by Sheila M. Koenig
From the Editor: The following article first appeared in the Summer, 1999, issue of the Blind Missourian, the publication of the NFB of Missouri. Sheila was a 1995 NFB scholarship winner. She now teaches English and Spanish in a Springfield, Missouri, middle school.
Thoughtful leaders in any organization recognize the importance of encouraging the involvement and growth of young members. Organizations stultify and eventually die if those in control discourage the introduction of new blood. But it is one thing to pay lip service to this truism and quite another to conduct the business of the group in such a way that new members feel that they and their ideas are welcome. Sheila's little meditation reminds us all that in the NFB part of the job of experienced leaders is to nurture and guide new, young members; and the duty of young leaders is to learn and work and grow. This process is always a balancing act; but, when it is done successfully, we all benefit and the organization becomes stronger and more effective. Here is what Sheila Koenig has to say:
One day a man planted a bamboo seedling. He cared deeply for it, so each day he watered it and tended to it, always making sure it had the proper sunlight to grow. After a year's time, the man saw that the plant had not grown at all, but he continued to water it, tend to it, and make sure it was nourished by proper sunlight. Again, after the second year the plant had not grown. He watered and tended it through the third year and the fourth. Suddenly, as if by magic, in the fifth it began growing. In fact, it grew two and a half feet a day until in six weeks it was ninety feet tall.
The bamboo tree's growth involves no magic. During its first five years it develops miles and miles of roots beneath the ground. Though no growth is visible, the foundation is being established and strengthened.
I thought about this story after returning from last summer's National Convention. Transition describes for me the tone and feeling of our convention in Atlanta. While we breathed our history by reflecting upon the life, teaching, and wisdom of Dr. Jernigan, we also began to dream about the future. Many new people participated in this year's resolutions process, and a steady shift was evident in division officers. Strength radiated in all directions. These new leaders clearly embody the spirit of our past, and they are skillfully guided by our present leaders.
I recognize that the most important thing for me as a young Federationist is to develop and strengthen my skills as a future leader. I must study the teachings of Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer. I can observe how Gary Wunder guides the Board of Directors through a meeting. These things are essential, but this is not enough. At times it seems to me that some established leaders are skeptical of young Federationists who are eager to serve. Perhaps they fear that we do not fully understand the philosophy or the policies of our organization. Perhaps the idea of change itself creates fear and doubt. At such times I am deeply saddened and afraid. I am afraid for the future of our organization.
The bamboo tree cannot grow on its own. It needs to be nourished by the sunlight, watered, and tended. Young leaders need the same. We need to be nourished by the wisdom and experience of those who possess them. We need time to develop the fundamental system of roots which will hold us all together. We need opportunity to explore our strengths and, for that matter, to make our own mistakes. We must learn from those mistakes. Only then can we grow to our full potential and stretch our possibilities. The future does not belong to me and my generation alone, nor does it rest only on the shoulders of our present leaders. It is ours. All of our voices--past, present, and future--must blend in harmony as we continue along the path of security, equality, and opportunity.