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After Pittsburgh, words of strength in the face of hate

Leaders who speak with civility and integrity bring us together. Those who speak with grievance and hatred tangle us in their web of deceit and hate.

4 min read



Brendon Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

When events such as the murder of 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh leave us speechless, leaders must help us find our bearings.

“These are good, decent people,” said Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of those who were slain. Myers was holding service at Tree of Life at the time of the shooting.

“They didn’t have an ounce of hate in any of them. We turn to the leaders of our country. We’ve got to stop hate, and it can’t just be to say we need to stop hate. We need to do, we need to act, to tone down rhetoric. Hate is not welcome here in Pittsburgh. It should not be welcome in our borders at all.”

“We fight hate with love,” said Bill Peduto, mayor of Pittsburgh. “We fight it with compassion. We fight it with an understanding that a neighborhood like Squirrel Hill is the most diverse in all of Western Pennsylvania, is a welcoming community that welcomes everyone. It’s a community whose foundation is based on that understanding.”

Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, president of Allegheny General Hospital where the shooter was taken, said that at least three people treating him were Jewish. “We’re here to take care of sick people,” not “judge” them. 

Cohen, who lives near Tree of Life, later told reporters that he had spoken to the shooter.

“You can’t on one hand say we should talk to each other, and then I don’t talk to him. So, you lead by example, and I’m the leader of the hospital.”

Leaders facing crisis would do well to recall these words. These people did not call for revenge, nor did they hurl insults and invectives. This is what sensible leaders do. No matter what such leaders may feel inside, they think before they speak.

They focus not on themselves, but on the needs of others — on healing. While this sentiment has largely prevailed throughout American history, it is sorely lacking today. Leaders who speak with civility and integrity bring us together. Those who speak with grievance and hatred tangle us in their web of deceit and hate.

President Donald Trump announced his desire to visit Pittsburgh. Ordinarily, a presidential visit is a welcome occasion. Not now. As Peduto explained, it is not appropriate for him to attend when the city is burying its dead. “Our attention and focus is going to be on them, and we don’t have Public Safety [police] that we can take away from what is needed in order to be at both.”

The president ignored the mayor’s advice and traveled to Pittsburgh to offer condolences.

One president who knew his role in times of tragedy was Ronald Reagan. His remarks after the Challenger disaster are remarkable not simply for their eloquence (written in part by Peggy Noonan) but also for their human touch. Not only did Reagan seek to comfort the families of the astronauts who died, but he also took an extra step.

“I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: ‘Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it.’”

Leaders seek to reach the hearts of everyone in times of tragedy.

Going forward, there will be time for outrage, but not at this moment. Now is the time for remembrance, to honor those who have died and cherish their memories.

The Rev. Liddy Barlow, a minister who spoke at a memorial service for the victims, noted that the “tree of life” phrase appears at the beginning of the Hebrew Bible and near the conclusion of the Christian Bible, citing as the fulfillment of the Garden of Eden. “If that’s what the tree looks like imagine what the neighborhood looks like,” Reverend Barlow said. “I think it looks like Squirrel Hill … the city of God.”


John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2018, Trust Across America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Trust. Also in 2018, named Baldoni a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. Global Gurus ranked him No. 22 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, named Baldoni to its list of top 50 leadership experts. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including his newest, “MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership.”

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