My Mom the Deviant – Leads in This Brutal Recession

A cousin of mine with five kids under seven has been without a job since May.  My mom sprang into action last night, making calls, bundling checks from each of her seven kids.

I think the scholars I admire at the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan would call Mom a great example of “positive deviance!”

This recession sucks.  There’s enough sadness, anger, and fear to point about a million fingers.  But it also affords a lot of chances for humanity to emerge, too, and for positive deviance. Is there a wise tradition that denies this?

  • Zen says all of life is suffering.  And ego makes it so, or at least prolongs it.  Suffering can lead us to true presence for the first time.
  • Jesus says, “If a man would gain his life, he must lose it,” and “blessed are the poor in spirit.”
  • A Mormon scholar writes:  “It may well be that only those who undergo suffering can fully empathize with the suffering soul. Only those who go down into the depths of humility with a broken heart and a contrite spirit can fully understand the Master and the path he trod. Therefore, in times of suffering perhaps it is faith we need, rather than rational understanding. Perhaps our prayers should be for strength to bear up under the burden rather than to have the burden removed. (See Mosiah 24:13–15.) Perhaps the road we may have to tread through suffering leads ultimately to important discoveries of the soul.”*
  • A Muslim Fatwa speaks to suffering, offering multiple explanations, including that “Allah allows some people to suffer in order to test their patience and steadfastness.”  This explanation also offers a point other religions sometimes miss.  “Allah sometimes allows some people to suffer to test others, how they react to them. When you see a person who is sick, poor and needy, then you are tested by Allah. Allah is there with that suffering person to test your charity and your faith.”  (emphasis added)
  • Job offers an amazing example of faith in challenge (as well as plenty of examples of how to be a rotten friend)

Kouzes and Posner say it in leadership jargon:  “only challenge produces the opportunity for greatness.”  I’ve been thinking that only challenge produces the opportunity for authenticity.  If you don’t bump against something big, don’t get your edges shaved off, don’t test yourself, how will you know who you are, what you’re really made of?  And if you’re not challenged by others’ suffering, who are you really?

We’re not just solitary soldiers.  Part of what we’re made of is the family and community that surrounds and defines us.  So, amidst the anger, impatience, and fear, I lift up my cousin in struggle and my Mom’s positive deviance.  Mom shows a wonderful example of how challenge offers an opportunity for compassion and action…

To lead with your best self

*Arthur Bassett, “What the Scriptures Saying about Suffering?” found at
on November 15, 2009.

** Mufti Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Why Does Allah Allow Suffering and Evil in the World? Found at: accessed on November 15, 2009.