That quote is really about how important I believe it is to speak out for what you believe in. Sometimes that requires courage. The three smaller beads speak to community, resilience and leadership. These are words I thought I understood, but didn't truly appreciate until after the earthquake. A community is not the co-location of houses – that's a suburb. It is the relationship between people in those houses and their connection with decision-makers, be that central or local government.
Resilient communities have plenty of pre-existing social capital. I looked at both of your websites. The Villa Maria College motto is: Learn to prize what is of value.
At the heart of the College are the attributes of Mercy including:
- Respect for the dignity, worth and potential of every human being
- Concern for the poor and the disadvantaged
- Concern for justice
That's why I have always said Leadership is not a position you hold – it's a mark of your character. There are plenty of people who hold leadership positions who are not leaders in the true sense of the word. And sometimes people who do not hold leadership positions are true leaders in every sense of the word. I remember going to a forum where young people were asked to describe leadership and the usual words were offered: strong, decisive, authoritative, inspiring, responsible. Any textbook would associate those words with what it takes to be a leader. But this is what is described as a heroic model of leadership – someone who comes in and takes charge – such leaders issue orders and are obeyed. In the emergency response period following a disaster, people often look for this form of leadership – it's the command and control model and it can be comforting, someone else taking charge, knowing what to do.
But there is another way to define leadership and this definition ties in with my experience once the crisis is over and we begin the process of recovery. What marks the character of a true leader is summed up in the word trust. And some of the qualities that engender trust are wisdom, courage, faith, moderation and justice. If it sounds like a set of virtues then you are not mistaken. A virtuous leader is able to build trust and thus mobilise the leader in others. And that is the distinction between the heroic leader and the true leader – it is not about taking charge; it is about engaging others in a way that enables them to lead in their own right. These are the kind of leaders we need in a post disaster recovery environment – three years means it's getting very hard for a lot of people. And it doesn't help that people think the rest of New Zealand has forgotten us.
Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister's Chief Science Adviser, prepared a report for the government 3 months after the February earthquake. He said the potential exists for the emotional effects of disaster to cause as great a degree of suffering as do the physical effects such as injury and loss of property or income. He said: "The earthquake was a disempowering event – an event that individuals had no control over and leaves them essentially with no control over how they live. The need to regain some sense of control over one's life is central to the recovery process. Disempowerment essentially reinforces the initial trauma." I know from my own personal experience that as soon as I knew what had happened in a physical sense – liquefaction, lateral spread – then I felt I could cope. Maybe it's a variation on knowledge is power – knowledge is empowerment. The right kind of leadership that must emerge in this environment is one that is respectful, engaging, empathetic, inclusive and intuitive.
Why do we think of women when we hear those words and yet we don't necessarily think of women when we look for a leader? Have we had the image of the heroic leader drummed into us to the extent that we don't see that these are the qualities that build trust? I remember someone sending me JK Rowling's speech on the occasion of Harvard University's 357th Commencement. I was blown away. She talked about failure – not to glamorise the experience of finding herself at the end of a broken marriage as a solo parent with a classics degree and not much else. In fact there was nothing glamorous about her experience of poverty and despair. But she said this: "So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea.
And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life. You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default. Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learnt no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies. The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned." This quote from J K Rowling has come to mean so much more to me over the past couple of years. The knowledge I have gained is a true gift.
And although the experience in Christchurch of the past three years is not one that represents failure, I too have discovered what truly matters. I too have stripped away the inessential. I have as the Villa motto says learned to prize what is of value. I went to an amazing event called TEDx in 2011. Art Agnos, who was the Mayor of San Francisco when their earthquake struck, gave the closing address. He talked about the capital that is invested in order to develop a successful enterprise, and then he talked about the capital that a politician has to invest in the city or the community's agenda. The politician's capital wasn't money it was his or her popularity. He said no matter how long you serve, your time as a politician comes to an end but what sticks to you is the knowledge that you used that opportunity to do something lasting.
He made the hard decision to take a citizens' advisory committee recommendation to the Council even though it was bitterly opposed by the business community, who whipped up a wider community response. It cost him his job 2 years later, but what a legacy he left the communities that were freed from the shadow of the elevated freeway, which he had demolished and which unleashed the full potential of the waterfront. This story told me two things. One it is important to face the facts of the situation with an open mind and not to be overwhelmed by vested interests. The second was to do the right thing, regardless of the political consequences.
We need the facts on the table and we need to be prepared to do the right thing. And we should all demand nothing less of those who serve us. And we should all be prepared to play our role. On Tuesday I went to see Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. If true leadership is about courage, perseverance and commitment then he is entitled to be remembered as one of the great leaders of this and the last century. And as I said sometimes a leader is called upon to have the courage to say things out loud. He said: "I am your leader. If you don't want me, tell me to go and rest. As long as I am your leader I will tell you where you are wrong."
But he had another quality and that was the capacity to forgive. After 27 years in prison he reflected: "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison." So I ask the young women here today to make a commitment – that if you want to see something done ...whether it's a policy change... ...whether it's a project in your neighbourhood... ...whether it's as an elected representative... you must never allow yourself to wonder 'what if...' You must do it.
Whether you succeed in your endeavour or not, you will have shown that you too understand what truly matters and that you are prepared to stand up and be counted. That's what leadership is.