When I was growing up, some members of my family used the phrase, “stupid stubborn” to refer to obstinate individuals. I confess – they often looked at me when they were discussing those who were “stupid stubborn!” As we’ve been reading about the triangle of Moses, the Jewish people and Pharaoh in the weekly Torah cycle, I remembered this phrase. Why? Because each part of the triangle displays stubbornness. And then I realized that the phrase “stupid stubborn” implies that there may be other varieties of stubborn. I’d like to identify and define three different kinds of “stubborn” that have significant implications for leadership.
Stupid stubborn: arrogance in refusing to accept destructive behavior that you bring upon yourself and those around you. This definition of stubborn applies to Pharaoh.
Despairing stubborn: fatalism that limits your ability to imagine a better world and reinforces your belief that a negative status quo is permanent. This definition of stubborn applies to the Jewish people.
Optimistic stubborn: certainty that the world can change with a powerful vision of a better future, and tenacity to maintain that optimism despite current evidence to the contrary. This definition of stubborn applies to Moses.
Stubbornness appears in different varieties. This quality can be both disabling or empowering. It depends upon the ability of a leader to harness the positive aspects of persistence in working faithfully toward a more hopeful future. As a teenager, perhaps I periodically displayed aspects of a “stupid stubborn” personality. But I’ve learned that optimistic stubborn is far more powerful and uplifting.