Polish the headstone

On Christmas morning I’ll visit the grave of my maternal grandparents at Waikumete Cemetery. They won’t know I’ve been and actually, I hardly knew my grandfather who died when I was 5 years old. I have one only memory of him  – going up the escalators at Farmers – I think!. Christmas day as a boy felt like a very special day, in fact it felt so special that when we went out in the car to visit (usually Dad’s boss Huia Gilpin who lived in the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch), I would look at other people in their cars with some sort of reverence, almost amazement, that here we had arrived on this most special of days. Surely today we were a united community with clean cars, best clothes and only good things to say and do. And new stuff from under the tree. The whole world must be amazing today.

I re-live that feeling in part by listening to ridiculously cliche-ridden carols and cleaning the car (I only just realised that! ah the power of blogging). And by visiting Mum’s parents’ grave at Waikumete. Grandma was a pretty no-nonsense sort of person. I remember after a holiday in Auckland in January, all piling in the car to leave with her on the steps of her three-bedroom unit in Haverstock Road, Sandringham.  “Lovely to see you arrive, lovely to see you go” she declared. I was crushed. How could she say such a thing? How could the nine of us squeezed into her flat in Sandringham for three weeks with a week or so in the middle at Stanmore Bay, have been anything other than a joyous experience?

Later, when I boarded with her as a 21 year-old, she reprimanded me for inappropriate sarcasm to some door-to-door religious salesmen in white shirts and black name tags. No nonsense, but tolerant at the same time.

For some reason, time is the excuse, I haven’t put up a Christmas Tree this year. I might tonight. I might not. Somehow, it doesn’t seem important. The mind feels clear and at peace after a big year both professionally and personally and the tree seems not necessary for the experience of Christmas peace.

The man who lived 2000 years ago and was executed by the government of the day in a pretty routine method at that time, spoke, or at least had recorded about him, of tolerance. If he were around today, he’d be pretty shocked at the lack of tolerance by many of the establishments built up in his name. He’d be impressed by some, sure.

I feel very grateful that in my world there’s a lot of tolerance about race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, ability, wants. But unlike the visit to the Botanic Gardens in the 70s I realise that much or even most of the world is not so fortunate. Some people can’t choose what they wear, or eat, or days they work, because of intolerance based supposedly on the words of men who spoke primarily of such a thing. Strange.

None of this is going to change anytime soon, but every step of Authenticity and Tolerance as leaders we make to our teams and communities, it’s a step that will, with many other steps, ripple eventually across the oceans to maybe some poor kid in Africa infected by AIDS at birth from her mother.

So when I polish up the headstone, I’ll remember Grandma’s tolerance, at least on that one day that I got told off. But I’ll continue to be intolerant of one thing though: Intolerance. Make a stand for it. You won’t just lead a great team. Take how we lead at work as authentic leaders into all of the world and don’t put up with intolerance. We could save more lives that way than ever before.

That’s a Christmas worth having. Same one as a boy I thought the world was having.


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