Samuel chapters 11-12. This passage is about powerful king who made a series of bad decisions that led to corruption, death, and chaos both in his own life and many others. Countless people know the sad tale of King David and the abuse of power that led to a rape, an unwanted pregnancy, then a coverup, murder and rebellion. His selfish and unlawful actions had a domino effect that brought down a kingdom, destroyed a family, and directly or indirectly led to loss of many innocent lives. It’s a cautionary tale of how one person’s actions or inactions and the response to that can lead to tremendous damage and unintended consequences…especially if unchallenged
There are many voices, opinions, and reactions on this topic relating to injustice, reform, lawless responses, and the like. But as I glean from the biblical account of King David, I feel compelled to share something I hope is not lost in all the emotion and anger. For those that are more familiar with this account from Kind David’s life, there was one very important voice, one man of principle, that overcame tremendous pressure to conform and at the risk of his own reputation and life – he spoke up. I’m referring to Nathan, a prophet whose job was to seek the truth of God’s word and proclaim and live it daily. We are not sure exactly how he learned the truth, but apparently David’s acts of sin were not a very well-kept secret – they rarely are. But for a year, David believed that he had gotten away with his actions and no one dared to challenge him on it until one fateful day when Nathan came calling.
Nathan’s method of speaking “truth to power” was both subtle and direct…and devastatingly effective. He told a tale to David of how a rich landowner abused his power by unjustly taking from his poor neighbor his most valued possession, a small lamb, and butchering it for his own use. Nathan appealed to both David’s sense of justice as well as his underlying sense of guilt. David’s initial response was outrage, moral indignation, and a cry for justice…until Nathan declared the “rich landowner” was, in fact, David himself – “you are the man!”. To his credit, David acknowledged his guilt and sin – “I have sinned against the Lord” – and sought to make amends for deeds. Although forgiven, his actions had consequences that he had to live with and work through for the rest of his life. It’s been said that life is 10% about the things that happen to us and 90% about how we respond…it was true of David and its true of us today.
There are many applications one can take from this vignette – abuse of power, corruption, failure to own a very bad decisions and many others. But I want to focus on Nathan’s role in the story. I see the most important voice in the narrative is the one person who was unafraid to speak up when others would not. He spoke inconvenient truth when others just went along with the narrative. It takes courage and principle to look closely at a complex situation, think through it in a holistic sense, and be willing to take a stand based on a healthy balance of facts, empathy, truth, and openness. Our tendency is to get swept along based on emotion but, I believe that now, more than ever, we need people that are willing to engage their minds, discuss things openly, and be willing to address the core issues that are easier left unspoken.
Both individually, and as a business leader the advisable and “safe” route, is to seek the path of least resistance, remain politically correct, do everything possible to avoid conflict. But that is never going to get to the root cause of these complex issues. Throwing money at it, posting social media rants, even well-intentioned confessions of guilt do not get at the underlying issues. We need people that are willing to be like Nathan – speak the truth in all its ugly details good, bad, and otherwise and be willing to be part of the solution. Its not a simple issue. It did not happen overnight, and it will not be fixed overnight. But If we lose the ability to speak openly, engage freely, and express our thoughts and questions without fear of retribution, then the problem will not get resolved…it will simply continue to fester under a veneer of peace.
If we are ever going have lasting change, it must start with allowing people the freedom to speak, share, understand, and accept the need for change. This is a time when we need more “Nathans” that are courageous enough to engage with truth and the freedom to do so without being labeled or categorized unfairly.