Jasmine’s blog is silent at the moment and she still speaks volumes.
Right now I’ll focus on Jasmine’s complex story of leadership. What immediately comes to mind is her five-part series on her trip to Vermont, a place she calls her heart, following Hurricane Irene.
Jasmine went north with her friend and the story begins with a volunteer coordinator asking for folks with trade skills. Her friend answers “We do,” for both of them, to which Jasmine reacts in disbelief, but her friend persuades her, subtly and not-so-subtly to go along.
“It turns out my friend is a born leader. She was able in that moment to see that what was really needed was a few people with organizing skills who were comfortable leading a group of people to safely and effectively accomplish a task. She knew we had these skills in spades.” Jasmine then goes on to elucidate some interesting discoveries:
“Leaders are not born (except my above mentioned friend), they are empowered. And they are not just empowered by an outer source of authority, but equally from an inner source of authority. …
Do not look at barriers. Only focus on resources. I was so hung up on my idea of myself as someone who is bad with a hammer and clumsy with a saw I couldn’t see the vast reservoir of resources I had to offer…
Everyone is a leader. From that moment forward I not only looked for what resources I could offer to the situation, but I also immediately looked to everyone else as resources as well.”
Eventually Jasmine and her friend assume coordination of the local project from a weary, grateful farmer, and she reports on what they accomplish:
“By afternoon volunteer crews had made substantial progress on the whole street, and by progress I mean amazing leaders had taken the responsibility to do things like hand five gallon buckets full of mud up through a hole in a basement for hours and hours on end as part of a large bucket brigade lined up through the basement and up through to behind the house.
Anyone who came to me that morning and showed the slightest sense of initiative I immediately put in charge of something. One woman came to me and asked,
“Would it be okay if I went and got a belt for Fred (the elderly man whose house we were working in who’d lost everything and then the day before his belt had broken)?”
I answered, “Not only is it okay, but you certainly don’t have to ask my permission, and when you get back from getting him a belt I am going to put you in charge of the whole street.””
“She didn’t know she could lead until that moment when she already was.” By doing. The upshot is “claiming your wisdom, power, and purpose in every moment.”
Jasmine goes on to meet the governor, by asking to speak with him after the governor expresses bewilderment at the condition of the town and the apparent lack of management. After the encounter, she reflects: “Maybe it wasn’t the Governor’s job to get the young out-of-state Vermonters to come home and help, maybe it was mine.”
And after travelling back to Massachusetts after two days, Jasmine, reflecting on her experience, realizes what she is called to do, what the governor was saying to her: “Less than an hour ago Governor Shumlin had said to me, “I need you” and fun as it was to flirt with the idea he needed me, what he meant was:
“Vermont needs all the help it can get and this town in particular. You showed up and now your leadership is needed. I don’t want to date you. I want to dare you to offer your skills to this community.”
So she returns. Confronted with similar chaos, Jasmine relates, in a moving and complex piece titled I Just Stood There Being an Opportunity:
“Looking for opportunity means realizing everyone is a resource however obstinate, recalcitrant, inefficient, inept, inert, traumatized, limited, or lame they seem to be. Help channel their energy in the right direction and—Voila! We move forward, work gets done, needs get met.
By the end of the day new connections were being made, awkward grace was establishing itself, and community leaders and the town selectman were beginning to work together.”
Physically exhausted by her efforts, however, Jasmine soon finds herself not as caretaker but in the position of being taken care of by newfound companions. The words she quotes from Pema Chödrön have particular resonance: ““Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” By helping others we help ourselves, through what we can give each other.
Recovering from this draining experience, Jasmine speaks in the next segment of grand plans to start a relief organization to take care of Vermont and more, until she is reminded by a text from a friend to take care of herself first with the word “differentiation.” She summarizes the complexity of her lessons incisively:
“We need leaders in this world, but equally we need teamwork and we need friends. We need to take care of ourselves if we want to be effective at all in anyway what-so-ever.
We get into trouble if we think we can leave it all to the invisible THEM, but we also get in trouble if we think we have to do it all ourselves.”
It’s one of my favorite stories that documents the power of assuming leadership and responsibility balanced with the realization that helping others helps us and we can’t help anybody if we don’t take care of ourselves also.