Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep

Having gone through several personal crises in the last few years or so – with sickness and deaths in the family – I have a better understanding on what I appreciate in such circumstances and what would make me seriously upset – contrary to the well-intentioned actions or utterances.

When my brother passed away in 2008, I was still working at Adelaide Bank. Handy’s death came as a complete shock to us, as none of us knew the seriousness of his heart conditions. I got a call from my second sister, informing me of his death and I could remember sitting in my living room, rocking myself back and forth, crying in a near-catatonic state before I snapped myself out of it to arrange flights to return to Indonesia. I stopped by the office the next day to tell my boss about my brother’s death. The moment she saw me across the hall, she said, “Arry, what happened?”. I lost all control and started weeping. She didn’t say much, and just gave me a hug and brought me to her office. She just listened and wept with me. She didn’t offer any words of comfort that would sound so cliché – she told me not to worry about work, and that all would be taken care of.

That experience gave me the an insight of what would help people in their times of troubles. A hug speaks a million words rather than the usual well-intentioned utterances. Do you think that all of the sayings like “Please be strong …” and “Hang in there” are unique to you – and that we, as the recipients, don’t know that we need to be strong and to hang in there? I am not a violent person, but in such a raw emotional state, I would be so tempted to give somebody a real slap if they say those words again. I just need you to be with me, weep with me, and in not so many words, tell me that you are with me and that I can count on you. That was what my ex-boss did – and in that moment, she showed herself as a leader.

Another example presented itself some years later at the Institute where I work now – when I applied for a promotion to be a Senior Marketing Scientist (it was called Senior Research Associate then). The application was knocked back as I didn’t quite fulfil all of the criteria. I must have shown dark emotions in my demeanours and on the social media then. Many didn’t say anything and left me alone to deal with my issues. However, one senior member of the Institute emailed me privately to ask me how I was doing and started their response with, “Oh Arry, I’m so sorry” and then relayed their experience in facing roadblocks in academia. I hugely appreciated that gesture and the email – when one could have responded with gung-ho encouragements or just didn’t offer anything due to the awkward circumstances.

Many words have been mentioned about our Prime Minister Scott Morrisson in his handling of the bushfire crisis. Many contrast his paternal and steady ‘chill-daddy-is-in-control; let’s-play-cricket’ style to New Zealand PM Jacinta Ardern with her raw display of emotions during the Christchurch shooting or the White Island incident. Of course, I don’t expect ScoMo to start hugging people left and right. I appreciate that he is in a delicate and very difficult situation – he needs to instill calmness to the people, and yet show that he is the man for the people.

Perhaps it’s true that the criticisms are perhaps given by those who still felt bruised by his victory in the last election. Perhaps it’s also true that he has actually done a great job in coordinating help and working behind the scene in ensuring that people are safe and that the nation’s machination continues to chug along. Yes, these things are not really newsworthy and sexy as clickbaits.

I respect him, I truly do. It’s not an easy job to govern a strongly-opinionated nation. However, I get so frustrated and so disheartened by his lack of genuine display of empathy. Maybe he’s just being a traditional guy – that it’s hard for us to show emotions. Intelligently. When somebody refuses to shake your hand, don’t insist … just listen and show your empathy. The hecklers in Cobargo are similar to children who have lost something so precious to them. When a child is crying inconsollably and thumping on your chest, you don’t just disentangle them and put them on the floor and say, “Leave him be. He’s just tired.” You hold on to the child, let them cry, you console them and weep with them … showing that you care, and that you are there for them.

NSW RFS Commissioner Craig Fitzsimmons pinning the bravery medal to Harvey Keaton, the son of a fallen firefighter, Geoffrey Keaton. Source: RFS

A classy and genuine display of leadership to me is what NSW’s RFS commissioner Craig Fitzsimmons did when he pinned the bravery award to the son of a fallen firefighter. He has shown how in control and how professional he is when he fronts the media and updates us of the progress of the bushfires in NSW. However, he’s also not afraid to show his heart. What I see in his action and the emotions displayed on his face was the marks of a leader.

So I pray that the Prime Minister would be less emotionally-awkward – at times you do need to lead with your heart.

You rejoice with those who rejoice, and you weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15.