What is the currency of freedom? Webster’s Dictionary defines currency as, “a medium of exchange.” For freedom to exist, the medium of exchange is courage, sacrifice, and fight.
I have always considered myself someone who is incredibly grateful for the freedoms we have in this country. While I do not want to believe that I could possibly take freedom for granted, this week has caused me to reflect and question how deep that gratitude truly runs. We have all watched the current events unfold in Ukraine. It has been disturbing, heart wrenching, and concerning.
Before you continue reading. You are going to have to bear with me, as we pivot from our traditional format. The moment is too big to pass up on this subject of freedom and its application to leadership. There are so many crucial leadership lessons buried in what must be exchanged to have freedom. Please know this is not a political statement, it is not advocacy, it is simply an open letter to myself to challenge my level of gratitude for what I have in freedom.
Freedom Is Not Given
President Ronald Reagan once said, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
This is a sobering quote to read in the circumstances of today. One in which I have wrestled with when it comes to my potential for complacency on the subject.
Think of it this way. John Maxwell defines leadership as, “influence.” One of the first things I teach the kids I coach is that we all have influence. You determine how you use that influence. You can use it for good, or you can use it for bad. The choice is yours.
In a society that is not free, you cannot have influence unless you are THE person with the power. Having influence as a common person threatens people like that. Those in a position of power where freedom does not exist use their influence to coerce and manipulate people onto their agenda. In fact, last week’s post, the Unproductive Behaviors of Leader, could very well sum up a tyrant like Vladimir Putin.
On the other hand, effective leaders in the free world use their influence to represent the needs of and to serve others. It isn’t always perfect, but it is a process. A process in which you are permitted to disagree, debate, and dissent. Not only do the leaders in a free world have influence, just like any great organizational culture, everyone can have influence. You can lead up.
The Currency of Freedom
This week we explore the three currencies of freedom: courage, sacrifice, and fight. These three things must be exchanged in order to protect existing freedoms or to become free:
Courage is the willingness to overcome our fears. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been catapulted onto the world stage in a matter of weeks. A man who has every right to be fearful has demonstrated the willingness to lead despite it. When asked if he wanted to be evacuated, his response was, “I don’t need a ride, I need more ammo.” That will be a quote that will go down in history.
To have freedom, it requires overcoming fear. Fear can hold you captive, kind of like an oppressive regime. Freedom on the other hand empowers you, it sets you free. At this moment, there are Russian citizens demonstrating courage by hitting the streets of major cities and protesting. Their courage could re-write the history books when it comes to freedom in that country.
I started the Leadership and Main project with a target audience of community leaders in mind. Community leadership is, “the ability and willingness to better others and the world you live in.” Whatever world you live in, you have the ability to influence it. Everyone meets the ability criteria. The real question is, do we have the willingness? Willingness requires sacrifice.
In the coming days, weeks, months, and possibly years there will be many Ukrainians sacrificing everything for their freedom. Everyday community leaders such as soldiers, law enforcement, educators, public servants, pastors, elected officials, business owners, and so many more will transition their abilities into a willingness. An external willingness dressed in body armor protecting an internal willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice to remain free.
When you think of fighting, boxing is one of those things that comes to mind. Ukraine has produced two heavyweight champions, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko. Vitali happens to be the Mayor of Kiev, the Ukrainian Capital. Now they are in the real fight of their lives. They are both choosing to stand in the gap for others, that is what true fighters do.
In a message to Putin, President Zelenskyysaid, “and when you will be attacking us, you will see our faces, not our backs, but our faces.” You have never seen someone fight with their back to their opponent, it is not possible. Fighting for freedom has always been and always will be forward facing.
Also, every person has their limits. There is a time when there is no more space to back up. You simply run out of space. Then it is time to fight. There is no choice. Freedom is worth the fight. Even if outnumbered and outgunned, never underestimate people who have run out of room to back up.
Like you, my heart aches over this situation. Stories continue to emerge from the warfront. Emotional scenes of people putting their families on buses to get them to safety so they can stay behind and fight. An eighty-year-old woman confronting a Russian soldier. A man literally tried to physically push a tank. A TANK!
Let me bring this home. Shannon and the kids were on a weekend trip with my mother-in-law. I had the day to myself. Got my hair cut first thing, hiked Kennesaw Mountain, went into the office for a little bit, and went to the range and hit some golf balls. Later in the day, I wrapped up a nice dinner with my grandmother, I bought some new dress shirts and a pair of golf shoes on the way home.
Meanwhile, there are people at risk of losing their freedom in a land far away while I enjoy the luxuries of a free life while they risk losing theirs. As I laid my head down, I started to wrestle with my gratitude required for the currency of freedom.
My mind ran wild. What would I do if I were in a Ukrainian’s shoes? Would my willingness be there? Would I use my resources to flee, or would I stand and fight? In my eighties, would I confront an occupying soldier? Would I try to push a tank? If I were a Russian citizen, would I protest against an oppressive regime? Would I lay down my life for others?
It is sobering to think that someone right now is wrestling with the answers to these exact questions. My prayer is that you or I never have to face these decisions. Amid uncertainty and anxious times, history is on the side of freedom. History is on the side of those with courage, sacrifice, and fight. Tyrants fall, they always do.
Here is the answer to my own doubts. I am grateful for my freedom, there is no other way to live.