XV. Beyond Gridlock
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People everywhere are hungry for new leadership. They think they want a champion, a liberator, a Superman. History shows that when self-proclaimed saviors show up, few of them sustain. Leaders come, leaders go. What people can’t seem to understand is that they themselves are the heroes, the ones who have always risen up and done the hard work. Your job is much simpler: to blaze a small trail and pave possibilities, to help people grapple with difficult brambles and storm-fallen tree limbs along the way, and finally, to move through and beyond momentary stalemates to the highest and best collective destination.
In Japan, there is a story about a great Samurai who had attained near perfection in his swordsmanship. He was known far and wide as a brilliant tactician with blades and a most ferocious and fearsome fighter in close fights. However, the Samurai was troubled. All his life he had heard references from teachers to something called “heaven” and “hell,” but he never understood precisely what those terms meant. He yearned to know the truth of these things.
He said, “Master, tell me what is the difference between heaven and hell.” The old man said nothing. After a while, the Samurai asked again, and then a third time. Still, the master said nothing and continued to arrange his flowers. Finally, the Samurai said, “Old man, I am the greatest and most fearsome Samurai in all of Japan. If you do not tell me the difference between heaven and hell this very moment, I am going to take out my sword and slice you in two.”
The master paid no attention to his question, but softly asked if the gentleman would like tea. Hearing this, the Samurai went into a rage, pulled his sword out, and lifted it high over his head in one of the many killing positions he knew. Suddenly, the master stopped his tea-pouring, looked him in the eye, and said: “That, noble Samurai is hell...”
Startled, the Samurai looked at the old man, lowered his sword, and slowly began to place it back in its scabbard. Then the master said: “…and that, Sir is heaven.”
All of this is as it should be. In the public sector, no less than the private and civic sectors, leadership takes place only if others consent. The understanding and respect of those you might hope to lead is a contract but the terms aren’t always explicit. Working with people to punch through momentary conflicts and accomplish bigger things is a supreme act of faith that the right course must prevail in the long run. Above all, it is inherently conflictual. Like the weather, conflict is all around us, all the time, everywhere. Politics IS conflict. Conflict IS politics. It is neither good nor bad except in the balancing act of intents and their execution.
And the future? The storms of conflict are intensifying. Learn the winds, clouds, and tides. Embrace the coming outbursts. They are filled with hope and light. There is no other choice anyway.
“I'll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there's evidence of any thinking going on inside it.” Terry Pratchett
“The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.” William Shakespeare
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