Margaret Wheatley, founder of Berkana Institute, renowned author and advisor, diagnoses the current time as an age of collapse, in her latest book “Who Do We Choose to Be?: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity”. Let’s be leaders for this time as things fall apart, to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that creates possibility and humaneness in the midst of increasing fear and turmoil.
She writes: “It is accurate to label this time as uncertain and chaotic, spinning wildly out of control. Every day we experience disruption, swerves in direction, short-term decisions that undo the future, propaganda, slander, lies, blame, denial, violence. Communities and nations are disrupted by terrorist acts, cumbersome bureaucracies block services, people retreat in self-protection and lash out in fear, angry people strike back at their governments, leaders stridently promise security and outcomes that we know can’t be true, tensions between people reach hateful proportions, and confusion and exhaustion sink us into despair and cynicism. This is the age of retreat: from one another, from values that held us together, from ideas and practices that encouraged inclusion, from faith in leaders, from belief in basic human goodness.”
Her assignment to all of us is powerful: Let’s be leaders for this time as things fall apart, to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that creates possibility and humaneness in the midst of increasing fear and turmoil.
The powerful always defend the status quo because it is the source of their power and privilege. Any change that benefits others would destroy their position. And their position is all they care about defending.
Wheatley is inspired by Shambhala warriors. Tibetan legend has it that the Kingdom of Shambhala rises when the world is in danger of annihilating itself through greed and corruption. The Warriors of Shambhala will arise and bring healing.
Shambhala warriors have no uniform, they may not even recognise each other on the street. It is an individual path. The Shambhala warriors know that the forces of destruction do not come from outside but from within; that it is our own greed and fear and hate that threatens the world.
Their two essential weapons are compassion and insight. Compassion moves us – when we are open to feeling the pain of others, we are driven to act to ease that suffering. However, compassion alone is not enough.
Insight brings rationality and facts and the knowledge that every action, undertaken with pure intent, creates a ripple of healing in the world that has repercussions far greater than we can imagine. The two combined create wise actions that can transform and heal, especially if large numbers of warriors are working together.
She explains: “Warrior training is more relevant than before. Most people are reactors; some are even nuclear reactors who explode all the time. Many act from self-protection and survival.
Awake people are conscious and present. They do not flee – they stay present to observe and accept. They can let go of their need to control, of their criteria. Warriors train to serve the people: to be not triggered so we can contribute better and be effective?”
She suggests meditation to build presence and be aware of triggers, training yourself to clear perspective and perceiving more information, getting rid of our habitual filters – and taking wise action once you have perceived what is really happening.
“Corporate environments are difficult for warrior leaders that want to serve others and help them cope. Instead of fleeing from this environment that harms self-confidence and contribution, you can try to change the dynamics that are destructive.
You’re there for the other people who are struggling. You’re not there to make the corporation more ethical, to live your values and do great work – you’re there for others that are suffering in those corporations. The role of warrior supercedes your wishes and needs.”
That sounds rather disheartening. Wheatley explains (in her book) that she no longer believes in positive change for this system or the myth of progress. There are periods of evolution and collapse. Currently, we’re in collapse.
She says: “These large systems and bureaucracies cannot be changed. Warriors step out of corporations and create small islands of sanity. Or they stay within the corporation and change their motivation to serve other people in those systems. But we’re not here to change those systems.”
“We see the cracks in all systems due to the pandemic; government, healthcare, education, military. It’s okay to feel resistance and feel sad, but let’s face reality. We’re in the dying stages of our civilization as it is. That causes even more suffering: warriors are there for the people!
This is a grim perspective, and many people withdraw into screens or depression. My call to you is: Warriors be brave and see it! Hence, the title of my book Who do we choose to be?” explains Margaret.
Work worth doing
According to her, we have to go through three phases:
1. Facing Reality: Where are we and how did we get here?
2. Claiming Leadership: What is the role of leaders now?
3. Restoring Sanity: How do we create islands of sanity that sustain our best human qualities?
Why do we do our work? Many activist or idealist leaders get their motivation from hopefulness for outcomes in the future. Instead, be motivated by wanting to serve, no matter the “big” outcomes. What work is meaningful now?
Ask others: what is the work that is worth doing? Then, do what needs to be done. Stop trying to change the world and focus on small groups and alleviate suffering. Joy is always available when we rally together. Meaningful work is dealing with what’s happening now.
Simple advice: do what you can where you are with what you have. That aligns with positive leadership for me. Make the best of any situation, see what else is possible, lead yourself and others with kindness, and focus on what is working well and contribute.
- Are you aware of your triggers, your perspective? How can you train your insight?
- How’s your compassion and how can you strengthen it?
- What motivates you? A better world at large, or can you see the crucial contribution of small gestures?
- What work is meaningful now?
- How do you serve others?
(Source: Leadership for a Changing World online summit, September 2020).
© Marcella Bremer, 2021. All rights reserved.
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