There's one thing the best leaders do that most of us can't, especially in the heat of conflict. They take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Former President Barack Obama displayed that ability and that wisdom in his simple tweeted response to events in Charlottesville, Virginia.
It's been a horrible few days. Planned removal of a statue of Civil War General Robert E. Lee sparked protests by white supremacists, which in turn inspired counter protests. Things got ugly. The governor declared a state of emergency. Then, an Ohio man drove his car right into the counter protesters, killing one woman and injuring many other people.
President Donald Trump delivered various statements, blaming "all sides" but then later also declaring that racism is evil. And he blasted Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier for resigning from his advisory council.
In the midst of all this turmoil, Obama, who hasn't been seen on Twitter in several weeks, tweeted this simple message:
"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion..." pic.twitter.com/InZ58zkoAm-- Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 13, 2017
It's a quote from Nelson Mandela, and Obama followed it up in two more tweets with the rest of the quote: "People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.... For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
That first tweet quickly surpassed Ellen DeGeneres's Oscar selfie and Ariana Grande's response to the Manchester attack to become the most-liked tweet of all time.
Obama's tweet--a clear response to Charlottesville, although it didn't mention the town or the events--showed masterful emotional intelligence, but also the ability to look at the larger context of any situation. That's an essential ability for every leader, and it's something that rarely happens in our fast-changing, 24-hour-news-cycle world.
Part of the bigger picture is that slavery and the Civil War still cast a long shadow upon our nation, inspiring outrage and horror, but also pride in a Confederate army that fought valiantly against a vastly superior force.
It would have been easy, but also pointless, for Obama to add his voice to the many voices condemning the white supremacists or saying that racism is bad. Instead, he used the words of someone who spent decades in jail because of the color of his skin to remind us all that racism need not be part of our nature, and that anyone who has learned to hate can learn to love instead.
Coming from the author of The Audacity of Hope, it was a reminder that we can all look past Charlottesville and hope for a less divided, less violent time. Most important, instead of focusing on blame or justice for what happened in Charlottesville, it points a way forward for us all.
In a crisis, that's the most important thing every great leader must do.