On May 10th, 1962, David Ben Gurion wrote a letter in response to one he had received from the bereaved sister of a recently killed Israeli soldier. The letter, published on the English-language website of the Israel State Archives (which, if you love Israel and history, you should bookmark and visit often), is a window into what made Ben Gurion a great leader.
It may seem like a strange thing to publish here – a blog generally reserved for analysis of breaking events. When we publish posts about history, it’s usually in a commemorative circumstance.
But one line from this letter struck me as so deeply moving that I wanted to share it. Prime Minister Ben Gurion (who, at that time, was also Minister of Defense) wrote:
I know I can’t argue with you. I must regard these matters rationally, and that I can’t demand of you; as a bereaved sister, I cannot require you to apply cool logic. Nor, I’m afraid, will I be able to mitigate your pain; such pain isn’t to be mitigated.
It’s not unusual for leaders to FEEL the burden of leadership – to think rationally while others have the luxury of emotion, to calculate, to apply “cool logic,” to be the adult in the room. Shakespeare said as much in “Henry IV” when he wrote “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” But it is unusual for them to talk about it. People – especially those in grief – don’t like to be told they are reacting emotionally or irrationally. People also don’t like to be told they are wrong.
But, even to a grieving sister, Ben Gurion wasn’t afraid to lay out what he really thought. Such boldness is refreshing – even 50 years after it was written.