I have a friend who shares my love of music. We play a game where we use song lyrics and titles to carry on a conversation. The game often begins with one of us texting an obscure lyric and then waiting for a response. Most of the time, this leads to both of us listening to a new song or remembering an old one. On this particular day, it was the latter for me. In 1977, Rush released “A Farewell To Kings.” In the title track, we find Geddy Lee lamenting the loss of respect and care, mostly in reference to leadership’s attitudes and actions toward the powerless.
Cities full of hatred
Fear and lies
And cruel, tormented eyes
Dressed in kingly guise
Beating down the multitude
And scoffing at the wise
By the end of the song, he asks the question, “Can’t we find the minds to lead us closer to the heart?” Remember, this was written in 1977, not yesterday. “Closer to the Heart” happens to be the title of another song on the album that answers this question.
And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the heart
We call the experience we have within a community “culture.” The culture of a community (or organization) is an organic result of the beliefs of the community. It is also true that the beliefs of a community are heavily influenced by the beliefs of the leadership. Everyone in a community or organization has an impact on the culture, but it is very hard to overcome the influence of the leadership. So, if you don’t like your culture, or experience, you need new leaders.
The individuals who are in leadership positions (high places) have the responsibility of leading us back to a place where we respect and care for each other. They can only do this if they respect and care for others themselves. Unfortunately, for too many years, we have been in the habit of putting people in positions of leadership and influence based on what they might do for us, rather than who they are as people and how they treat others.
As our leadership has stopped pretending to respect others and begun to show their true colors, those they lead have followed. The subsequent loss of civility and respect has robbed us of the ability to discuss our differences and yet continue to care about people, even when we disagree.
There is a proverb that says, “Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions.” One difference between foolishness and wisdom lies in the willingness to listen to what another person has to say. Listening to understand, not to rebut—something that is almost completely absent in public dialogue these days. Another proverb says, “Mockers can get a whole town agitated, but the wise will calm anger.” Another difference between foolishness and wisdom is found in the intent of the individual. Wise people seek to reduce anger as a path to greater understanding, while the foolish simply stir up strife.
Leaders must stand for respect and care for everyone. We will never all agree. No one gets everything they want or even everything they need from a community. The act of forming a community is founded in the understanding that we will each voluntarily limit our freedoms to provide the greatest good for the most people. This only happens if we care about each other.
Whenever possible, we must choose leaders who consistently demonstrate they are leading with a heart for people. We need leaders who believe that everyone is equally valuable, not the same, not always right, but always valuable. Then, and only then, will the culture shift toward the heart of humankind.
I want to be clear that poor leadership is not an excuse or a justification for individuals to be bad actors. Each of us has a personal responsibility to care for the people around us, even when no one else is. Maybe if everyone did that, we could overcome the influence of leadership. More likely, we would all choose leaders who more closely aligned with this belief. Either way, it matters what each of us does.
Let’s do both. Let’s individually commit to treat the people around us with respect and care. Let’s listen to and understand each other. Let’s give as much grace as we would like to get. At the same time, let’s choose leaders who will lead us closer to the heart. Let’s hold our leaders accountable, not for giving us things, but for giving everyone respect. If we do this, we will create communities filled with love, peace, and truth where people flourish, and it will be The Kimray Way.