from Ellie May on Presidents’ Day
written by Hillary Homzie
illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbler
Mom always said it’s better to be a leader than a follower. Dad, I think, tended to agree.
Me, although I always wanted to be famous (and I still do!) I never really wanted to be recognized in a rock-star kind of way. Name recognition was what I have always been after.
“Oh!” I heard in my mind’s ear. “I’ve her heard of her.”
Real leaders are influencers, not demand-ers. They care about the people who look to them. They give thoughtful advice. They shoulder responsibility. They tell the truth, even when it’s hard. They stand up to criticism when it’s deserved and rally against it when it’s not. Real leaders know the difference.
They set priorities that meet the needs of their people. All their people. They give a leg up to those who need it. They are kind. They are courteous. They’re strong.
Real leaders understand justice and know it is different from fairness. And real leaders strive to make justice equally accessible to everyone. A real leader makes sure to follow the law, too. And a real leader shows respect for lawmakers. A real leader listens to all sides of an argument and knows how to compromise.
Yesterday was Presidents’ Day. The day is a tribute to George Washington. His birthday, February 22, has been celebrated as a national holiday since President Chester A. Arthur declared it so in 1885. In 1968, the Uniform Holidays Bill was passed to provide more three-day weekends. Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is February 12, so some states and private entities have included him in the celebration. Some all-inclusive types have over generalized to include every President, even those history has deemed not quite up to par. But tradition (and United States law) says the day belongs to George, alone.
He stayed with his men during a treacherously cold winter at Valley Forge and paid them from his own money. The Colonial Army didn’t have enough funds.
He and his wife, Martha, owned enslaved people since before their marriage. His concern about slavery grew, especially during and after the Revolutionary War. He saw a stark contradiction in the freedom our young soldiers were fighting for and the institution slavery was becoming.
He also knew addressing abolition would rip apart the fragile fabric of the new country he fought so hard to weave. So he encouraged the new Congress to use the legal system to work toward freedom for all people. At his death, George Washington freed the people belonging to him. He was the only president to do so.
He refused to be king.
He stepped down after two four-year terms, refusing a third.
He helped form alliances with former enemies.
He told the truth, even when it was hard. (He never said he chopped down that tree, though!)
George Washington was a real leader for all those reasons and more. In his own lifetime, he was rock-star famous.
His people loved him and trusted him. They knew he had their best interests in his choice-providing, decision-making, ultimatum-giving actions.
He was a good man. And a good leader. Need I say more?
Last Sunday, I finished reading Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: The Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change by Thor Hanson (Basic Books, 2021). It is an extremely readable and scientific (hard to do, I know) account of how animals and plants are adapting to climate change. Hanson describes changes as they are happening in real time. His research is extensive and the experts he interviewed are well-respected in their fields. Highly recommend!
-—stay curious! (and kind)