Blog entry by Alan Chapman
Is there a deeper example of leadership?
Marieke Vervoort, the Belgian Paralympian medalist of the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics, died on 22 October 2019.
She ended her own life legally, indescribably beautifully, courageously, by euthanasia.
If there is a more deeply profound example of leadership for our modern age I would be surprised.
A quick summary of her life is on the Marieke Vervoort wikipedia page.
Eleanor Oldroyd's detailed personal report of Marieke Vervoort's life and death is substantially more inspirational and moving.
Marieke Vervoort's story has the power to help us all in different ways to consider life at a level of genuine transcendence.
Life is a serious of transitions from one stage to the next.
It's different for everyone, but essentially life of all sorts is a series of transformations from one stage to another.
Particularly notable transitions are:
- baby to infant
- infant to child
- child to teenage
- teenager to young adult
- young adult to parent
- then parent of child/children as they pass through their own life stages
- mid-life, when children cease to be dependent, is a big transition
- when our parents die is a big transition
- later life, when we become more aware of our own mortality, and friends and family of our own age start to die, is another big transition
And there are many other transitions that life brings/offers in different ways to all of us, for example:
- when we begin to work and become independent
- if we are ill or injured or ravaged or abused in any way
- marriage and making or losing a home
- break-ups, separations, divorces
- moving home and travelling a lot
- sabbaticals and retreats
John Fisher's Process of Transition (or personal transition curve, personal change model, or other descriptions) is enormously helpful too, in explaining what happens to us when we face and react to big life change.
Here's the detail and history of John Fisher's Personal Transition Curve, dating back to when I first met John and published his work on Businessballs.
John's work extends, draws from, and offers a differently nuanced developed more widely applicable appreciation of, the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle, or 'Five Stages of Grief'.
The grief/life-change subject becomes greatly more accessible when we broaden the traditionally narrow 'death' definition of grief to mean:
- our coming to terms with a major trauma, loss, and transition in our life, in which we experience a grief at the loss of what we were, or thought we were, or wanted to be, and
- as part of this 'grief' we experience the shock and emotional disintegration as we try to make sense of what, how, who, etc., we might next be.
Different people react in different ways to any sort of change. Life is different for everyone. These models help us to make our own meanings and decisions, for our own lives, in our own ways.
The power of Marieke Vervoort's story is the incredible depth of the transition, the pain, the growth and the ultimate acceptance of the final transition to death. This is the greatest depth of personal growth. It brings an appreciation of life bigger and deeper than any other, which for most or many people who are several life-stages earlier in the human life cycle, will seem completely ridiculous.
For some people the story will plant a seed, or open a door. For other people, especially people addressing deeper considerations of life, and what it is to live fully, joyfully, peacefully, and as authentically as possible, Marieke Vervoort's leadership example will offer much more.
Thanks for reading. It's a lot to consider, at any level.
P.S. For those interested in going deeper still, I refer you to the Dabrowski/Tillier Theory of Positive Disintegration, and to other articles in my Businessballs blog.