New Directions Leader As Beginner: Part Five

“Use the Force, Luke.” Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

When my wife Segan was training to be a psychotherapist, she asked if I would give a talk at the youth home where she worked. I had been telling her about the value of “Full-Spectrum Respect” (one of the New Directions in Leadership principles), and she thought that the guys at the youth home would benefit from hearing me speak. Not long after our conversation, I found myself driving to the youth home to address fifty boys and their attending staff. I had prepared what I was going to talk about, but I didn’t have a story that would help the boys relate to my presentation. You see, these boys weren’t ordinary “troublemakers”; most of them were affiliated with gangs; a few had seen their friends killed. I knew going in that if I didn’t show up in an authentic way my audience would have a hard time connecting with me. Thanks to George Lucas, I found just what I was looking for. 

I began the program with this question: “How many of you would like to learn how to use the ‘Force’ the one that Luke Skywalker learned about in ‘Star Wars’?” That got their attention. I wasn’t putting them on. I did share with them how to use the “Force.” You see, George Lucas came up with the idea of the “Force” by studying Aikido at UCLA from Mr. Soji, a diminutive yet powerful Aikido master, who later, I would venture to guess, influenced the creation of Yoda. The “Force” was the name Lucas used instead of Ki, which is understood in Aikido as the Universal Life Force.

My audience spoke of always being “dissed” by people; their desire to be like Luke Skywalker, a Jedi warrior, was very great. He wasn’t a bully or a powerless victim, but a very appealing, life-affirming alternative. He represented a positive force in the Universe, where, not unlike in these boys’ own neighborhoods, ongoing battles between “light and dark forces” were commonplace. During the presentation, we did some interactive exercises, and discussed what “Full-Spectrum Respect” means and how to develop greater respect for each other. I also spoke on the value of cultivating the qualities of humility and gratitude.   

After my presentation, the youth home’s director told me that she had never seen the boys pay so much attention to a speaker before. “How did you do that?” she asked.