Real Leaders

True Victory is Honoring the Dead on Both Sides

On 12th of October we held Spain’s national holiday to celebrate the arrival of Christopher Columbus on American soil in 1492. More than five hundred years later, our ability to include everyone under Spanish King Felipe’s (pictured above) leadership is being tested. Here’s why.

If you’ve followed the news lately, you must have read that Cataluña is threatening to separate from Spain. At least, a group of its politicians wants to. Polls, votes and individual declarations of allegiance seem to have divided the Catalans in half. It’s an enormous issue for us Spaniards because if Catalunya did go that route, they might soon be followed by the Basque region. Then…well, Galicia, Valencia and Balear Islands might want to reinstate their autonomy too. Spain is what you might call an acutely diverse team.

Spain is what you might call an acutely diverse team.

As if this wasn’t enough, we’re also quite conflicted about our role in Latin America. Like many other European countries, once we’ve finished exploring and conquering our own continent, we focused on the rest of the world. Shamefully, we weren’t exactly elegant about it. Who was?

Twitter burned all day recently with two lines of conversation: One celebrating our country, Hispanic culture, national unity and our ambition to lead the Spanish speaking world. The other, sparked by the new mayor of Barcelona, under a Spanish hashtag, meaning “nothing to celebrate,” denounced genocide, massacre and exploitation on the new continent. Representatives of left-wing parties and regional governments, those most inclined to exit, showed their disdain by their silence. They were mentioned by the media all day long due to their angry absence. Spain gave a colorful demonstration of diversity at its most extreme.

Still, nobody was indifferent. Those opposed to the separation didn’t fail to come to Madrid to see the armed forces march down Castellana Avenue. And they obviously spent much time analyzing the press, deciding what to tweet, and gossiped with friends about proceedings at the political party they wanted nothing to do with. There couldn’t have been a more intense emotional entanglement joining us together under that red, yellow and white smoke left in the sky above our heads from the Eagle Patrol fly-by.

The opposite of love isn’t hatred. You can’t hate somebody or something you don’t still love on some level.

The opposite of love isn’t hatred. You can’t hate somebody that you don’t still love on some smaller level. This is the key to conquering the challenges of our Spanish diversity. It’s the key to leadership everywhere on our planet of infinite diversity. It requires a stronger type of leader to zap us all out of conflict, back into joyful performance. The kind of leader we haven’t seen for a long while, and certainly not in Spain by any means.


At the beginning of this holiday ceremony, once the royal family has arrived and taken their places, there’s an offering to those who have fallen during war. A large laurel wreath, adorned with a bow is placed at the foot of a monument by the King, after which, an anthem is sung. Many of these words are clearly directed at God. Not surprising, when we consider that military forces remain more tied to religion than civilians. Making a job out of death does that to you.

The problem is this: the absence of those who didn’t fight for the red, yellow and red of our flag, but for an opposing symbol. Their ancestors don’t feel included in this ritual. Their symbols are missing. It reads, or feels, like their dead aren’t being honored. As long as they aren’t included, Spain will not be united. Hispanics will also not feel allegiance. Every person who may have had an uncle, a grandfather or a great grandmother on the rebel side will feel a pang of exclusion.

And herein lies most of the leadership challenges we face today: the constant contractions and sensations within our bodies that tell us there are secrets we’ve overlooked. A deep, wild wisdom that speaks to us without words, pumping thick, emotion through our bodies throughout our lives.

Is the King consciously including all the indigenous leaders who died to hand America over to the Spanish when he sings this ritual tune? Is he honoring the powerful aboriginal warrior queens who defended Northern Spain from Roman Catholic attacks for centuries? Are we all thinking beyond our own flag when we say “brothers” in our song? Or are we still playing belittling games of rivalry, competition and satisfaction at having won? Are we looking down on those whose flags no longer fly before us? Or are we thanking them for their sacrifice?

Are we all thinking beyond our own flag when we say “brothers” in our song?

True wisdom, the kind we most lack in the rational societies of today, points to the example of ancestral leaders, who included the losers in their celebrations of battle. Magnanimous generals who pardoned an opposing fighter because he had shown courage, heroism and deep loyalty. Even Spanish bulls can be pardoned and honored in a bull-fight if they have demonstrated exceptional qualities of nobility and bravery. If we can honor a bull, why not the strong men and women who fought us to their deaths? How can we not bow our heads for the people who willfully gave up everything to build our nation, as they inevitably lost their own?

How can we not bow our heads for the people who willfully gave up everything to build our nation, as they inevitably lost their own?

This is our biggest obstacle to greatness. This is the next level of inclusion, that we all need to build  into our lives, businesses and families: respect and gratitude for all those who’ve died in battles that have shaped our world today. Heroism is heroism, no matter what flag it fights for. It should always be remembered. And once every fallen fighter is included in our songs, all hearts can then truly sing together.

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