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First, do no harm (Chris Sullins, September 15, 2008)
I don’t have a simple answer on how to find the strong and humble leaders who will help us fix things. The closest thing I have to a one-liner is the title you see above. After my years of research and direct active participation in government at all levels, the best thing I can do is encourage you to participate as well. It shouldn’t be a surprise to you either, but the way ahead for us will be hard. I can’t guarantee we’ll find success but for any measure of progress toward it, I know without a doubt we must make this difficult journey together.
To help clear the path for good leaders, we must first make ourselves worthy of them. Likewise, the leaders who take the road with us must remain humble over time. Ironically, we expect these humble leaders to be consistently strong and unshakable while making the decisions we are too scared, tired, or distracted to make for ourselves as a group. It is a dance in which both leaders and peoples want to be exalted, yet both need to be reined in at times. This is a shared and circular process.
Only the people can loan proper authority over themselves as a whole and it may only be retained by leaders through their continuous demonstration of appropriate responsibility. Therefore, any system which degenerates into a “kiss the ring” form of generational patronage to either a coalition of families or some other closed subgroup of limited membership is doomed to oppression and ultimately failure. The final crumbling of such systems has been due to internal rot, external erosion, or the combined corrosive effects of both over time. History shows this to be a fact.
Humanity already has a library full of commendable documents available on how to build and reform human individuals and the social systems under which they assemble together. There is much overlap and common truths found in both spiritual and secular writings from East to West; from the Bible and the Bill of Rights to the Tao Te Ching and the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers. However, there is never one system that will work for all peoples at all times. Things change and cultures have unique differences that greatly affect how they perceive the times they live in.
There has been a tendency for humans to make their systems more complex than they really need to be. This has been done for the sake of personal comfort rather than real needs related to daily living. Over time the system grows into the proverbial lumbering giant until it becomes a mindless golem. The personality of a single controller seems to be the driving force behind it.
When the system breaks down under its own weight, there has been a tendency to cry “let’s start over” and press the reset button. In blind anger or eager exuberance someone throws the baby out with the bathwater. Sometimes people stand around pointing fingers at each other as the baby expires from exposure.
One of our biggest problems interacting together often happens when we try to force change on others. This has often been under the guise of a religious or secular goal which has an overtly stated outcome of making life better for everyone. The small vision of a minority becomes the aspired standard for a majority who then make it a mandatory way of life for all.
Not everyone accepts the proposed route or they are left out of the planning process entirely from the start. Sometime later a well-paved road rests upon the bones of this excluded minority. Their graves are often left unmarked on the map of the new world.
Millions of evil acts have been perpetrated in the name of wrongly labeled and misunderstood concepts. At the time they were thought of as “good” by many so-called leaders and their peoples. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to fall into denial or ignorance and forget those past events which have been part of our human civilization. Our arrogance should not result in glossing over the wrongs we’ve done. Neither we nor our children should continue making these same mistakes over. However, it’s hard to be cognizant of this when so many forces are at work constantly atomizing not only communities and families, but our very thoughts.
As individual citizens we have the responsibility to learn the truth, make rational decisions, and plan ahead for future generations. This requires asking questions and careful study. Rather than finding concise answers we sometimes discover there are a range of only ill-fitting mediocre options available. This makes for some hard choices since we didn’t find an answer that made us feel completely satisfied. Sometimes it has been the futile clawing toward either our full satisfaction or the expectation of perfection itself which has been our stumbling block.
Information will always be important. All of the effort in answering our questions is based on the quality of available information at any given time. The source of any facts and their motives must be considered. For us to give any significant level of credibility to the origin requires our careful discernment.
Since most human situations are fluid we have to allow ourselves the option of course corrections based on new information. We may also have to admit to ourselves and our companions about being wrong in our past judgment. This is actually quite easy when we’re all able to get over our own sense of self-importance and righteous pain while acting as partners in a process. Everyone needs patience.
Pay attention not only to any statement made by those in power, but any speaker who seems to have some significant decibels above the public noise on any issue. Be wary of misinformation, disinformation, and the potential con, but do not be consumed by it. Maintaining vigilance on the watchtower also requires rest and exercise between watches. Be suspicious of any established group or supposedly new movement seeking to fulfill all your needs, wants, and desires. This applies to any of the messengers from the castles of government, business, education, or religion which surround the public square.
Question the messenger. Do they have answers that fit all your questions? Do they have everything you need or want? Do their promises seem like they could make your personal dreams come true? Do they seem to always know all these things in advance of meeting you?
Question yourself. Would you find it an unlikely coincidence to discover the proverbial tailored suit on clearance in our big box world or would you consider it a divine sign? Did you seem to lose or gain weight right before you tried on the perfect suit they just showed you? What if you said yes to the last question? If you discovered your own role as a direct dupe or peripheral useful idiot on the way to the swindle, how would you really react? Between your pride, self-esteem, and sense of honor; would you walk out, become aggressive, or stay and seek more of their flattery in the mirror? What would be the consequences of your choices?
Your perception and decision inside the box may depend on just how well the think-tank minions weighed the focus group banter versus the computer simulation data. There is always someone on TV or radio or some solicitation by phone, email, webpage or hardcopy that seems to extol, exhort, or extort you in some way. But, if you want the product, it’s a welcome convenience. If it’s information you agree with, it’s not propaganda. You don’t always see the string on the carrot dangling right in front of you.
At this point the prediction of the outcomes of interaction is still largely based upon how groups respond. To understand the influences on the interaction allows for programmed guidance toward a desired goal. This is getting closer to the individual level all the time. Given that such manipulation may be for purposes unpalatable to you in the end, I would hope you find the knowledge about how to make this process transparent of personal relevance. It helps to see what kind of stick is suspending the carrot if you choose to walk away.
When it comes to the directions and statements of the leader(s) of a government agency, private company, professional association, or religious institution to the general public, there are some common things to consider. If there is a public leader, can you talk to them in person? If you can’t, then ask why? If the first answer is for their safety and security, then ask from whom? Is it from an outside enemy? Or, is it also from you? Why do they even have enemies? If they’re too busy for meeting with individuals because they’re always meeting with groups, can you attend the group meetings?
If there is no public figurehead, ask why their leaders are hidden? Despite this opaque cover over an anonymous apex, is it possible to determine what other outside groups meet with this group? If two or more distinct groups work together, then what goals do they share? How do those groups benefit from this cooperation? Do groups who are not part of this coalition stand to lose anything?
What does it take to become a member of the group? How does the group value its people? How do they hold its members accountable for mistakes? Does the group have two sets of rules and/or punishments –one for their insiders and one for the outsiders? How is dissent tolerated within the group? Does internal strife make the group members suffer, or schism or lead to growth either way? Are there levels within the group and are there leaders at each level? Can members leave, operate alone, form a new group, or join a different group in an area considered part of their original group’s purview?
These are all questions to consider before joining any group. A group can be any association of people for any purpose. It can be virtual or in person. It will be through listening to the group’s leaders that you may hear some of the answers to your questions about achieving the goals you’d like to work toward. Above all the continued association within groups between any members and its leaders should be voluntary.
Real leaders are certainly not Hollywood caricatures. There isn’t a group of heavily armed good guys clustered around “the one”. There isn’t a choice between a red or blue pill to get in on the big secret. Please dispel that artificial construct entirely. There’s more than one leader in any good group and the true path to enlightenment isn’t found in pharmaceuticals.
There’s no easy button on your desk to push. The times we get our hands dirty can be far more important in finding out who we really are than as mouse-clickers on our way to self-education. But, the old proverb that “many hands make light work” can be just as applicable and sometimes more powerful in cyberspace than it can be on the street.
Humble leaders are not well-represented among the usual names of history that come to mind. When we consider the good and humble leaders of the past and present, the total number of their group members or achievements should not be the main litmus test of success either. Such outcome measures can either be easily assisted or greatly restricted by factors of environment, time and place.
There were, are, and always will be variables beyond any leader’s or group’s control. A responsive leader will announce what the group already knows, but do so with a single eloquent voice. It may be for the group to go forward, backward, or sideways, but they will do it united under one spokesperson.
Good leaders are not only people who have a proven record of building and/or keeping things running, but those who have foresight and creativity. A lot of professions from teachers and doctors to carpenters and drainage ditch engineers have people with these abilities. However, good leaders also have a willingness to listen to opinions from both new players inside their field and observers from the outside. They have to consider radical, unconventional, and unpopular methods as means toward possible solutions.
Leaders may be around for an entire generation, but it’s more likely for only a short time. In fact, it seems like the really good ones are usually temporary. They didn’t have as much time to make mistakes. A highly-qualified leader is a doer –or was a doer when younger. The most humble of serving leaders are always doers for others rather than themselves.
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