Few things in life are as vital as an ability to influence others. To help the listener make the leap of faith that you’re asking for is a daily challenge for all of us.
“The limitation on language, to the communicator, is that the hearer must make that leap of imagination.” Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership
Robert Greenleaf is a famous American corporate leadership philosopher who espoused that true leadership is about lifting the capabilities of the people who report to you. That is, you are the servant of the people you manage. Greenleaf opined that a leader must first be humble and then celebrate the team’s successes by envisioning herself as the foundation upon which her team can grow and succeed, both individually and collectively.
That responsibility of Servant Leadership is a heroic act, one that not only sets you apart, it also enriches your life’s journey.
I have to admit I’m a big fan of Mr. Greenleaf’s leadership philosophies.
Excerpt from https://www.greenleaf.org/about-us/robert-k-greenleaf-biography/ — Greenleaf’s seminal essay The Servant as Leader was published in 1970. In it, he proposed that the best leaders were servants first, and the key tools for a servant-leader included listening, persuasion, access to intuition and foresight, use of language, and pragmatic measurements of outcomes. In the next four years, two more essays explored ideas that an entire institution — and a society — could act as servant, and that trustees should act as servants.
I sure hope you are working for a boss who follows the Greenleaf mantra. But if you aren’t, wouldn’t it be fun to leave a copy of The Servant as Leader essay on her desk?
You often can’t pick the leaders you work for. More likely you have to put up with what you get.
That’s when the Stoic philosophies could be comforting.
For the Stoics, the most prominent principle is this: There are some things we can control, and some things we can’t and your life can be more fulfilled if you focus on the former.
If you accept a deterministic* outlook on your fate, you are disempowered from elevating your life and overcoming that which holds you back. (*Determinism is the philosophical doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes regarded as external to the will.)
Not only is our precious time on earth evaporating, but our capacity to make sound judgments is atrophied by our frustrations with what we can’t control. More than at any time in history, the world must be met with a conscious discipline to maintain a healthy mind.
Not everybody will sign up to the philosophy of the Stoics, but it’s clear that our thinking is best spent on improving ourselves. Thoughts that are preoccupied with envy, anger, fear, shame, or greed, pollute our judgments and make life harder, not easier. Poor judgment equals ongoing remorse and regret.
Two simple principles that guided the Stoics 2300 years ago can be adopted by everyone in 2020:
- Our judgments (stories, or narratives) commonly underlie our problems; and
- We should confine ourselves to what we can control and learn the discipline to stay away from what we cannot.
Therefore all that matters in any given instance is to, a) do what is right, then b) let go of the outcome, because you can’t control it.
These simple attributes are commonly the traits of people we admire as heroes. They can certainly be fundamental to your role as The Hero Of Your Own Life.
To be at peace you must let your reason be paramount. Feelings of fear, dread, envy, bitterness, and rage will typically distort your ability to reason. Learn to be conscious of those distortions.
We all have control over our moral choices and the best life is predicated on embracing and enacting our moral choices across all of life’s unwelcome changes.
Our rank in society, our bodies, in other words, what other people think, all the countless “externals” aren’t under our control and shouldn’t command our attention. Let go of all that. Quit hurting yourself and pressuring yourself, the result of which often leads to poor choices.
What matters is embracing our agency in the current moment and circumstance. Our agency plays directly to our capacity to be heroic, to be the hero of our own life.
The great Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, said, True freedom concerns what is under our control. If we direct our freedom to what is not under our control — health, money, honors — we will never get it fully, creating fear and anxiety.
Freedom that we can all exercise and which can’t be taken away
This means the freedom which cannot be taken away from us concerns our judgments, our desires and aversions, and our impulse to act. Wanting to read all-day makes no sense, for the simple reason that I can’t.
So my true freedom lies in the way I decide to experience a temporary lack of external freedom and the family duties that go with it. Working on my judgments and my attitude is my challenge, but it is under my control. And that, in itself, is liberating.
Life outside the womb for every human begins with that first breath. Every breath thereafter marks our existence as a separate, individual being, growing into our own conscious awareness of the world around us.
American philosopher, Joseph Campbell, Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: Joseph Campbell on the Art of James Joyce, — The first principle of life is the breath: Greek pneuma, Sanskrit prana, Latin spiritus — what God breathed into Adam to give him life . . .
Heinrich Zimmer, Myths & Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, ed. Joseph Campbell,— The wind is air, the highest holy power of the universe, Brahman, the life-force of the world; for the wind persists in its blowing when all the other powers of the body of the universe have temporarily ceased to exist . . .
As you read this, the globe remains in the grip of the pandemic. There is so much that is unknown about the novel coronavirus — and for humans, unknowns breed fear. Within that bubble of fear and uncertainty, events continue to morph so fast we hardly have time to catch our breath; an apt metaphor, as the one thing we do know about Covid-19 is that it steals our breath away.
You could view the pandemic as an opportunity to explore your heroic potential. The potential for heroism is endemic in all of us, yet many, perhaps most of us, unconsciously suppress that potential.
For example, in his book, The Mythic Dimension, Joseph Campbell writes: Certain patterns, certain principles, a morphology, can be recognized — the kind of situation that I have expounded in my Hero with a Thousand Faces. There is a general pattern to the hero journey — the quest of the hero into unknown realms, the powers that she meets there and overcomes, the stages of her crises of victory, and her return then, with some boon that she has gained, for the founding of a city, religion, dynasty, or whatnot….
You may know that George Lucas applied Joseph Campbell’s Heroic Myth concepts in every one of the Star Wars movies, the music for which was written by John Williams. Below a quote from an interview with Williams:
Williams laughed and said, “Well, partly it’s a practical issue. Because of the tremendous noise of the effects in these films, I have gone for a very bright trumpet-drum preponderance. But maybe there’s some other element to it — I don’t know. It has been an extraordinary journey with these films, and with my entire career as well. The idea of becoming a professional film composer, never mind writing nine ‘Star Wars’ scores over forty years, was not a consciously sought-after goal. It simply happened. All of this, I have to say to you, has been the result of beneficent randomness. Which often produces the best things in life.”
Exploring your innate heroic capacity is ultimately a choice you can readily exercise. The mythical hero, as espoused by Joseph Campbell, is typified by her preparedness to leave her safe and secure village to venture forth into unknown territory and deal with a challenge or threat, which could mean the slaying of a dragon or could be as simple as deciding to hang your art on the wall for public scrutiny.
Real myth is the simple expression of truth, of THE truth. The Greek word mythos = ‘word’ ( as opposed to other Greek words for ‘word,’ e.g., logos) means ‘the true word,’ the word that did not need to be proven inasmuch as it carried its truth within itself; it came as unquestionable truth.
(W.F. Otto, with Kerényi concurring: “similarly, mythos came to be defined for us as vera narratio, or true speech…”) (The Soul’s Logical Life)
Your Journey As The Hero Of Your Own Life may start simply, by embarking on the craft of writing in a fashion that speaks truthfully of your experiences and beliefs.
There are many ways to enact the role of Hero of Your Own Life.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to embark on that journey.