Taking the Risk to Achieve the Extraordinary
By Eric Wright
There is one key ingredient in all monumental undertakings – the willingness to take risks. As John Paul Jones said, “It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win.” All leaders understand this principle – from entrepreneurs leveraging their homes to launch a business, to the Senators found in John F. Kennedy’s Profiles In Courage, who took unpopular, but principled positions that changed the course of history.
When undertakings require collaboration and cooperation as the foundation of their success, a unique type of risk is involved. It is the daring to reach across the barriers of preconceived stereotypes, unfamiliarity and fears to achieve a higher good. It is the dangerous choice of avoiding the easier course, which gets the laughs, the nods or the amens from those we like and agree with, to working with and even embracing those who might shower us with derision.
There is a unique artifact that commemorates this type of courage in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Ireland. Within this beautiful old edifice is displayed a unique piece of history; a door with a rectangular hole hacked out of its center. It is known as the “Door of Reconciliation.”
From Feuds to Friendships
In the same year Columbus discovered the Americas, a dispute arose between two leading dynastic families of medieval Ireland, the Butlers, Earls of Ormond, and the FitzGeralds, Earls of Kildare. Soon, it escalated into an armed conflict, and as the fighting wore on, the FitzGeralds began to gain ground against the Butlers.
Black James, the nephew of the Earl of Ormond, while fleeing from FitzGerald’s “Geraldine” soldiers, took sanctuary in the chapter house of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. Though he had the upper hand, with his soldiers surrounding Black James and his comrades, Gearóid Mór FitzGerald, Ireland’s leading earl, saw the futility of the bloody feud and wanted to put an end to it.
The Earl of Kildare called out to James through the solid oak door that blocked the entry and asked him to come out and negotiate for peace. He pledged that he would not seek revenge or engage in villainy. But the resentment ran long and deep and Black James was certain the assurances were a mask for treachery, and he refused to come out.
So the Earl of Kildare told his men to take their battle axes and chop an opening in the door. Then, he once more explained how he wished to see peace between the families and he thrust his hand and arm through the hole to shake hands with Black James. A risky move considering any of Black James’s heavily armed men could have hacked the Earl’s arm off; however, James grasped his hand and ended the dispute.
If you have the good fortune to visit the Emerald Isle, that door is on display, a reminder of the courageous alchemy that produces collaboration.
It reminds me of Edwin Markham’s poem, “Outwitted.”
He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!