My mother, Elaine Newman z”l, was a brilliant woman.
A musicologist and a university professor, a superb pianist, author and linguist, she visualized and could cite, by measure, passages in complete orchestral scores during concerts. Her dreams involved mathematical theorems and complex variations of Pascal’s Triangle. She read and spoke French, and taught herself Romanian, the better to understand the work of George Enescu, a composer whose opera Oedipe figured prominently in her dissertation.
She was, in every respect, an intellect.
Yet as educated and erudite as she was, as refined and soft-spoken as she (most often) was, her gentle demeanor belied not only a staggering strength but an impatience for constant dithering and weak-kneed indecision.
Her steely nerve took many by surprise, but in fact it was her decisiveness in addition to her pure intelligence that made her a valued counselor to the many boards on which she served and to the many organizations and individuals she guided.
She’s been gone for more than a decade now and although I think about her, as a friend once said of her own departed mother, only every day, I am particularly mindful of her wisdom as I observe the angst on display in so many of our communities over the Iran nuclear deal.
We have studied this deal and its provisions in depth and to death, and our noisy, imperfect but in the end responsive political process will produce either a signed agreement or something else. One way or the other, the sun will come up in the morning the day after Congress votes on the deal in September.
In the meantime, we are engaged in a seemingly endless, slow-motion production of Hamlet with many of us pacing the stage in our communities, whispering, to sign, or not to sign?
Or, even more curiously, to opine, or not to opine?
It is important to be careful, thoughtful and mindful of the impact of our pronouncements and our actions, particularly when the issues are controversial and challenging. But surely we want our leaders to have the intestinal fortitude to look a situation in the eye and say, this requires that our voice be heard.
Or, this requires that we keep a principled silence.
Few situations, however, call for or benefit from public displays of quivering angst, all of which takes me back to my own dear mother.
Among the many wonderful memories I have of her, one of my favorites is her frequent quotation (and modest embellishment) of Goethe: “Give me the benefit of your convictions, if you have any, but spare me your misgivings, for I have enough of my own.”
In the present context, I’d say, if you support this deal, do so with conviction.
If you are moved to oppose it, be not shy.
Above all, if you are a leader, lead.
Communities, companies and organizations benefit from leadership that is strong enough to stand up and speak up, whether or not we are in full agreement.
Strength and decisiveness inspire confidence.
Come mid-September, the present controversy over this deal will be resolved or well on its way to resolution.
Long afterwards, however, in many critical contexts that we cannot even anticipate at this point, our communities will look to our leaders for guidance.
When we do, I hope our leaders will channel their inner Goethe and keep their Hamlets at bay.
That’s the way my mother would have wanted it, and that’s good enough for me.
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