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Hearts Touched with Fire: How Great Leaders are Made

Hearts Touched with Fire: How Great Leaders are Made PDF

Author: David Gergen

Publisher: Simon & Schuster


Publish Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN-10: 1982170573

Pages: 320

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

We begin this story in Sweden, where a schoolgirl of eight years of age began her journey toward becoming one of the most in􀀁uential leaders in the world. Early stirrings of her ascent started during her primary school years, when her teachers showed 􀀂lms about the degradation of the world’s environment: plastic junking up oceans, starving polar bears, raging forest 􀀂res.
Most classmates listened, were momentarily concerned, and then moved on. Greta Thunberg listened and obsessively dwelled upon our impending doom. Her classmates went about their day; she retreated into herself and became severely depressed about how little adults were doing to mitigate the damage. She began skipping school, barely ate, and wondered if the world would survive its current course.
At home, she began speaking with her parents about the climate, reading reports, and watching 􀀂lms. Her Asperger syndrome, she often says, became a source of power—in her weeks at home, her laser focus enabled her to build an encyclopedic knowledge about the environment. She began testing her powers of persuasion on her parents, knowing she could be convincing but not sure how to make herself heard. She worried she was too small to make a di􀀃erence.
Then in February 2018, an unrelated tragedy struck some 􀀂ve thousand miles away. In southern Florida, a gunman armed with a semiautomatic ri􀀁e stormed through the halls of a high school in Parkland, killing seventeen and wounding seventeen more. Survivors were devastated.

Rather than wallowing in grief, an emboldened cohort of students turned their su􀀃ering into action. Meeting at 􀀂rst in small numbers on their parents’ living room 􀀁oors, students launched Never Again MSD, an organization committed to tougher gun laws. They were determined that such a tragedy should never strike another community. In the days after the shooting, they took to the airwaves and to social media, demanding background checks and other measures of gun safety.
Young people across the United States became energized and inspired as they watched Parkland students walk out of classrooms, protesting weak gun laws. The students were plain in their language and unapologetic in their goal: They needed parents to end their complacency and 􀀂nally act. Their protests quickly spread. Inspired by the Freedom Riders of the 1960s, they traveled the country to stir people up. Week after week, the momentum of their movement grew. It reached a peak when the students spearheaded March for Our Lives, a student-led demonstration that attracted some 1.2 million marchers in 880 events across America. It was the biggest anti-gun protest in American history, as millions shamed adults for their inaction.
From afar, Greta watched the Parkland students galvanize a following within a few short weeks. She was struck by the power and attention that could be attracted by a single de􀀂ant act like skipping school, an action many Parkland students adopted. Most of the Parkland activists—students like David Hogg and X González—were seventeen and eighteen years old, just a bit older than Greta. Before Parkland, they were normal kids; after, their world was upended. In response, they became national—and global—activists. They began to mobilize the country against its toxic gun culture.
Greta was amazed by their successes and inspired by their tactics, so she began to follow suit. Her protest—a walkout modeled after one staged by Parkland survivors—was small in scale at 􀀂rst. She stood outside the Swedish parliament with a painted sign reading “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (“School Strike for Climate”). She was 􀀂fteen. No one joined her, and many passersby pitied what seemed futile e􀀃orts. The next day, however, a few people joined after social media started buzzing. And the next, even more came. Soon enough, supporters regularly showed up. She stood there every day for 􀀂ve months until the Swedish elections, as she had promised.
Her internet presence continued to expand, fueling coverage in the national and international press. Her solitary act of de􀀂ance soon drew an estimated 4 million people into the streets for the Global Climate Strikes, the biggest single day of climate protests in history. Time magazine named her Person of the Year, and the UN invited her to speak to the General Assembly. She was once again scorching toward adults: “You are failing us,” she charged. “But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal.” Three years after her initial strike in Sweden, Greta doubled down on her attacks at Italy’s Youth4Climate summit. Instead of taking action, she described thirty years of empty promises as a bunch of “blah, blah, blah.” Greta Thunberg and the Parkland students are not alone, of course, in mobilizing thousands—and sometimes millions—to follow their leadership. Stories abound in which protestors are demanding greater social and economic justice. In some countries, we should acknowledge, the protestors are on the side of authoritarians, but in most nations they seek freedom.
In Pakistan, for example, a young girl in her teens became a voice for the education of other young women. At age 􀀂fteen, she was so threatening to the Taliban that they ordered her killed. Soon after, as she was riding a school bus to her home in the Swat Valley, three men stopped the bus, demanding to know which was Malala, and shot her in the face. She was perilously close to death. Somehow she not only survived but found the inner strength to continue her campaign to this very day. Her leadership in human rights has been so compelling that she was awarded a Nobel Prize for Peace, the youngest honoree in history.

In America, young women—especially Black women—have pressured the country’s leaders into embracing a progressive agenda. Tarana Burke, a young Black woman born in the Bronx, became a social activist at age sixteen. Tired of being harassed and assaulted, she started the MeToo Movement at thirty-three, taking to social media to “empower through empathy.” She wanted a safe platform where women could con􀀂de their private stories of sexual harassment and violence. In 2017, Time magazine proclaimed her one of its People of the Year. The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, supporters of MeToo built much of the momentum behind the Women’s March, the biggest protest in American history on behalf of women’s rights. Beyond that event, Burke’s movement spurred a national awakening and reckoning on patriarchal sexual abuse, harassment, and power.
Several years after Burke coined MeToo, three Black women in their twenties and thirties—Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi—created the social movement that came to be called Black Lives Matter when George Zimmerman, the man who murdered a Black youth named Trayvon Martin, was acquitted. Avowed “Black Radicals,” they initially drew venomous attacks from the right. But when Americans saw the television clips of George Floyd’s dying moments some seven years later, they were horri􀀂ed. Just as TV clips of the Birmingham sheri􀀃 unleashing dogs on Black children transformed the civil rights debates of the past, clips of Floyd’s murder transformed the racial debates of today. Millions were stirred into supporting Black Lives Matter protests across the country. What’s more, the movement forced the country to confront its brutal racist past and present unlike any grassroots e􀀃ort before it.

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