One Woman's View of Tragedy: More Better Angels Needed

One Woman's View of Tragedy: More Better Angels NeededWe live ten miles from Newtown, Connecticut. I learned about the horrific event in an email from my friend Kim, mother of three gorgeous little girls who go to school in nearby Danbury, Connecticut, and whose lives, like so many, were forever changed in a single instant of tragedy. My husband, a former high school teacher who’d gone through all the lockdown trainings in our last community, where he coached baseball and was called Mr. Bob everywhere we went, wept at our dinner table last night.

We are all weeping. And we are all collectively watching another senseless tragedy unfold.

Our response is what matters now. We need more better angels.

Earlier this week I interviewed the author Whitney Johnson, whose book Dare, Dream, Do is all about recognizing that our humanity and our greatness lies in claiming our privilege to dream. And then to dare to do something about our dreams. It’s not easy. It takes courage. We either have to repeal the second amendment or do something equally powerful to stem this tide of gun violence.

I believe that one of the things that makes innovators different is that we not only see what’s missing in the world around, we are unafraid to step out and and create to fill the void.

What will we create now? Violence threatens the fabric of all our lives, public and private. The only possible response to Newtown is to act collectively for a solution.

We have to snap out of the comfortable and have the courage to act against violence and to put our arms around the vulnerable, the unstable, the messed up kids and people on the edge and realize that we are all one.

Business Model Innovation, Design Thinking, all the Ted Talks in the world, are the not the answer. They are fuel for the fire but they are not the fire.

There are role models and there are people who are working this issue that we might now need to elevate into the national dialogue with greater urgency. Two such people are Al McMichael and Teny Gross.

Al is the former Sergeant Major of the Marine Corp. He spends every minute he can in the classrooms of disadvantaged communities instilling citizenship. When his foundation works with schools, graduation rates rise and drop out rates fall. After serving for over 30 years in the Marine Corps and at NATO, he lives to serve kids and families. He is a true American hero.

Teny Gross is executive director of the institute for the study & practice of nonviolence (gang prevention, youth development, innovating back to civilization) in Providence, Rhode Island.

He has the peaceful warrior temperament and hard boiled realism to work with gangs and troubled communities and his results are nothing short of amazing.

But they’re only two men, and a true minority of people who are willing to go straight into the breach. Who will go with them? We have have a new kind of breach after yesterday and it’s bigger than the Grand Canyon and it will last for the rest of our lives.

As someone who’s lived with the aftermath of instant tragedy and the weight of shocking irreversible loss, my mothers’ suicide, for 30 years, I can honestly say that the first and most important thing we can do, as we mourn, and after we mourn, is to talk about what just happened and then to take action. I was with a good friend in D.C. this week whose father in law passed away while we were working together. We talked about the unreality of death — until it hits you.

I’ve spent my life filling the void that my mother’s suicide left, and celebrating her loss and life by finding the courage to keep going in seeking and celebrating others’ beauty. It is really the only thing that has helped me become whole and be OK.

I pray that we, especially the we that is the Innovation Excellence tribe of brilliant, courageous people, will make what happened yesterday important enough, meaningful enough, that we will honor the dead and the living everywhere by finding the courage to act against violence. There are role models for how to innovate a response to violence (McMichael, Gross, Janet Benshoof and many others) and there are plenty of reasons, at least 26, who from now on will be our better angels, not to slide back into complacency, and not to forget.

photo image: Andrew Sullivan, Beloblog,

Julie Anixter is Chief Innovation Officer at Maga Design and the executive editor and co-founder of Innovation Excellence. The co-author of three books, she’s working on a fourth on courage and innovation. She worked with Tom Peters for five years on bringing big ideas to big audiences. Now she works with the US Military, Healthcare, Manufacturing and other high test innovation cultures that make a difference.

Julie Anixter




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No Comments

  1. Deb Mills-Scofield on December 15, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Julie – thank you – your call to action is so necessary and urgent. Thank you – thank you – deb

    • Julie Anixter on December 16, 2012 at 8:12 am

      Your support means everything! Thank you.

  2. Transformational MBA on December 15, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Interesting and worth sharing read. Courage and Innovation – could be a discussing and debatable topic.

    • Julie Anixter on December 15, 2012 at 9:02 pm

      Thanks T-MBA,

      I think there is a huge connection between courage and innovation. And, I’d dppreciate hearing more from you!


      • Transformational MBA on February 19, 2013 at 10:59 am

        Courage is “Taking action even at the face of Fear”. It is not the state of fearlessness, but it is about acknowledging fear and then taking action. And when we talk about Innovation, it is mostly applied creativity, and most of the time, the application of creative ideas are loaded with implications and unfamiliar consequences which can cause fear and therefore innovation is so hard to have. So, courage is must to have innovation in place. In fact, we can say that both goes hand in hand.

  3. Shelley on December 17, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    Beautifully written. Thanks Julie.

  4. Joan Holman on December 18, 2012 at 2:49 am

    Your heartfelt response to horrible violence is a mark of your desire to contribute to the greater good of humanity. Although people differ in their political views, the unifying force for change should be that sincere desire to get to the cause and core in the human condition that outpictures such horror not only in incidents such as these, but in wars of violence and destruction that have marked our history for thousands of years. That is why much of my journey has involved not only the world of business but working on my own personal psychology and my work in an earlier career as a psychotherapist and college psychology teacher. War and violence is a collective expression of the shadow side we all have individually, and the process of true and permanent change must come from individual growth and transformation. I highly recommend the teachings of Swiss psychologist Alice Miller who wrote extensively about the roots of violence, and how individuals and societies can move toward healing.

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