Thursday, September 23, 2010

Leadership and Elections

I'm sure you can tell from the scarcity of recent posts that I have been quite busy as of late. One item which has taken a lot of time has been getting back into the routine of a life without Shoghi during the day, and writing my novel. I'm not sure which has taken more of my energy.

During my days, especially when I'm out in public and talking with people, the question of leadership has been coming up more and more often. As it is September, and I am getting prepared to vote in the election of my local Spiritual Assembly (yes, I know the election is in April, but click here for why I am starting so late), so the whole question of leadership is, once again, on my mind, too.
In light of this, I went back to some articles I wrote a few years ago, and ran across one that really nailed it for me. This article was in response to a talk I had to give on the environment, when the Baha'i speaker who had been asked to do it had to cancel at the last moment. As I am not an expert on the environment (by any stretch of the imagination), I had to do a lot of preparation and was ready to learn as much as possible from the speakers who opened the conference.

Some of the presenters who spoke before me were, to say the least, a bit negative. One even said that the situation was so hopeless that "we should take a gun to the children's heads and put them out of their misery". He was looking at my young son while saying this. As you can imagine, this did not go over too well with me.

So why do I mention this sad incident? Because the speaker is a leader of his community. He is an Aboriginal elder. Now please, this is not to condemn all Aboriginal leaders. Far from it. Many of the leaders of that noble community are quite amazing in their insights and wisdom. But I mention this one to merely comment on the singular negative example he gave, and use it as an example to make a point.

I do not find it a coincidence that his community (in general, not in specific) has a significantly higher suicide rate than the average. There are many reasons for this (and not just his example). But when the leaders in any community tell people to kill themselves, and their children, you know there is a problem.

What can we do about it? Note that I do not ask what he can do, but rather what can we all do.
After this meeting, a woman came up to me, quite incensed over this man's talk, and said "Why on earth do people revere the wisdom of the elders, when they speak garbage like this?"

"The wisdom of the elders", I replied, "is quite profound, and worthy of our attention. Some of the elders, however, are in desperate need of healing. We should remember this when they speak of things so contrary to the wisdom of their people."

This example made me ponder the question of leadership, and the qualities we should seek in our leaders. When I contrast the various political elections, and the campaigning that goes on, and the election of the Baha'i institutions, I see a stark difference in many areas.

In the political arena, and in many elections worldwide, the ability to be elected is quite often based on the amount of money that one can afford to spend on advertising, speech writers, polls and research. Do these qualities lead to what we consider the best leaders?

In many other communities, the ability to lead is based on age or on physical strength or on the ability to out-argue your opponent. Does this necessarily result in the best leaders?

In the Baha'i community we are told to seek people with "unquestioned loyalty" to the Faith, a "well-trained mind" (which is not the same as having a university diploma), "selfless devotion", "recognized ability" and "mature experience" (which is not necessarily the same as being elderly). By looking for these qualities amongst those we know, and seeing them acted out in daily life, we are in a better position to cast our votes in the best manner possible.

For many, this will raise the question of how this can work on the national or international level. It does, and you can click here for an article on how that works.

For this article, however, I just want to point out the role of leadership: helping set the vision for a community and carry it out in action. By a leader means that you lead: others follow. When in this position, we must be very careful about the direction in which we go, and the example we set.

If, as leaders, we strive to tear down the accomplishments of others, then those we lead will do the same. They are, after all, following our example. If we strive to encourage, build up those around us, and work towards a better future (as opposed to a moving away from a flagrant injustice or dismal past), then those we lead will also work to build with us.

If we, as leaders, try to push those under us in a particular direction, then we are behind them, not in front leading. If we strive to set the example, then this becomes an attractive force and others try to move closer to where we are. By pushing, we exhaust ourselves, and rarely accomplish anything. By being an attractive force, and using the forces of attraction, then the others begin moving of their own accord.

All that remains is that we ensure that which we find attractive is worthy. But then, this goes back to living a moral and virtuous life, and always striving to progress.

In the end, it doesn't really matter what we try to build. If it is sound and solid, and built on a firm moral foundation, it will stand and withstand the tests of time. If it is not, then it will fall.

When looking at our leaders, either in the Baha'i community, the political arean, or the secular world, we must be careful to examine what it is we are following. This is some of what I consider when getting ready to cast my ballot in just a few months.

And now it's time to get back to my book writing. Oh, after I send myself that e-mail with my first round of names. (See? Did you read that first article? Eh? Did ja? Ahh, never mind.)

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