Sharpening the Edge – Lessons from Tragedy

By Stuart McRae
City Administrator
City of Sheridan, Wyoming

I’m not sure this is a leadership lesson as much as it is me taking stock of the week.  It’s been a really horrible week for us in Sheridan, but it’s also been one of the best in some ways.  There’s a few on this email who may not be familiar with what happened on Tuesday in Sheridan, Wyoming.  Late Tuesday morning, one of our police officers was shot and killed while on a routine call.

Since that event, the amount of support we’ve received from the community and from around the entire region has been nothing short of phenomenal.  We all came together during this time of distress and created a powerful sense of unity.  I can’t help to think that this type of thing has happened before and over time, gets eroded into the divisiveness that faces our country these days.

One of the lessons the U.S. Army learned in Iraq and Afghanistan is that tribes trump politics.  In the Arab world going back as far as there is recorded history, the various clans have fought each other, but when there is a common enemy, they unite.  If you watch the end of the movie, “Lawrence of Arabia,” T.E. Lawrence was extremely frustrated with the Arabs who had so united together to defeat the Turks and the other Central Powers in the Region but couldn’t stay together following the end of the conflict during the crucial time of developing a land all of their own.

We are not unlike that concept but perhaps through concerted energy, we can achieve what other clan-like entities have not been able to achieve.    If we can remember and value our unity together, perhaps we can achieve even greater things.  Then the legacy of a tragic life lost can be more than just a momentary thing.

Wyoming is a carbon producing state, so I love the idea that two of the products you can get from exerting pressure on carbon are diamonds or coal.  Our recent crisis resulted in a lot of pressure for us.  There was a lot of pain and stress from knowing that we get one chance to get things right, whether it’s how we handle a standoff, or how we react to and communicate with people.  We could have collapsed under the strain and turned on each other (coal), but instead, what I observed was an amazing level of unity from within our ranks, then from around the community, as well as, from throughout the state and region (diamonds).

On Thursday I attended a presentation which had a list of attributes that define intentional civility.  One was the ability to disagree without being disagreeable.  I’m not sure how to best do it, but if we can retain that idea of valuing each other over our differences, listen more deeply, and show a greater respect towards others, perhaps we can be the change that our country so desperately needs.

I would like to think that something good can come out of the death of Nevada Krinkee.  Our commitment to an ideal may be that good.