Monday, November 2, 2009

Super powers101: Following the Leader

Leadership qualities are an increasingly valuable set of skills in the world today. The general belief is that those who lead will be successful. That may be true. Unfortunately, not everyone can be the leader, at least, not all the time. Sometimes we have to be the followers. This can be difficult, especially when we don't like what the leader is doing and think that someone else (usually WE) can do it better. Whether that is true or not, there are still some people who are truly good leaders even if we disagree with them. How do we recognize these kinds of people? What makes a person a good leader?

First, let's think about some of the people we "follow" in our society. There are some people who get attention and legions of fans for wearing the latest fashions and being obscene in public. I am not sure there is really anything worth emulating in their personas but apparently many other people disagree with me.  Then there are actors, athletes, musicians, politicians, talk show hosts; all people who have jobs and education and opinions. Do those qualities make them more worthy of our loyalty? Maybe. Maybe not. Let's try another approach.

When a baby duck is born, it imprints on it's mother, following her around and doing what she commands until it is old enough to survive on its own. Why? Scientists will say that it is an instinct, they can't help it. The need to survive forces the duckling to follow its mother. Maybe that is true for animals but not for people. We are too evolved for something like that. Right?

A newborn baby is fresh and trusting. He can not care for himself in any way. As he grows, he becomes attached to the people who care for him. That does not have to be the father who helped conceive him or the mother who gave birth to him. It is the person who cares for him, loves him, teaches him, guides him and prepares him for life. For better or worse, parents are the ultimate influence in their child's life. They are THE leaders.

As we look at the leaders of the world, we should ask ourselves, "Do they care about us? Do they have our best interests in mind? Do they exemplify qualities we want to emulate?" Many of the people we "follow" in our society are selfish, arrogant, rude, greedy, etc. They may pretend to want what is best for us but are ultimately doing what they want.

It is easy to criticize when we are not in that position. We "common folk" can do what we want and no one cares. We have no one to please of impress or influence. If we were important we would certainly never make the mistakes others are making. Would we?

One of my favorite stories is of a young prince who was kidnapped. His captors wanted to defile him and make him unworthy to rule. They tempted with all the vulgarities and sinful pleasures of the world. When he did not partake they asked why. He replied, "I can not do what you ask for I was born to be a king." Despite his crude surroundings, away from the eye of public opinion, he still knew who he was. He knew what was expected of him. Even if he were to die in captivity he could not partake of those things that would defile him.

Do we have it within us to be that kind of leader? Do we have integrity in every situation. Like it or not, we are all leaders at some point. We are being watched by those around us. Our actions determine whether or not we are worthy of following. If we say we believe one thing and do another, they will correctly judge us as hypocrites. Our words will lose their meaning and we will lose our credibility. 

Our society seems to feed on gossip and scandal. People's mistakes are stored and revisited over and over again. There is no allowance for change and repentance in the world today. Many try to defend themselves with somewhat valid excuses like "I didn't know then what I know now" or "I was young and stupid". That may be true. And, really, it isn't anyone else's business.

There is only one flaw in that reasoning. The ducklings. Over and over I have heard people say that they don't know how to tell their children about the mistakes they made. How can they explain their stupid choices or weaknesses. Some take a more cynical approach and encourage their innocent children to follow in their clumsy footsteps. Most parents want to be respected and admired by their children. They want to be good examples to them. Some try very hard to be that example despite their past choices. Others just cover them up and build lie upon lie until it all comes crashing down on them.

Wouldn't it be better to not make those mistakes in the first place? I know, no one is perfect. But there are plenty of poor choices that can be avoided. Many years ago I wrote a poem about avoiding temptaion. The first part of it is seared into my mind and has been invaluable to me. It says:

"When I am tempted to go astray,
I think of the children I'll have some day.
Would they be proud of a mother like me?
If they were here would I want them to see?"

That simple sentiment has helped me steer clear of many of the temptations I have faced. Sometimes I think "Wow. Have I had a dull life or what?" Most of the time I feel relieved. I can say with confidence that I never smoked, drank, tried drugs, or had sex outside of marriage. There are no pictures of me exposing myself or stories that I don't want them to hear. I have no criminal record, no tattoos, no exotic piercings. I can't say that I never made a mistake or did something I regretted. I can not say that there are no embarrassing stories about me. That is just part of being human.

I am not sharing this to be boastful or put myself above anyone who has not made the choices I have made. I am letting you know that it is possible to choose the right. Our world is full of poor leaders. Much too often people feel like they have no choice but to follow that crowd. I am telling you that there is a choice. There are people out there, normal, descent people, with jobs and bills and stress and everything else that comes with mortal life, who don't follow the so-called "leaders" of society. Not every housewife is having secret affairs and getting high. Not every teenager is having sex and getting drunk. Not every college student is trying drugs and cheating on tests.

It isn't easy. It isn't easy to be a leader when you aren't even sure someone is watching. It isn't easy to say no when, in the short term, saying yes would be so much easier. It isn't easy to remember who you are and who you were born to be when everyone around you is doing exactly the opposite. But, then again,  nothing worth doing is ever easy.

1 comment:

toby and amy said...

I remember reading that poem long ago in your room, it has had a great influence on me as well! Thank you for reminding me of something that seems so simple, but is not easy!