“Heretics are the new leaders,” says author and entrepreneur Seth Godin. We need to think and act against the grain, drawing a tribe around us or around our new idea, and push forward to overturn the status quo.
If Godin’s view is limited it is because, being concerned more with social and commercial movements than political or religious ones, for example, he does not take into account the very real dark side of leadership.
Yesterday’s heretics are honored. Today’s heretics may be smeared or even persecuted — perhaps especially by those who believe that they stand against the system but, yet, who benefit from it, and whose “radical” opinions are those of the media. In regard to the arts, those who are truly different, and who challenge the latest opinions or aesthetic fashion, may find that making a living off of their work is not easy. (Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime.)
Yet, despite everything, there remains the possibility of transforming ourselves, and helping others to do the same.
Heretics and Leaders:
Heretics — real heretics — generally see what is wrong with society. Although an essential first step, this can be a huge obstacle to becoming an instrument of actual change. Many heretics immerse themselves in their own pessimism. It becomes a kind of baptism into a harsher belief system, one that denies ordinary pleasures, and the possibility of a better future.
Such heretics long for collapse, for the Kali Yuga to finally be over, and for the select few survivors to stand up victorious among the ruins, with a grin, and a smug, collective: “we told you so.” This is unhealthy.
Godin’s assertion that “Heretics are the new leaders” is only partly true. Every true leader may be a heretic, but not every heretic is a leader.
Since Phalanx is critical of many aspects of contemporary life I believe — and hope — it is serving a kind of leadership role. We want to empower others. We attract heretics. But I also suspect that we attract leaders, and those who will be leaders, in some area of their lives, in society, in some or other art or discipline, etc.
We attract, as such, those who are wrestling not only with the false assumptions of society, but those who want to wrestle with their own shortcomings, weak spots, and false beliefs. And this is something we should be aware of.
From Heretic to Leader:
We can’t be a leader in every aspect of our lives. If we have a partner, then they, at times, will encourage us to do better, overcome our fears, etc., and in that sense, there and then, they will be a leader for us. We all need that. If we don’t have a partner, it may be a friend or a teacher that is encouraging us.
Even if it is in one single area of our lives, how, then, can we move from heretic to leader? Below are a few thoughts:
(1) Acquire and Share Experience and Wisdom. We are flooded with information (usually about entertainment or , though extremely skewed, presented as “news”), but we are starving for wisdom, especially the wisdom of experience, both in terms of daily life, relationships, and so on, and the disciplines, skills, and arts that we might want to learn or might be learning.
(2) Set an Example. We are all human. We all struggle at times, and have off days. Still, when you are around comrades and Brothers or Sisters, do your best to enlighten, inform and encourage. Be your best.
(3) Don’t fall into pessimism. Pessimism is the attitude of those who have been molded by events beyond their control. Yes, there is much wrong with the world. But we must not feel defeated, and we must not give into the temptation of believing that it is inevitable that things will just get worse and worse. Defeatism brings defeat. Leaders shape events. Be optimistic about collective struggles.
(4) Cultivate a world that gives meaning. Whether this is a martial arts school or group that meets for discussion, exercise, and comradeship, it does not matter. For the sake of our comrades, Brothers, etc., and for our own quality of life, it is important to be part of a group or groups that give our life purpose.
(5) Rather than being swept along by whatever entertainment and beliefs are currently in fashion, be true to those archetypal values by which men and women, in every society, have always excelled. Cultivate mind body and spirit. Read and think about such ancient texts as the Tao Te Ching, the Analects of Confucius, the Poetic and Prose Edda and rune poems, the Art of War, the Bhagavad Gita, and so on.
(6) Just as I encourage you to develop your mind, body, and spirit, so a leader should also be able to express himself verbally, in writing, and through imagery and aesthetics. This doesn’t mean that you need to learn painting as well as writing (though, if you can, do). It means that you should (a) be able to conceive your vision in images, metaphors, and allegories, as well as rational argument (the latter being perhaps the least convincing to people, since facts are often unappealing or frightening), and (b) that, if possible, you should be able to work with others to create a coherent aesthetic experience, through design, etc. In contrast to the pessimist, the leader is an optimist, a seer, a creator of new worlds, new experiences, a new tightly-knit group of warriors.