“A leader is not a leader without followers” tumbled out of the radio early one morning as I tended to the erratic dietary preferences of my elderly cat. Jeremy Corbin’s leadership was the subject under discussion. I switched the radio off and stood motionless staring out of the window but not seeing. As I have come to understand leadership, this is not true. Indeed, the absence of followers or the refusal to accept relationships with people predicated on these terms, may suggest the very qualities of the leader we might more easily trust.
Over the course of my life to date as I have scouted and tracked the hazardous path of learning and becoming, studying with various teachers. From these people I have learned a great deal but in most cases, sooner or later, I have discovered that they were recruiting followers, and that their gracious wisdom was only forthcoming if I acquiesced to this unspoken agreement. There is so much in the way our society functions that persuades us to infantilise and remain immature: the beseeching supplicants of some greater authority. What is a leader anyway if not simply a person who distinguishes themselves by acting in alignment with principles and values which illuminate our understanding of applied wisdom, courage, compassion, and integrity? From such a person I would be eager to learn.
Mollified by my efforts on its behalf, the cat munched on her breakfast and I risked switching on the radio again. This time the commentary was focused on the aftermath of another appalling and prolonged lapse in judgement visited upon the great British public by governments they had ill-advisedly voted into power. Once again the words ‘lessons will be learnt’ and ‘never again’ were confidently and earnestly trotted out. I almost believed them, so sincere was the reassuringly measured tone of voice, but in truth, the lessons will not be learned and the same or worse will happen again. The bloodbath of killing that is the trajectory of so much human history over the last few hundred years is set to continue until we measure the suffering greater than the profits. Lessons rain upon us and we enduringly demonstrate our incapacity to learn from experience or history.
We have been trained in followership and, unpractised in the art of perceiving and discerning, we are easy prey for those bent on luring us into the lobster pot of cultural conformity. All power brokers ultimately need our compliance and slavery has its subtle aspects. It is not always easy to see how the opinions we hold, the political convictions we adhere to, or the traditions we believe to be our own are more truthfully born of ideological cuckoo eggs sneaked into the soft couch of our nest, undetected.
Fettered within beliefs that keep us permanently insecure, afraid, and uncertain, our culture is notable for producing citizens who have a profoundly low opinion of themselves. What else should we expect from a society and economy founded on imperialist principles, disconnected from nature, and seduced to the belief that wealth, prestige, and glamour, will serve our redemption?
Confronting the nexus of an unprecedented environmental, political, economic, and ideological perfect storm we find ourselves unprepared. We turn to our political leaders and find them self-serving, self-aggrandising comic book caricatures. We look to religion and find it still struggling to disentangle itself from ideas and assumptions that belong to a disempowering feudal past. We look to popular culture, celebrities, and the icons of present-day civilisation, finding only the homeland of all that is vacuous. In desperation we swing round to the sound of some other and see our reflection painted on the undersides of clouds crowding the morning sky. We see the vast community of our neighbours caught in the same dispiriting search.
Perhaps we catch the hand of someone close by. Perhaps we risk dreaming something different. Perhaps we seek to dry the dampened kindling of the fire we once knew ourselves to be. Perhaps one stands forward answering the invitation to engage ‘Who me?’ and quietly, urgently, proudly whispers, ‘Yes. Me.’ Perhaps it catches on. Perhaps it rages like a forest fire with heat to match the sun itself.
We will not know without taking the risk. The risk of believing ourselves, our children, nature, all that is beautiful and speaks of life, sacred and worthy.
Ask what it is that you love, pledge allegiance, and then stand firm, unwavering, joyful that you will never succumb to self-betrayal.
Ask what it is that you have to give – your gifts. Knowing that what you love requires the full potential of your gifts, search them out even if they are invisible to you.
Ask what your responsibilities are, unroll them like a magic carpet, and climb aboard.
Pledged to what you love, dancing alive your gifts, and mindful of your responsibilities. All may yet be well.
A friend once said to me ‘This could be a good day to die.’ I say, this could be a good day to live.