Take me to your Leader

Power and legitimacy

 

When political leaders take office, they embody a nation and channel issues and influences far beyond their personal ambit. They become channels or victims of larger dynamics. Only those who have sat in hot seats really understand this.

Becoming public property, they must often go against their instincts or preferences to do what is required, even lying or harming people when they might not want to. What they are appreciated or condemned for has only some relationship with what they do.

They must be a hard nut to handle the battering of public life. This discourages many sensitive and principled people, particularly women, from standing for office.

There's another problem too: no one becomes a successful political leader without doing a deal with background power interests - more about this later.

Stuck in offices, meetings and public roles, politicians are nearly prisoners. They see the view from their official eyries only, losing track of realities on the ground.

People are nowadays pretty jaded with leaders. In some cases this is justified and in others it makes the job of a sincere leader very hard. At times prospective leaders raise great hopes but disappointment follows.

Reformers or peacemakers get assassinated, or they are disabled by opposing lobbies or outside intervention, by events or their own actions. Liberal reformers get squeezed between radicals and conservatives. There have been success stories, or questionable leaders with redeeming qualities, and some autocrats further back were heavyweight warriors and reformers combined.

Good leadership is unusual, medium-good leadership comes as a mixed blessing and bad leadership is too common. Today disappointment, scepticism and anti-authoritarian attitudes are common - one symptom is low voter turnouts.

Electoral democracy has major problems: electorates feel unrepresented, electoral quirks enable unwanted politicians to gain power, coalition-building gives extremist parties disproportionate power, election outcomes often reflect campaign spending and marketing more than truth and benefit, and there can be electoral corruption, jerrymandering and glitches in the election system which distort results.


Democracy

 

Democracy honours two key requirements: 1. when the public feels strongly, it needs the power to express its preferences; and, 2. when it wishes to get rid of a government or assert a constraining or enforcing influence, it needs to be able to do so.

The public doesn't want to be involved in every single question but it does wish to be involved in things it considers critical. It is incumbent on the public to express its preferences intelligently and maturely. Churchill once said "The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter".

Electoral democracy, as practised, thrives on disagreement and the failure of dialogue and consensus. Majorities (usually) win while minorities are disempowered. It relies on opinionatedness, allegiances and competitiveness, contributing only sometimes to the synergy and unity of a society. Opinions and standpoints are but the beginning of dialogue and negotiation, and the trouble is, electoral democracy stops there.

Democracy avoids the alchemical fermentation of focused group process. Group process obliges participants to step beyond their starting positions to establish consensus and unanimity through listening and hearing. New light is cast on individuals' positions, helping them find their contribution and place, and to value others' contributions and positions. It reveals the position of the population as a whole.

Across the democratic world a malaise has crept in. Everyone quietly knows that the biggest decisions are made behind closed doors by business and other power lobbies.

No simple laws govern the legitimacy of leaders. The 'hand of God' and the 'mandate of heaven' work in strange ways.

The people, with their diffuse, varied and manipulable opinions, often take time to formulate their ideas. Leaderships act faster, more assertively and one-pointedly, at times gaining an advantage over the public.

But at other times the varied interests of masses of people are brought together by shared circumstance and sentiment. Electoral landslides, waves of opinion, acts of solidarity, agitation or revolution follow such a wave of feeling or knowing. If momentum gathers and the times are right, the collective unconscious asserts a determining influence on 'central command'.


Paraconstitutional reform

 

At times the ruling élite seems to have a charmed life. Some élites hang on a long time, appearing to have won the argument. But no regime or empire is everlasting, and no one is completely right.

History is larger than anyone. We humans have our plans and agendas, but the deeper collective psyche has plans too, at times very different.

In the background awareness of nations, a deep composting and fermentation process is going on. The searchlight of public attention is running through different aspects and details of one big, connected picture.

Undercurrents can lurk around for some time, awaiting prompts from events or from deeper down. New issues burst into the public arena quite spontaneously, sparking social movements out of nowhere.

Changes usually start with a thought in the mind of an individual or the thoughts of a number of people simultaneously. Or events can catalyse a shared response in crowds of people, bringing together communities who previously had no relationship.

Such change-bringing ideas or urges break previous norms, creating a new angle on reality which previously was unseen. It quickly wrongfoots the established order and turns the tide of society. The collective unconscious strikes again.

Power in a society concerns active, conscious participation. It is the duty of all members of a society to be alert to what goes on in its midst. If this fails, social power devolves to those who will deal with society's shared issues - leaders. Society sets permission levels to which leaders and ruling élites must conform.

Too often, societies accept their lot, but today collective consciousness is changing. Thresholds of power and principle are shifting quickly, in historic ways. Today we are part of a mass awareness-training process, in which events and popular sensitivities are interacting ever more intensely. Three key public issues being learned are vigilance, consistency and willingness to change.


The Mandate of Heaven

 

The legitimacy of leaderships and power-structures must increasingly be earned, not assumed.

The people's skill in asserting their leadership, in making intelligent choices and supporting and restraining leaders, is becoming critical.

Forgiveness of the past is crucial. Forgiveness means holding responsible people accountable, while releasing ill-feeling and blame since, ultimately, everyone is responsible.

The big issues of our day require great public attentiveness, clear consideration and soundness of judgement. Without these, the public sacrifices its power.

People-power is driven from below, but it too must be earned: legitimacy and the 'mandate of heaven' applies to the public as well as to its leaders, in the ruthlessly impartial view of the collective unconscious.

Without legitimacy, the corrective magic of change and reform cannot come about.

Controlling interests have sophisticated ways of running the agenda. Often society is negligent too - for which hidden, lurking guilt can remain for generations. The public undermines itself in supine, helpless, easily-diverted and chronically indifferent ways. It needs now to step out of this self-sabotage cycle.

The cycle is reinforced by the oscillation between conservatism followed by outbreaks of change. To some extent this is an organic oscillatory tendency, yet it also reflects popular fickleness and inconsistency. Revolutionaries have faced this problem: how to create 'permanent revolution', balancing change and stability.

Worldwide, we live in a schizoid situation: while addicted to conformity and regularity, much of Earth's population is also thinking in new ways, forming new conclusions. Truth thus bursts out in rushes, signifying uncertain commitment to truth and change.

Humanity is yet to decide fundamentally to change. Until such commitment arises, these fitful outbreaks will continue, as if we are trying semi-consciously to trick ourselves into awareness and change, without having to decide.


Balance of power

 

The collective unconscious clarifies its views instinctively and intuitively. It encounters defining situations in which sharp choices, new information and changed perspectives come up. In these moments it sets the rules and parameters for the next phase.

The power of definitive events depends not on the magnitude of events but on their poignancy, their stirring, inspiring and upsetting effect.

Whether by consumer, voter or political pressure, by withdrawal of support, by protest or revolution, the people (the collective unconscious) have ways of influencing their leaders. This should be exercised. Wisely.

This points to a new kind of leadership in the 21st C: facilitative, consultative and to some extent therapeutic, clearly motivated by a sense of service.

The primary role of government leaders is to oversee the overall health of the social process. Society looks after its own health. It is the quality of the social process that yields 'rightness' - this needs facilitating.

Good therapists elicit, encourage and assist social process, with minimum intervention or steering. Sometimes they take initiatives to raise the heat or cool it. Largely they bring forward the potential and insight of the people and the situation, to find the best overall outcome.

When leadership has integrity, the people usually give trust and power. The reciprocity, synergy and productivity of the relationship grows. This transforms hollow electoral democracy into a para-constitutional interaction more closely resembling the democratic ideal.

If the public holds the onus to define those things it wishes to define, leaderships then can focus on what the public doesn't define, making proposals and soliciting feedback. If there is none, they solicit permission to act on the public's behalf.

Critical to this process is collective social commitment. Society must hold the final power. This needs public awareness and participation.


Deep democracy

 

This means staying with the process and seeing it through, whatever it involves. The process, the question, is complete, when everyone has come to peace over it, whether by agreement or acceptance.

It means being willing to commit to the outcome that is achieved, and to follow it through. If society gets things wrong, it will learn, but the learning process needs to be accommodated and planned for too.

In group process, there will always be disagreement. When a decision is made, detractors should be heard one more time, to check whether the conclusion truly is correct, and to draw detractors into the process.

If a decision cannot be made, it's often a matter of laying it to rest until it can be made, or entrusting the decision to someone who can make it, and taking responsibility for that.

While this process is not necessarily easy, history as we have known it has also never been easy. Change is needed, and this is the way things are going.

Humanity is challenged to mature, to take responsibility for social and international process, to get involved and be committed.

Within the collective psyche, this means the collaboration and integration of the ego, the social subconscious and collective unconscious. This is an emotional issue, a choice to cultivate trust, mutual appreciation and support.

Ordinary people must take greater control of their lives and choose their leaders carefully. Leaders must commit to serving the greatest good. This involves a systems change, the cultivation of a supportive, intelligent society. It involves coming to terms with the pain of the past, and generating willingness to look at things we'd prefer not to look at.

We have to talk frankly about things we daren't usually talk about. Satyagraha (Gandhi's term): the force of truth, realism and inevitability. Truth doesn't start with them, it starts with us. The human race is beginning to become human.

 

NEXT: Where lies the Power?


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