Leaders need to understand that it is possible to change the past. In fact, the greatest leaders are also masters at changing the context of what has happened to help us see and understand in a new and different way. This process of changing the past and thus the current understanding is that of “re-contextualization” – a big word for a very large shift.
It is always said that you can not change the past. At the level of physical events, it is true that you can not change what transpired – the behaviors, the actions, the actual consequences. At the level of meaning and how the past is “held” in understanding and capacity, we can change the past by shifting the context or the container within which we view and understand what has transpired. When we shift the context of the events in terms of meaning, we have shifted our perspective and literally, in that moment, we have changed the past.
I worked as a licensed marital and family therapist for many years. Whether I worked with individuals, couples or extended families, a great deal of what I did was helping people to “hold” themselves and the past events of their lives in a more compassionate and courageous way. When I was successful with them, they relaxed and opened up to life and to those around them. They did this because we had shifted how they viewed themselves, how they understood life and thus how they behaved and interacted with others. Inevitably they became more more effective, loving and and a peace. This impacted not only their personal life but also made them more powerful and effective at work.
Leadership is about connecting with and inviting others to follow. The very best leaders are able to view the context of the times and to shift within this positively and dramatically. Where someone might see something and call it a “problem” a true leader looks at it and says, “Look at the opportunity we have!” Some examples of powerful leaders who re-contextualized: FDR, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” JFK, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” The list of those leaders who were able to offer a new view, a new context, is quite long: Abraham Lincoln, Oprah Winfrey, Mahatma Gandhi, Ronald Reagan, Steve Jobs, Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, and the list goes on.
How are you holding your past? How might you view what has happened that you see as negative in a new light? What might shift in you if you began to see the pile of garbage you have always resented or resisted from the past as “compost” with which to grow something more loving, powerful, effective and offering greater potential for joy?