I have been thinking a lot about governance and leadership lately, perhaps because of a rather incessant reminder in the news of how inept so many governing bodies around the world are, but also because of my own personal experience in work and community relationships.
Not to suggest that this experience is all bad, but that interactions are drawing my attention to the qualities that make or destroy a person's ability to lead well, or even how each person is able to establish good relationships with others. I seem to be ever-more aware of this in all situations: between parents and children, within the workplace, in the classroom, amidst community organizations, and pretty much everywhere else.
I picked up a book years ago called 'The Tao of Leadership' by Lao Tzu, and this quote was included in it. I think that at the time I didn't quite understand the full meaning of what he was getting at--perhaps still unable to fully comprehend the necessity of humility and gentleness in the process of living confidently--but it popped up in a feed of mine (pinterest? facebook? twitter? gah...one of those somewhere) and reminded me of the beautiful offerings that Mr. Tzu so eloquently and concisely summarized so many hundreds of years ago, and how much meaning they have for me now.
There is an inculturated belief in our society that a confident leader is one who draws lines in the sand, who is larger than the rest of life, who seeks to inspire through massive acts, and who generally is somehow different or separate from the 'rest of us'. A leader is someone who we look up to because they embody qualities which we do not have, and, whether we consciously recognize it or not, this experience of placing another on a pedestal keeps us somehow stifled and suppressed in our abilities. This occurs, I believe, because we are looking at another person as somehow more adept at dealing with issues that arise rather than seeking our own developed capacities.
We give up our growth out of a false sense of inferiority.
We let someone else handle things because, well, they say they will.
I would argue that all of us have had, at some point, a teacher or boss or leader who lived this position for us. A person who was big in life, and seemed to make it so that we would always feel small around them, despite our best efforts at improvement or commitment.
I don't think that people do this consciously, but that we have historically, as a collective, agreed upon this very patriarchal idea that a good leader is 'above' the rest, both in position and capacity.
But does this actually ever actually inspire the populace--be they the children of the classroom, employees of the company or citizens of the country--to seek their own higher ground? Do we ever known true inspiration from our leaders when there is always a sense of them looking down upon us?
A good leader, as Tzu puts it, puts themselves below those whom they are responsible to, with great humility, and yet can sit 'above' them in a hierarchical system (which a classroom, business or government will always have elements of) without making them feel small. They lead without comparison and competition with any others, entirely confident in who they are and without the need for aggressive tactics of 'leadership' to prove their right and position.
Again, I would argue that we have all had this kind of leadership at some point (or at least I hope you have been lucky enough to), and can likely recognize the difference in our behavior at work or school or life with such powerful presence as guidance.
Under this leadership we are inspired to become better, to work on our self growth and personal process so that we can become as our leader embodies: the very best version of ourselves.
I am often sad at the state of the world these days, though not in an entirely pessimistic stance but just at seeing the immense potential that exists within all of us and all we have created, and which goes largely undeveloped. Obsessed and consumed by competition we seek not to better ourselves as singular units of spirit but to somehow wedge ourselves in between an arbitrary and completely falsified idea of 'those we are better than' and 'those we are worse than'.
And I think our leaders are perpetuating this.
(I am now realizing that this is a far larger topic than I had intended to explore this morning, giving myself 15 minutes to post something on here before I have to get the rest of the day going, but perhaps something to think about:)
If you are a leader--and I would suggest that in some way, whether it is with your children or friends or your life circumstance you probably are--would it be possible to stop and question what style of leadership you are choosing, and whether that might be the most inspiring manner of interaction you are capable of?
Is it possible that a stance of humility--of being inspired by those you lead instead of seeking to somehow show them how much more you know--might change your experience of this leadership for the better, and might simultaneously open up the possibility of those 'below' you finding a greater sense of potential?
Our world needs excellent leaders right now, perched as we are in the brink of chaos and decline, and yet these need not only come in the form of those we elect or are hired by.
Let us all seek gentleness, humility and openness in our interactions. Let us define the new world approaching by these things.