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Can Leadership Be Taught?

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Before you begin reading this post or listening to the audio version, I must warn you it is not for everyone. If you are someone who cannot bear a politically incorrect word or if you live life well within your own comfort zone, what you’re about to hear may very well offend you.

The words of this post will test your dedication to becoming a RESILIENT person. What is a resilient person? Quite simply, it’s someone who is on the way to becoming a true human being, to exploring and living out the full potential of a being created in the divine image. And every resilient person is, in fact, a warrior, because no one can overcome the barriers that stand between mediocrity and resilience without great courage.
Every resilient person is also a leader. First and foremost they are leaders of their own lives – they know who they are, what they stand for and where they’re going. And it’s because and only because they know these things, that they’re fit to lead others.
Why is leadership so critically important for you? Because it’s impossible to become a resilient person or to help others attain resilience otherwise. Until you develop the qualities of a leader – on fire with an inspiring vision, living by noble principles, genuinely caring for others and dedicated to brutal honesty in all things – you’re as handicapped in your pursuit of a better life as a three-legged horse would be at the Kentucky Derby.
The Few:
How do we recognize such people? If you personally know even one or two such people, you’re truly blessed, because they are very few and far between. You’ll recognize them because they will inspire and motivate you without even trying. They’ll make you feel glad to be alive and enthusiastic about the challenges to come. You’ll notice they serve a purpose far greater than their own self-interest, they live by principles rather than their own convenience and they can be relied upon one hundred percent of the time to give and demand brutal honesty and truth. That’s why the cowards who surround them call them disruptive and “loose cannons”, considering them dangerous and inconvenient.
At least, that’s what they said about people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and many others.
Of course, the few are “dangerous”. You see, the few have no interest in the artificial rules or the polite lies that all of society wallows in. They’re completely committed to what’s real. They have no interest in comfort, in playing it safe, or in avoiding the tough decisions. No, they’ll jump in with both feet, knowing that audacity will always rule the day and snatch the victory.
The few don’t waste their energy trying to perpetuate ossified institutions or obsolete social structures and decorum. Gandhi didn’t have the social standing to lead India to independence, nor did he have any interest in perpetuating the social evil of untouchability. The few are far too focused on the magnificent possibility they see in their mind’s eye to bother with such things. And this passion that enflames their very souls is contagious – you can’t talk to one of these people about their passion without coming away with some of that flame yourself… if, of course, they think you’re worthy to hear about it.
The Many:
The many are quite different. Why do we call them “the many”? Simply because at least ninety-five percent of the people around you fall into this category. Now don’t get me wrong – the “many” can be perfectly nice people. They can be your neighbors, your colleagues, members of your church and community and you can be very happy with them. Yet however pleasant your social interactions with them may be, they are not leaders, no matter how prominent they may appear.
Despite this, they constitute well over ninety-five percent of the so-called “leaders” in our society – our politicians, our managers and bosses, and the leaders of our religious institutions. And that’s only natural since, unlike true leaders, they actively seek the limelight.
Why is that? Ultimately, it’s because they live for themselves, not for any higher purpose (despite any claims they might make to the contrary). They’re not dedicated to any great and inspiring vision, which explains why, as “leaders”, they’re totally unable to inspire their subordinates to follow them. Part of the reason is because they consider themselves superior to their underlings, they value control over collaboration and stability over results. They’re really just functionaries, rather than leaders and, to them, the process is the product.
They live well within their comfort zones and see preserving the status quo as a sacred duty, even when the status quo is a total betrayal of the principles they make such a fuss about adhering to. But that’s something they’ll never admit to themselves, let alone to you. So life among the many leaves you swimming in a sea of lies and half-truths so bewildering it will have you questioning your own sanity.
The Crisis:
In the life of every institution, community, group or team there always comes a crisis. And crisis is most useful because it lays bare for all to see who is willing to call a spade a spade, to stand up and be counted, rather than cower in the corner and submit to a lie for the sake of personal convenience.
That’s why it’s so often said that you only know who your real friends are when things go wrong.
That’s what makes crisis such a great gift – it sorts out who’s who with all the accuracy of the “sorting hat” in Harry Potter. It also explains why the literal translation of the word “crisis” is so bang on – you see, the ancient Greek word “Krisis” means “judgment”, and every crisis is precisely that. It divides the resilient from the weak, the courageous from the cowards, the leaders from the functionaries and the visionaries from those who play it safe.
Of course, in rare cases a crisis can be the catalyst that propels a person to leave the many and join the few. The Lord of the Rings is a tale about exactly that: Frodo and his fellow Hobbits did not have to take the one ring back to Mordor at great personal risk, and we watch their inner debates unfold as they’re tempted to rejoin the “many” by giving up and going back to the Shire. Perhaps it’s the sure and certain knowledge that there won’t be an Shire left unless they persevere that saves them.
The Myth:
Of course, our governments, corporations and educational systems don’t want you to know all that and the reason is quite simple. Just ask yourself who runs those institutions… Instead, they tell you that anyone can become a leader through training, by acquiring the right “skill sets”.
In fact, that’s totally erroneous. The many are not the many because they lack certain life skills. The many are the many because on a level deep enough to remain hidden from the world and usually from themselves, the many are unwilling to put their well-being, their livelihood and ultimately their lives on the line. They have settled down to live with the mediocrity, the political correctness and the polite lies that pervade our everyday experience. Yes, they may be raising fine children, donating to charity and volunteering their time, but when the crisis comes, you’ll see them for who they are. And no amount of training will change that.
Take the typical corporate manager. Training in leadership, change management, team building or whatever else can no more turn this person into a leader than it can change their racial DNA from Caucasian to Negro or Oriental to Caucasian. You see, leadership, like resilience itself, is not primarily a skill set. The “many” can never become leaders by learning “skills”; they can only become leaders by doing one thing…
Repenting. That’s right. Until such a person decides that personal integrity means more to them than life itself, they cannot be taught. You see, the fundamental dividing line between the few and the many, between the leaders and the functionaries, is precisely a matter of character, of virtue.
The many can think of lots of things to live for, but only the few believe that there are some things worth dying for.
In the words of Star Trek’s fictional Klingon general Chang, so ably portrayed by the great Shakespearean actor Christopher Plumber, as he addresses a group of elite recruits:
“You have surpassed your peers to earn a place within this distinguished hall. Yet I tell you now, this is not enough. In the days to come, you will be tested, well beyond your current limitations. I am not interested in the names of your fathers, nor in your family’s lineage. What I am interested in is your breaking point. How will you conduct yourselves in battle? How far will you go to preserve your honor, to fulfill your duty? These are simple questions that will decide the fate of our empire.”
The crises you will inevitably face in daily life – at home, at work, in the society around you – these will test you beyond what you think you can handle. And every one of these crises will reveal one thing – whether you belong to the few or the many. Your social status, your previous achievements are irrelevant. Will you live with integrity or won’t you? Will you boldly proclaim the truth or indulge the lies of the many around you? Which will it be? You can’t fudge this – it’s one or the other. This is the battle. Will you preserve your honor and fulfill your duty to yourself and those who depend on you or will you not?
And it is not only your own fate on the line, it is ultimately the fate of your country and your whole civilization as well.
The Challenge:
Several years ago, a great financial scandal broke out in my Church, engulfing hundreds of communities throughout the United States and Canada. My bishop here in Canada had the temerity to stand in front of his people week after week and proclaim that nothing was wrong, that there were simply some “administrative difficulties”. By doing so he willingly participated in the cover up of a felony – the embezzlement of some two million dollars that had been earmarked for victims of 9/11, the Beslan massacre, the Armenian earthquake and similar tragic events. He also publicly besmirched the reputations of several people who were demanding an open investigation into the financial scandal, calling them “trouble-makers”.
Yet the majority of our people were not outraged or overly concerned. The “many” never are until it’s much too late. The “many” are like sheep that an unscrupulous “leader” can lead straight over a cliff. Only the “few” took action, often risking their status, their reputations and their livelihoods to tell the truth in the midst of endless lies, to demand openness in the midst of a cover-up and justice in the midst of criminality at the highest levels. As for myself, I was only marginalized and effectively booted out of my own parish for speaking out. Others suffered much more and for much longer. In the end we were vindicated, though not necessarily reinstated or recompensed.
Events like this are distressingly common – they’re taking place all around you and you have a choice to make. Will you tell the truth, live by your principles, and dedicate yourself and your energies to working toward a noble, inspiring and better future, or will you choose the easy way out?
Only you can answer that question. Behold, I have laid the challenge before you. Or rather, the challenge is constantly before you; I’ve simply brought it to your attention. Time to make a decision…
~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Never Before Revealed: Resilience Secrets of the Hobbit…

[Spoiler Alert – book and movie!]

“In a hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit…”

…and you find true resilience in the unlikeliest of places!

J.R.R. Tolkien created the hobbits to represent everything stable and ordinary and decent about rural Britain.  Hobbits tend their farms and eat too much and have fun, but are absolutely harmless and uninterested in adventures or the affairs of the Big People.

And yet, in The Hobbit, the fate of three kingdoms will hang on the actions of Bilbo Baggins, just as the fate of the entire world will hang on his nephew Frodo in Lord of the Rings.  It all comes down to a mysterious decision by Gandalf, the great wizard.  Thirteen dwarves intent on wresting their mountain kingdom from the evil dragon, Smaug, have need of the services of a burglar.  This dragon is a creation of Morgoth, a fallen higher being and the worst threat the world had ever faced; there are suggestions in the Silmarillion that dragons themselves may be spiritual creatures turned to Morgoth’s side.  Gandalf would know- he himself is a higher being, called into the world by Galadriel.  Having taken up human form, his mission is to protect the world from the next foray by the dark powers.  That means Smaug and his kind.  Gandalf’s answer?

 

Gandalf decides to back thirteen vagrant dwarvish warriors and their forlorn quest.  But, he emphasizes, the quest may depend on securing the services of someone even more formidable- a hobbit.  This decision to counter a fire-breathing dragon with a creature whose main concerns to that point had been eating, drinking, pipe-smoking and gardening might seem rather odd.  Even stranger, Bilbo’s role was to be The Burglar.  Not only was he no warrior, he most likely hadn’t stolen anything more than a few peeps at the neighborhood girls.

Bilbo certainly thought little of the idea: “We don’t want any adventures here- nasty, inconvenient uncomfortable things.  Make you late for dinner.”  Gandalf, however, would not take no for an answer and invited thirteen dwarves to dinner at Bilbo’s to make him listen to the whole thing.  You see, Gandalf knew that, once presented with the whole picture, Bilbo wouldn’t be able to bring himself to refuse.

 

But what made this hobbit ideal for his pivotal role?

Bilbo was stalled in his own personal development, so much so that he saw no need to develop.  But although stalled, he was neither corrupt nor cynical.  He had the values of an ordinary, decent person, and this is why he first embarks on and then sticks with the quest.  He doesn’t want to go- but the thought of turning down the opportunity to see the world and be part of something really significant was too much for him.  Although hardship does tempt him to abandon his friends, Bilbo chooses to stick with them when they are confronted with orcs and giant wolves, precisely because they don’t have a home to go back to as he does.  Bilbo was willing to sacrifice for his friends.

Zhuge Liang, Chinese strategist, administrator and polymath, once wrote, “Straight trees are found in remote forests; upright people come from the commons. Therefore when rulers are going to make appointments they need to look in obscure places.”  Gandalf certainly couldn’t have picked a more obscure place than the Shire and Bilbo is more “upright” – meaning he has more character and can be relied on to do the morally right thing where others would cave in to their own short-term convenience – than many of his fellow adventurers.

 

Bilbo’s second asset is his immensely flexible mindset.  Whatever circumstance he is dropped into, he reacts with presence of mind and does whatever needs doing to move forward.  If that means playing a game of riddles with a wizened schizophrenic cannibal in a dark cave, he goes along with it.  If it means charging a wolf to rescue his friend, he’ll do that.  If it means flattering a dragon silly to get it to delay eating him and reveal the chink in its armour he’ll do that.  If it means negotiating the dwarves’ mistrust and doubts with some hard-headed bargaining, he’ll do that.  If it means discussing the culinary vices of roast dwarf with three trolls until the sun rises, he’ll do that.  He keeps putting one foot in front of the other, and when he’s at his wits’ end, he changes the rules.  During the riddle game, Bilbo is one riddle away from being eaten and can’t think of another riddle, so he asks Gollum what he has in his pockets- breaking the rules of the game, but putting off being devoured.

Bilbo’s no great fighter, nor does he have any non-culinary talent worth mentioning other than this ability to be dropped into any situation and come back again better than he arrived.  That last bit is important, because it isn’t just ingenuity that gets Bilbo out of tight squeezes – it’s the universe rooting for him.  He’s open to what comes his way, and while it can get him into trouble, it saves his life several times.  He isn’t relying only on himself, and it is for that exact reason that he always comes out of a situation a little better than he arrived in it.

 

There is a rather weak scene in the film where Gandalf attempts to explain to the beautiful Galadriel exactly why a hobbit is necessary baggage on this mission.  The truth is that Gandalf does not like to, and until his transformation into Gandalf the White generally will not, rely on great power or might to do his work.  Good, as he says, is found in the little people of the world, not in armies or empires, and in order to work for the good, Gandalf will always rely on a small and unlikely band of people armed with courage, faith and sharp wits (your mileage may vary) and bound by integrity over armies or magic.  That his closest friend among his own order is the bird dropping-adorned naturalist Radagast reinforces this bent in Gandalf’s character.

 

On the other side, of course, there’s Bilbo, middle-aged, comfortable, not accomplishing anything in particular when Gandalf shows up.  Gandalf has faith that given the opportunity, this anonymous little scrap of hobbit will rise to the occasion.  He doesn’t force Bilbo to go, but he has faith that Bilbo will, not for the gold, not to have his name remembered or even because he particularly wants to but because the dwarves have given him something to believe in, a chance to matter, an opportunity to help their whole nation.   Without that chance, and without Gandalf’s belief and persistence, he would have remained just as he was until the end of his days.  With it, his actions lead to the downfall of the enemy of all life.

Throughout Tolkien’s work, Hobbits are the poster children for resilience and the certainty that ordinary, decent people can do surprising, amazing things when given the chance to do something that matters.

 

Dwarvish Brittleness

 

The Dwarves are an effective counterpoint to Bilbo’s form of resilience.  While on the face of it, the dwarves seem in every way tougher and more resilient than the hobbit, the reverse is true.

On the one hand, the dwarves are strong, courageous, extremely determined and have kept their cause alive throughout long years of wandering and exile.  But this limited form of resilience is offset by a rigidity that renders them extremely brittle, particularly where their leader Thorin is concerned.

 

Thorin sets out with twelve loyal companions to recapture his grandfather’s kingdom, showing courage and faith.  But he frequently quarrels with Gandalf, a rather powerful being and his most important ally.  When Gandalf proposes they take Bilbo, Thorin disputes the choice, and will continue to doubt and quarrel with Bilbo throughout the journey, even once Bilbo has repeatedly proven his worth.  Thorin likewise does everything possible to avoid getting any help at all from the elves, near-immortal beings of immense knowledge, at least some of whom might have been willing to assist the dwarves.  Thorin is bitter that the elves who lived near his homeland didn’t charge into certain death in a hopeless attempt to save the dwarves from Smaug, and this feeling extends to all elves, including the ones who weren’t there.  This inflexibility will continue to get Thorin into trouble, to the point where his admitted virtues will not be able to save him (I did remember to put a spoiler alert at the top, didn’t I?  Anyway, read the book.)

 

We hear that Thror, Thorin’s grandfather and king-under-the-mountain, was corrupted by his love of gold and of the Arkenstone, a gem found within the mountain.  Thror was deluded into believing that his kingdom was eternal, and not only ended up with few friends in the outside world, but attracted a creature even more gold-hungry than himself.  After Smaug drove him out of his kingdom, Thror spent the rest of his life fighting hopeless battles until at last, even his armour-plated beard couldn’t save him.  The dwarves united to avenge his death, and though they won in battle against the orcs, the dwarves were severely weakened.  Perhaps it is no accident that when Thorin attacks Azog, the orc who killed Thror, the theme music is the same used for the Ringwraiths in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  This pattern of rigidity, insularity, greed and general inability to get along with people who are on their side continues for the dwarves until Galadriel finally manages to get through to Gimli in Fellowship of the Ring.

 

Consider the Following

 

We all know a great many “hobbits” and a few “dwarves”.  In this world, the “hobbits” are not only looked down upon, they are taught to look down on themselves.  How many do you know that are ripe for new challenges and a more meaningful life?  What can you do to help?  How many people around you could do something extraordinary if given the chance?  How many are so far gone that they wouldn’t even believe in the possibility?  How can you help to restore their faith in themselves?

On the other hand, how many people do you know who have fallen prey to the tendencies which dog Thorin, and are suffering for it, some without even knowing it?  Chances are, a number of them are in leadership positions, and a number of others are collapsing into a state of bitterness.  What can you do to help them?

 

The Hobbit and the Dwarf, in fact, represent two sides of the resilience coin and both are necessary.  Another way of describing this that we’ve used before is the “Yin” and “Yang” of resilience:

The Dwarves are all too much “Yang” in their approach – they have the determination, ferocity and bravado, as well as the physical skills to match.  Yet they’re not entirely in charge of their own thinking – all too easily they’re carried away by their own prejudices, assumptions and preconceived ideas.  They allow their own eyes to deceive them.  And they don’t always have the character to do the right thing even when that’s damned inconvenient.

The average Hobbit, being much more “Yin” in his approach, does have that character and, when the moment arises, that character is what allows him to rise to the occasion in an astounding way.  He is far less the prisoner of his own limited vision and his temper seldom gets the better of him.  Now, let’s be clear; Bilbo could use a healthy dose of the Dwarves’ warrior skills, no doubt about it!  However, those skills can be taught and learned much easier than character and mastery of one’s emotions.

As we cultivate our own resilience day in and day out, we need to be conscious of precisely this “yin-yang” balance in our approach.  Some of us think resilience will come entirely from working out at the gym.  Others of us expect it to come exclusively from our meditation sessions.  In both cases we’re fooling ourselves – we need to strive for this balance in our training.

~Dr. Symeon Rodger 


Why You Can’t REALLY Love Anyone Unless You Have a “Black Heart”

Welcome to the fourth and final installment on “thick face” and “black heart”.  If you’ve stumbled on this post and don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, be sure to read the previous three posts FIRST.

What an abhorrent concept!  What can possibly be good about having a “Black Heart” (BH)?  Doesn’t that describe a psychopath like Hitler, Stalin or Chairman Mao (the greatest mass murderers of the 20th century)?

Nope. Not the way we’re using the term here. Yes, they did use the same power of BH that you’re going to.  However, you’re going to use it for transformative purposes, not destructive ones.

There are three aspects to BH.  They all have one thing in common – they involve distinguishing between real compassion and false compassion. Let’s have a look at them:

1. HELP THOSE WHO SEEK TO DO GOOD:

Have you ever seen a parent whose child developed serious behavioral problems all because that parent was too spineless to say “no!” when it was necessary? Did the child then start to push the limits, disrespect the parents and shamelessly manipulate them? And did the parents let the kid get away with it?

If you’re nodding your head right now, you and I probably know some of the same parents!  And the parents’ excuse for this is always couched in terms of “compassion”, of not wanting to scar their child for life by denying him a candy bar, or not wanting to “impose their views” on their child, or wanting to let him “find his own way”.

This pseudo-compassion is a mental fiction covering deep emotional inadequacies.  It causes great harm to the child and to anyone that child will deal with over his or her lifetime.  It has devastating consequences, perhaps for generations.

As a parent, it’s your responsibility to train your child to be a polite, respectful and self-actualized person.  And that means saying “no” sometimes.  It also means challenging your kids, allowing them to make mistakes and get hurt, not shielding them from the nitty-gritty of daily life in the “real world”.  A false compassion would shield them.  Real compassion requires a “black heart”.  A BH means “tough love”, it means knowing when it’s more important to slap a hand than hold it.

In ancient Sparta, as in some native American societies, the tougher parts of the education were undertaken out of reach of the parents and especially the mothers, who wouldn’t have wanted to watch their offspring be put through hardship, even if that hardship was extremely beneficial in the long run.

It’s said that the 20th century Orthodox Christian holy man, Joseph the Hesychast, didn’t have a kind word for his disciples.  In reality, his disciples knew he love them deeply, but the feigned harshness of the old man was a vital element to help them discover the inner resources they would need to overcome their spiritual challenges later on.

Likewise, the great Taoist master, Wang Liping, always says he is deeply thankful for the unsparing, ruthless severity of his masters, because that’s what allowed him to achieve his extraordinary life.

Joseph the Hesychast and Wang Liping’s old masters were perfect examples of BH.  They know what needed to be done and they did it, regardless of the immediate discomfort of their disciples or of those who were “offended” by their way of life.  And, most importantly, they did it out of genuine love and concern for the welfare of those they were responsible for.

In essence, they were putting the power of BH at the service of those who were seeking to do the right thing.  Another scenario along the same lines is defending people who are unjustly attacked for doing the right thing. In the recent series of crises in my own Church, those of us who spoke up did so partly to protect others who had already stuck their necks out.

2. STOP THOSE WHO SEEK TO DO EVIL:

Black Heart also refuses the false compassion that would allow people doing evil to continue to harm others and wreak havoc.

There are many wonderful features of life up here in Canada. The criminal justice system is NOT one of them. Enslaved for decades to absurd ideas that the criminal is the “victim” of society, our system has a nasty habit of letting violent criminals go free. The penalties for real wrong-doing are a bit of a joke.

In her book, “Thick Face, Black Heart,” Chin-Ning Chu illustrates this with the true story of two ancient Chinese warlords.  One was the emperor of the time and the other a peasant and rebel leader trying to overthrow him. The emperor captured the rebel leader at one point, but refused to deal with him harshly, considering him a worthy opponent of sorts.  This allowed the rebel leader to escape, muster his army again, and overthrow the emperor.  Chu points out that this act of “mercy” simply prolonged the civil war and the slaughter of innocents.  So the emperor’s “mercy” was self-indulgent and counter-productive.  Likewise, nearly every great tyrant of the 20th century was in jail at some point, and some damn fool decided to release him.  Hitler even wrote “Mein Kampf” in prison, explaining in detail his insane plans, and they still let him go!

One of my favorite examples comes from Star Trek: The Next Generation, where Captain Picard has a golden opportunity to destroy the Borg (the single most dangerous and sinister threat to civilization any sci-fi author could possibly invent).  Yet, he hesitates and finally doesn’t do it, rationalizing his stupidity by comparing the act to “genocide”.   Excuse me.  Time out!  What about the hundreds of billions of people whose lives will be destroyed in the near future when the Borg overrun their planets, and all because of your bogus compassion, Captain Picard?  I guess your “compassion” didn’t extend to them.

If you look carefully, you’ll see bogus compassion is all around you. In our Church, we were too soft-hearted to sack ALL the bishops who tried to cover up the financial scandal.  Instead we only sacked the top guy.  That has already come back to bite us.  Real compassion involves cutting off evil – suddenly and definitely.  That’s the essence of BH.  BH accords well with the old saying, “All that’s needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

3. HONE YOUR KILLER INSTINCT:

The “killer instinct” is muted in our society.  It’s sublimated into other outlets like watching professional sports and playing video games.  People who like to talk about inner peace may be horrified by the mere mention of killer instinct, considering it something to be programmed out of human beings.

Great spiritual traditions thought otherwise.  They knew that the same power that you could use egotistically to kill someone who merely disagrees with you is the very power that you need to harness to overcome your inner obstacles.  Paradoxically, there is a war to be waged for inner peace.

Obviously, that same killer instinct is instrumental in “thick face” – it’s the inner power that allows you to develop a powerful self-image, stick to your guns and resist the criticism and opinions of others.

It’s also the power that allows you to become DEFINITE about your lifestyle, about who you are and what you stand for.  It’s the very power that brings clarity.

If you’re a man, a male human being, you are a hunter and a killer by nature. Yes, society’s gone to great lengths to program that out of you, to tell you you shouldn’t have those feelings or act that way or think that way. Ancient Traditions took a different approach – they taught you how to harness and redirect that power, not repress it.  Repressing it leads to neurosis and boredom.

And women need this too. It simply expresses itself differently. But find a mother protecting her child from physical danger and you’ll see true killer instinct.

CONCLUSION:

“Thick Face” and “Black Heart” express the reality of your mind-body organism. In your natural state, you’re impervious to the opinions and agendas of others, you’re definite with your life and clear on your purpose, you are “brutal” in defense of the good and “ruthless” in crushing evil.  These are divine traits within the human being.

Yes, they can be perverted, as they have been by tyrants, corporate executives and jihadists throughout history, as well as by fascists and religious fascists of all kinds.  That, however, is irrelevant.  You already possess the energies of Thick Face and Black Heart within you. They will come out somehow.  It’s up to you to channel them in ways that transform your life and the lives of those around you.   And when you do that, you’ll be well on your way to attaining true personal resilience, which is both your birthright and your natural state as a human being.

~Dr. Symeon Rodger

P.S. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on the concepts of “Thick Face” and “Black Heart”. Feel free to leave your comments below!


Using “Thick Face / Black Heart” to Get Clarity and Conviction

Welcome to our next installment on the warrior philosophy of “Thick Face, Black Heart” (TFBH) and what it can do for YOU. If you’ve just stumbled on this post, please go back to the two previous posts and READ THEM FIRST. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in a matter of seconds ;-)

Practicing TFBH clarifies everything in your life. TFBH means living in the world of the DEFINITE. Once you become very definite about your lifestyle – about your diet, your exercise, your responsibilities towards others at home, at work and in general, something miraculous happens…

GREAT CLARITY ENSUES:

One of the defining characteristics of most people in our culture is their glaring lack of definiteness and direction. We’re a deeply conflicted people who create deeply conflicted lives.

Once you DECIDE to adopt a definite manner of life – meaning you stick to your lifestyle even when others attack you or, more importantly, when you yourself “feel like” caving in – then the next step is this:

Decide who you really are and what you stand for. Ask yourself these questions (yes, really do it!  Get out a piece of paper or open a new document on your computer):

1. What are my highest values as a person?

2. What moral standards do I refuse to compromise on?

3. When have I been asked to go along passively with something unjust or to live with a lie?  Have I become “politically correct” (in other words, a pathological liar)?

4. When have I actually gone along with a lie?

5. If I could contribute just ONE good thing to the world in my lifetime, what would it be?  And what am I willing to do about it?

6. What infuriates me?  What will I absolutely not tolerate?

Yes, contrary to what you might think, righteous anger is not an evil. The ancient Christian tradition considers it a protective force implanted within you by your Creator. If you see evil and injustice done to others and that doesn’t infuriate you, then you’ve got a real problem. Not that you should lose control of yourself; simply that you should feel impelled to take action.

As many of you know, my jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church has suffered a debilitating financial scandal and a generalized leadership crisis over the past couple of years. At one point the lies became too much for me and I spoke out. And I took the criticism that comes from the spineless and unprincipled who fear nothing quite so much as rocking the boat. That’s an example of “thick face”. However, many who did speak out and continue to do so have suffered for it much more than I did, and they deserve great respect for doing so.

Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. are perfect examples of people who felt compelled to speak out. They saw injustice and got REALLY ANGRY about it. However, they were able to channel the force of their righteous anger into great moral principles and to achieve victories once thought completely impossible.  Their righteous anger became the very power of their inspiring vision of a better future for everyone.

REFUSING OTHER PEOPLE’S DEFINITIONS FOR YOUR LIFE

My family has a dear friend who’s over 90 years old right now. He was a best friend to my father for over half a century. Lately he’s become a bit obsessed with telling my children how off-track they are with respect to their educations and career choices. They need to become doctors, lawyers or dentists, he says, because those are the people who make the real money.

Well, that kind of career advice is understandable from a post-war immigrant, but it really lost its validity after the sixties.

Likewise, you’ll find all kinds of well-meaning people trying to define your life for you. Some of them may be success “gurus” telling you success is measured in dollars. Some may be family members who think you should go to university because the previous three generations of your family did.

One thing you can be sure of: if you are definite about your lifestyle – adopting a “thick face” in that department – and if you’re increasingly definite about who you are and what you stand for, you’ll become more and more CLEAR about what you want to contribute. And when that’s the case, you WILL find all kinds of people putting obstacles in your way.

The great thing about practicing TFBH is that once you become very clear and definite about the little things in life, you’ll get CRYSTAL CLARITY surprisingly fast on the larger issues, including your long term dreams and your most immediate goals.

Try it. Don’t believe me; see for yourself! “Thick Face” and “Black Heart” are the essence of the world’s ancient spiritual traditions and of the Warrior’s way of life worldwide.

This coming Thursday, I’ll finally explain to you what “Black Heart” means – it doesn’t mean what you’re probably thinking it means… ;-)

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


Can Leadership Be Taught?

Turn up your speakers… or just read on!


MP3 File

Before you begin reading this post or listening to the audio version, I must warn you it is not for everyone.  If you are someone who cannot bear a politically incorrect word or if you live life well within your own comfort zone, what you’re about to hear may very well offend you. 

The words of this post will test your dedication to becoming a RESILIENT person.  What is a resilient person?  Quite simply, it’s someone who is on the way to becoming a true human being, to exploring and living out the full potential of a being created in the divine image.  And every resilient person is, in fact, a warrior, because no one can overcome the barriers that stand between mediocrity and resilience without great courage. 
Every resilient person is also a leader.  First and foremost they are leaders of their own lives – they know who they are, what they stand for and where they’re going.   And it’s because and only because they know these things, that they’re fit to lead others. 
Why is leadership so critically important for you?  Because it’s impossible to become a resilient person or to help others attain resilience otherwise.  Until you develop the qualities of a leader – on fire with an inspiring vision, living by noble principles, genuinely caring for others and dedicated to brutal honesty in all things – you’re as handicapped in your pursuit of a better life as a three-legged horse would be at the Kentucky Derby. 
The Few:
How do we recognize such people?  If you personally know even one or two such people, you’re truly blessed, because they are very few and far between.  You’ll recognize them because they will inspire and motivate you without even trying.  They’ll make you feel glad to be alive and enthusiastic about the challenges to come.  You’ll notice they serve a purpose far greater than their own self-interest, they live by principles rather than their own convenience and they can be relied upon one hundred percent of the time to give and demand brutal honesty and truth.  That’s why the cowards who surround them call them disruptive and “loose cannons”, considering them dangerous and inconvenient.
At least, that’s what they said about people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and many others.    
Of course, the few are “dangerous”.  You see, the few have no interest in the artificial rules or the polite lies that all of society wallows in.  They’re completely committed to what’s real.  They have no interest in comfort, in playing it safe, or in avoiding the tough decisions.  No, they’ll jump in with both feet, knowing that audacity will always rule the day and snatch the victory. 
The few don’t waste their energy trying to perpetuate ossified institutions or obsolete social structures and decorum.  Gandhi didn’t have the social standing to lead India to independence, nor did he have any interest in perpetuating the social evil  of untouchability.  The few are far too focused on the magnificent possibility they see in their mind’s eye to bother with such things.  And this passion that enflames their very souls is contagious – you can’t talk to one of these people about their passion without coming away with some of that flame yourself… if, of course, they think you’re worthy to hear about it.    
The Many:
The many are quite different.  Why do we call them “the many”?  Simply because at least ninety-five percent of the people around you fall into this category.  Now don’t get me wrong – the “many” can be perfectly nice people.  They can be your neighbors, your colleagues, members of your church and community and you can be very happy with them.  Yet however pleasant your social interactions with them may be, they are not leaders, no matter how prominent they may appear.
Despite this, they constitute well over ninety-five percent of the so-called “leaders” in our society – our politicians, our managers and bosses, and the leaders of our religious institutions.  And that’s only natural since, unlike true leaders, they actively seek the limelight. 
Why is that?  Ultimately, it’s because they live for themselves, not for any higher purpose (despite any claims they might make to the contrary).  They’re not dedicated to any great and inspiring vision, which explains why, as “leaders”, they’re totally unable to inspire their subordinates to follow them.  Part of the reason is because they consider themselves superior to their underlings, they value control over collaboration and stability over results.  They’re really just functionaries, rather than leaders and, to them, the process is the product. 
They live well within their comfort zones and see preserving the status quo as a sacred duty, even when the status quo is a total betrayal of the principles they make such a fuss about adhering to.  But that’s something they’ll never admit to themselves, let alone to you.  So life among the many leaves you swimming in a sea of lies and half-truths so bewildering it will have you questioning your own sanity.
The Crisis:
In the life of every institution, community, group or team there always comes a crisis.  And crisis is most useful because it lays bare for all to see who is willing to call a spade a spade, to stand up and be counted, rather than cower in the corner and submit to a lie for the sake of personal convenience.
That’s why it’s so often said that you only know who your real friends are when things go wrong. 
That’s what makes crisis such a great gift – it sorts out who’s who with all the accuracy of the “sorting hat” in Harry Potter.  It also explains why the literal translation of the word “crisis” is so bang on – you see, the ancient Greek word “Krisis” means “judgment”, and every crisis is precisely that.  It divides the resilient from the weak, the courageous from the cowards, the leaders from the functionaries and the visionaries from those who play it safe.  
Of course, in rare cases a crisis can be the catalyst that propels a person to leave the many and join the few.  The Lord of the Rings is a tale about exactly that: Frodo and his fellow Hobbits did not have to take the one ring back to Mordor at great personal risk, and we watch their inner debates unfold as they’re tempted to rejoin the “many” by giving up and going back to the Shire.  Perhaps it’s the sure and certain knowledge that there won’t be an Shire left unless they persevere that saves them.  
The Myth:
Of course, our governments, corporations and educational systems don’t want you to know all that and the reason is quite simple.  Just ask yourself who runs those institutions…  Instead, they tell you that anyone can become a leader through training, by acquiring the right “skill sets”. 
In fact, that’s totally erroneous.  The many are not the many because they lack certain life skills.  The many are the many because on a level deep enough to remain hidden from the world and usually from themselves, the many are unwilling to put their well-being, their livelihood and ultimately their lives on the line.  They have settled down to live with the mediocrity, the political correctness and the polite lies that pervade our everyday experience.  Yes, they may be raising fine children, donating to charity and volunteering their time, but when the crisis comes, you’ll see them for who they are.  And no amount of training will change that.  
Take the typical corporate manager.  Training in leadership, change management, team building or whatever else can no more turn this person into a leader than it can change their racial DNA from Caucasian to Negro or Oriental to Caucasian.  You see, leadership, like resilience itself, is not primarily a skill set.  The “many” can never become leaders by learning “skills”; they can only become leaders by doing one thing…
Repenting.  That’s right.  Until such a person decides that personal integrity means more to them than life itself, they cannot be taught.  You see, the fundamental dividing line between the few and the many, between the leaders and the functionaries, is precisely a matter of character, of virtue. 
The many can think of lots of things to live for, but only the few believe that there are some things worth dying for. 
In the words of Star Trek’s fictional Klingon general Chang, so ably portrayed by the great Shakespearean actor Christopher Plumber, as he addresses a group of elite recruits:
“You have surpassed your peers to earn a place within this distinguished hall.  Yet I tell you now, this is not enough.  In the days to come, you will be tested, well beyond your current limitations.  I am not interested in the names of your fathers, nor in your family’s lineage.  What I am interested in is your breaking point.  How will you conduct yourselves in battle?  How far will you go to preserve your honor, to fulfill your duty?  These are simple questions that will decide the fate of our empire.”
The crises you will inevitably face in daily life – at home, at work, in the society around you – these will test you beyond what you think you can handle.  And every one of these crises will reveal one thing – whether you belong to the few or the many.  Your social status, your previous achievements are irrelevant.  Will you live with integrity or won’t you?  Will you boldly proclaim the truth or indulge the lies of the many around you?  Which will it be?  You can’t fudge this – it’s one or the other.  This is the battle.  Will you preserve your honor and fulfill your duty to yourself and those who depend on you or will you not? 
And it is not only your own fate on the line, it is ultimately the fate of your country and your whole civilization as well. 
The Challenge:
Several years ago, a great financial scandal broke out in my Church, engulfing hundreds of communities throughout the United States and Canada.  My bishop here in Canada had the temerity to stand in front of his people week after week and proclaim that nothing was wrong, that there were simply some “administrative difficulties”.  By doing so he willingly participated in the cover up of a felony – the embezzlement of some two million dollars that had been earmarked for victims of 9/11, the Beslan massacre, the Armenian earthquake and similar tragic events.  He also publicly besmirched the reputations of several people who were demanding an open investigation into the financial scandal, calling them “trouble-makers”.
Yet the majority of our people were not outraged or overly concerned.  The “many” never are until it’s much too late.  The “many” are like sheep that an unscrupulous “leader” can lead straight over a cliff.  Only the “few” took action, often risking their status, their reputations and their livelihoods to tell the truth in the midst of endless lies, to demand openness in the midst of a cover-up and justice in the midst of criminality at the highest levels.  As for myself, I was only marginalized and effectively booted out of my own parish for speaking out.  Others suffered much more and for much longer.  In the end we were vindicated, though not necessarily reinstated or recompensed. 
Events like this are distressingly common – they’re taking place all around you and you have a choice to make.  Will you tell the truth, live by your principles, and dedicate yourself and your energies to working toward a noble, inspiring and better future, or will you choose the easy way out? 
Only you can answer that question.  Behold, I have laid the challenge before you.  Or rather, the challenge is constantly before you; I’ve simply brought it to your attention.  Time to make a decision…
~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

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