Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

May 11th, 2018

The night sky in Guilford, VT

“My kid’s teacher is so profoundly great. My kid learns so much from him. The fact that he’s a pedophile? I try to separate that from his teaching. I mean, everyone’s flawed, right?”

This is not something you would ever hear someone say. Yet in other areas of leadership, we’re so quick to disregard ethics when measuring a person’s professional acuity.

In the yoga world, for instance, you will frequently hear people stick up for a certain teacher who exhibits deeply flawed ethics by saying “Well he’s a great teacher, and I just try to keep those things separate. I mean, he’s only human.”

Personally, though, I don’t think “being human” is a good excuse for treating people badly. We practice yoga for multiple reasons, but isn’t one of them to better ourselves inside and out? So why would we choose for our teacher someone who is not just flawed, not just damaged, but actually actively harming others by his or her personal behaviors? Taking advantage of his/her power to exploit people?

And why do so many people pledge blind allegiance (including me, once upon a time) to teachers who are sleeping with their students / sleeping with their employees / lying to their girlfriends and wives about sleeping with their students and employees / suing the shit out of each other with little provocation / coercing their employees to lie for them under all sorts of circumstances?

Anyway, I did not mean to write another boring post about yoga and how disillusioned I have felt about it for a long time. Honestly, who cares. Not even me, at this point! I am just constantly flabbergasted at what we will put up with in our “leaders” in general. We’re so eager to ignore their flaws in service of the good we see them doing.

This, I suppose, is how certain people feel about Trump. Sure, he slept with a porn star while married to his (current, and third) wife, paid her a lot of money to hush up about it, lied about paying her that money, and then made a huge to-do about throwing her under the bus instead of owning up to his mistakes. So much to unpack here.

On the other hand, our national jobless rate is at a long-time low! And sure, he’s rude and petty and inappropriate on Twitter at every opportunity, but hey, we don’t pay him to be gracious. We just want him to be effective, right?

Right after that fateful presidential election in 2016, when I was wrapped up in terror and disbelief, my husband asked me, “Will you be happy if he ends up being a successful president? My husband lives beyond the fray of partisan politics, in the land of sublime possibility.

That was a hard question for me to answer, though. Because it seemed to me, at the time (and I was right) that for Trump to be “successful” would mean that he’d fulfill on all his atrocious campaign promises — to build a wall against Mexico (and make Mexico pay for it), to derail all of the Obama administration’s policies on healthcare and immigration, to make it easier for people to have guns in schools. No, seriously, you guys, this was a campaign promise, and he’s actually been quite successful at this last one, at least:

For more depressing news about how “successful” the Trump administration has been, read this depressing log.

For more jarring news about how “successful” the Trump administration has been, read this depressing log.

So to answer my husband’s question, a year and a half later, no, I am not that happy about any of Trump’s success metrics, nor am I happy about the havoc he has raised in our country. 

Anyway, didn’t mean to turn this into a political rant, either.

The point is (is there a point?) I find it fascinating how willing we are to forgive our leaders for being pretty shitty people if they’re shiny on the outside and we just really groove to their charisma. Have you guys seen Wild, Wild Country? This series, as fantastical as it was, seemed so familiar to me.

The #metoo movement has been great. Suddenly, tons of hypocrisy and abuse of power (and humans) has been revealed. But I can’t help wondering, if we eliminate all the depraved people from their posts, will we have any leaders, icons, or art-makers left?

We’re all flawed. I would love to think, though, that it’s possible for a leader to be a truly ethical person. Leaders like this must exist.

I can think of several people I believe fit the bill — Barack Obama, Bruce Springsteen, maybe Donald Glover (no seriously have you seen this?). But if I tune into NPR tomorrow and read a salacious headline about any of these people, I won’t be able to be surprised. The world is not like that, anymore, and probably never was.


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