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Shared Text Project


Coles Reading Guide

Reading Guide for Lives of Moral Leadership by Robert Coles

Welcome to Loyola.  Each year, Loyola administrators, faculty, and staff select a book to get incoming students thinking, discussing, and writing about issues central to their Jesuit education. This year the book is Robert Coles’ Lives of Moral Leadership. Every fall, many teachers of UCWR 110 as well as English 100, 102, and 103 participate in a project we call Shared Text.  A committee selects readings that will be part of the course for all these teachers.  We are including the freshman text in the course because its theme  reflects the philosophy and goals of Loyola University to teach students how to analyze what they read, to use writing to learn, to write academic essays, and to see the practical applications of the Ignatian motto of “people for others.” 

Robert Coles, the author of this year’s text, Lives of Moral Leadership, is a well known psychiatrist who has written many books about the moral and spiritual lives of children, ordinary men and women who became moral leaders, and famous men and women whom he also identifies as moral leaders.  In this book that we will read and study and write about, he explores some of the qualities or “traits” of moral leadership, and he also muses on how a moral leadership evolves, how moral leaders influence others, and how complex, ambiguous, even ironic moral leaders can be. Not only does Coles have a very fine analytic training that finds its way into his writing, but he is also a good storyteller. The following questions will help you to think about and discuss what he is saying about moral leaders and moral leadership.  Use them to guide your reading, but more importantly use them to get yourself asking questions about this critical issue in present day America on the brink of a presidential election. Why should the next president of the United States be a moral leader?  Use these questions as well as your own to help you think about your own opportunity and privilege to vote for our political leaders.

Preface and Introduction

  1. Did you play the game “follow the leader” as a child?  What did that game teach you about being a leader and being a follower?  What qualities did your high school leaders have?
  2. Why does Coles write not only about well-known and influential leaders, but also about ordinary people who became moral leaders?
  3. Throughout the book, you will see references to “we hand one another along.”  What does that mean?  Who used it in one of his novels?
  4. Coles refers to Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, Ralph Waldo Emerson, or Joseph Conrad.  What do you think they have in common?
  5. When he is talking to Robert Kennedy, Coles says that this book explains his own life as well as the lives of those he writes about.  What kind of person is Coles?  As you read further in the book, keep track of what else you discover about Coles.
  6. Coles says he writes in the documentary and narrative tradition.  What does he say is the purpose of this book?
  7. Who said “courage is leadership confirmed”?  What role does courage play in leadership?

    Chapter 1.  An Effective Moral Leader: Remembering Robert Kennedy

  8. While Coles identifies Kennedy as a politician, Coles also discovers that Kennedy is different. How does he differ from many politicians?
  9. Trained as a psychiatrist, Coles analyzes Kennedy’s thinking as both a politician and as a moral leader.  How does Kennedy synthesize political needs with his ethical responsibility?

    Chapter 2.  On Robert Kennedy and Shakespeare’s Henry V

  10. How does Shakespeare’s Henry V illustrate the “living of leadership”?  You will have an opportunity to see this play during the film fest.
  11. After reading Chapters 1 and 2, explain how Kennedy illustrates Coles’ definition of a moral leader.

    Chapter 3. Conrad’s Typhoon

  12. How does Joseph Conrad’s story “Typhoon” give us another dimension of a moral leader?  Explain.
  13. How does the storm provide a context in which moral leadership emerges?  What particular qualities of moral leadership are highlighted?
  14. What connections does Coles make between the sharecropper’s story and Conrad’s?  What does Coles mean when he says moral leaders do not “only await the call of history”?

    Chapter 4.  Moral Integration: Four Stories

  15. The Thomases and the Tomasellos of Mississippi share a similar name.  What else do they share?

  16. This story juxtaposes an ordinary man with Conrad’s hero and Shakespeare’s king.  What qualities of moral leadership do they share?

  17. What made Elaine Vogel’s teaching controversial?  Think about the role of the teacher in your own experiences.  Did you ever have a teacher who tried to teach “outside the box”?

  18. What analogy helps the class to discuss the racial issues in New Orleans?  Does the teacher plan this lesson?

  19. Does this discussion the 10 year olds have give you some insight into how difficult it is to change thinking?  Do you have views that differ from those of your parents?  How did you develop them?

  20. Vogel tells her students, “We have to look out for ways to be moral leaders ourselves, not just students who discussed moral leaders or moral leadership” (93).  Have you found any way to be a moral leader?  Describe.

  21. Why did Donita Gaines, a student who enrolled in an all white Atlanta high school, call it quits?  Why do you think Coles includes her story here?

  22. Who is McGill?  What does he say is the way to integrate Atlanta?  What reservations does Coles have about this approach?

  23. What does Miss Lill say is the difference between “pretended leadership” and “real moral leadership”?  Whom does she criticize?

  24. What’s the value of “unrealistic visionaries” (114)?

    Chapter 5.  Eliciting the Assent of the Follower:  Emerson’s Representative Men

  25. What is the relationship between the leader and the followers, and what does Emerson have to say about it?

    Chapter 6.  Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in Tandem:  The Moral Leader of a  Moral Leader

  26. Dorothy Day is reluctant to take credit for the Catholic Worker Movement, claiming without Peter Maurin it would not have been.  She refers to him as a “moral needler.”  What is that?

  27. People want to “understand (Day’s work) through their values rather than learn about (hers).”  Is it hard to understand what motivates someone like Day?

  28. Explore this definition:  “Leadership isn’t only something in you, in a person--your personality; leadership depends on where you are as much as who you are, and it depends on the company you’re keeping” (130).

  29. Coles compares Dorothy Day to Robert Kennedy?  In what sense?

  30. Maurin said, “God’s ways aren’t ours—but we have to find our ways to do His bidding” (148).  What did Maurin help Day do?

    Chapter 7.  Danilo Dolci, Community Organizer and Writer:  The Leader as Loner

  31. Day says she would want to meet Danilo Dolci rather than the Pope if she ever got to Rome. Who was Dolci?  How did Coles come to know him?  Why does he deserve such recognition by Day?

  32. Dolci said he was afraid to be buried “in a materialistic society which glorified intellect to the point where it killed feelings, those very feelings which could become action” (154). Why does this statement “unnerve” Coles?

    Chapter 8.  Handing Each Other Along:  Moral Leadership in Everyday Life

  33. Notice the title of this chapter.  Where have you seen the first part before?

  34. Coles went into the military under the doctor’s draft.  There he was challenged to act like a leader.  Why was he skeptical of this mandate?

  35. During his orientation to the military, Coles is encouraged to think about who had been his moral leaders.  Think about yours now.

  36. Coles likes to think about the meaning of words related to moral leadership.  What’s the relationship between discipline, moral discipline, and the group called the White Rose?

  37. Coles uses many verbs to describe moral leadership (191).  Why are verbs particularly appropriate?

    Chapter 9. Dietrich Bonhoeffer:  The Will and Moral Transcendence

  38. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who died in a German concentration camp.  How did he come to be there?  How did his fellow students react to his behavior?

  39. What do loneliness and fear have to do with being a moral leader like Bonhoeffer?

    Chapter 10.  The Bond Between Leaders and Followers:  Erik Erikson, Gandhi, and Albert Jones, a Boston Bus Driver

  40. Why were Boston schools integrated only in the 1960s?  What does the Boston janitor who became a school bus driver have in common with Bonhoeffer?  What is Coles trying to say about moral leadership?

  41. What is Erik Erikson’s response to riding the bus with Coles?  What is Coles’ relationship with Erikson?

  42. Why does a white girl befriend a black girl integrating one of the Boston schools?

    Chapter 11.  High and Low Places:  Two Presidents and American Children

  43. Is a good leader expected to be a good person?  Discuss how ambiguity, complexity, and irony are connected to moral leadership.

  44. How does the last chapter get at the heart of moral leadership?


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