Who are the leaders of society really, aside from those in official roles of leadership? I would argue that the leader—or the Bodhisattva, or the Unemployed Samurai, or whatever you want to call the one who uplifts society—is one who never abandons being. So, what does that mean?

According to Jordan Peterson, a noble leader must have three qualities: expansive vision, the ability to speak the truth, and the willingness to confront the dragon of the chaos. Peterson talks expansively about how these three qualities are represented in one our earliest written myths by the Mesopotamian god Marduk, who has a thousand eyes around his head and speaks magic words, and formed civilization by defeating the monstrous primordial snake Tiamat.[1]

It’s hard to find visionary dragon fighters in our leaders these days. Every hundred years or so, a Martin Luther King comes along, whose vision, speech and action have real thunderous power like Marduk, and who can slay an actual dragon—in this case the segregation laws. However, there are other, less obvious dragon slayers as well: seemingly ordinary people with hidden superpowers, such as invisibility, charisma, an ability to transform base substances into gold. A real leader could be a nurse or a gardener or a teacher — or anyone with vision, articulated knowledge, and the courage to face down tyrants. The tyrant also lives in our own souls: he is the first monster we have to meet. We have to slay ourselves, so to speak, before we can slay external dragons.

The greatness of a leader depends, less on their position in the hierarchy, and more on their quality of being. When we meet a great leader, even if she is great waitress, our lives are transformed in their very presence. And yet we might not directly grasp their effect on us: some of the best leaders are entirely invisible, people we would pass by on the street without noticing. I once met a Canadian native elder, who lived in a ramshackle house in the suburbs of Ottawa and subsisted on government welfare, and you might have thought he was a homeless man. But after talking to him for five minutes or so, it was obvious to you that he was planting little golden seeds of insight into your heart. Of course, this story might seem a bit ciché, but the point is about this quality of invisibility that characterizes a leader, and which is so different than the braddagio and baroque display of the fake king.

Perhaps the truly wise leaders have to to be at least somewhat introverted or invisible. That is because most of their work happens in the depths of the inner world and in places we don’t see—they need to dive downs into the deep ocean to bring their pearls back to the world. Introverts are not casual with words, they know the power of visions, the importance of clarity, and the weight of action. The introverted leader works in the shadows unseen. But you can rely such a person in your darkest hour — again, they won’t abandon being or beings.

It’s worth saying again: the leader is the one who doesn’t abandon being— even if society has abandoned him, even if he is an unemployed Samurai. Firstly, he may be mistreated and abused relentlessly by the fates, but the leader doesn’t lose faith, even in tragic circumstances. His or her power comes from begin aligned with the gravity of being.

[1] (Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief
[Routledge, 1999, 544 pp. ISBN 0415922224]

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