Where do you begin with Abraham Lincoln? He’s been hailed as the greatest American that ever lived. His monument looms over Washington DC casting an inspiring shadow and awestruck wonder. “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” These words, etched in marble, are immortalized and invite appreciation to this man that saved the union of the United States of America.
Abraham Lincoln faced the greatest crisis this nation had ever experienced. The death and destruction of the Civil War took its toll on him and the entire nation. So what can we learn from him and how can we apply it to our life? How can we utilize Lincoln as a case study to think about leadership and life in the context of crisis and hostility?
“In this Temple…” The word temple has overtones related to reflection and meditation. Ronald White’s book, “Lincoln’s Greatest Speech” illuminates the wrestling that Lincoln underwent in his soul regarding the war, slavery, and God’s will. The history books that I’ve read, highlight the bravery and courage of Abraham Lincoln, but I think what is often overlooked is the internal and external forces that were pivotal to his internal formation as a leader.
What doesn’t receive a lot of press is the internal struggle and deep reflective questions he asked himself. White writes, “The meditation revealed that Lincoln, at one of the most difficult moments in the war, was grappling to understand the meaning of the conflict.” Lincoln serves as a model in how he wrestled with difficult questions regarding his vision and work on behalf of the nation. There was a moral conviction in his rhetoric, but it evolved over time. It evolved because he was willing to face opinions and policies that were alternative to his own.
White comments more on Lincoln’s deep reflection, “for several years, he had been laboring to understand the great puzzle of the war and brooding over the evil of slavery… Under the enormous weight of war, Lincoln was forced to think more deeply about the historical basis of the war.” Lincoln reminds me of a King David musing about both his problems and triumphs in Psalms.
Deep reflection is paramount to inspiring rhetoric. Fidelity to moral convictions comes from asking ourselves thought-provoking questions and looking at issues from a variety of different angles.
Abraham Lincoln’s leadership portrays the power of reflection. It wasn’t just the war that caused Lincoln to look inward. He was a man that dealt with great tragedy. The traumatic event of losing his son, Willie, while he was in office forced President Lincoln to ask difficult questions regarding the will of God. Questions that informed and fueled some of his greatest speeches he gave during his presidency (Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address).
One of the many things we can learn from Abraham Lincoln is to commit to the process of deep internal formation. We must not be afraid to ask ourselves the challenging questions that confront us when we go through a crisis. We have to fight the temptation to react in a hurried way when we receive bad news. Stop, breathe, and ask yourself why does this situation produce this type of emotion in you? What is the long-term solution? What would be the ramifications if you continued on your current course of action? The goal is not to get through the storm, but to learn and mature from it.
I’m Harold Dorrell Briscoe. Thanks for reading.