Being Human on a Full-Time Basis: Death

Britian Thatcher

Death isn’t often included as a topic on leadership development programmes. Perhaps it should be.

Yesterday’s short address by the Bishop of London at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral raised a number of important questions for us all. I have included some of his address in quotations.

Who are you? What is the continuity that is you, not just your roles or positions, but the story that is playing out through your life? What are the unique gifts that you bring to those you love, those you work with, and the community in which you live? “The atoms that make up our bodies are changing all the time, through wear and tear, eating and drinking. We are atomically distinct from when we were young. What unites Margaret Roberts of Grantham with Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven?”

“After the storm and the stress have passed and there is a great calm” what in the end will make your life seem valuable? The questions that will be important when we look back concern us all now. “How loving have I been? How faithful in personal relationships? Have I discovered joy in myself, or am I still looking for it in externals outside myself?”

Are you living your life on purpose? If one definition of power is the ability to achieve purpose, then Margaret Thatcher was a powerful person. We can debate her politics but she was committed to achieving “what she believed to be right for the common good”. What purpose are you committed to in how you live your life? If we looked at the pattern of your life, how you spend your time and money, what purpose does it embody?

Are you willing to live your life with knowledge of your death in front of you? “Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.” As Ernest Becker pointed out in his classic book, Denial of Death, we spend much of our life attempting to deny the oncoming reality of death, pushing our fears deep into the unconscious. I notice in my consulting work how we often treat organisations as mirages of certainty and permanence, in the face of the transitoriness of life. In many ways this suppressed fear of death is a flight from life. How about embracing our impermanence, celebrating our brief sojourn on this fragile planet and waking up to the possibility that our life represents?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? asks the poet, Mary Oliver.


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