Being strong-willed is not being willful, and freedom is not getting to do whatever you want. Our first lessons in these realities come from our first caregivers. These people demonstrate and reflect for us how to live. They both model and teach.
Good leadership is like good parenting. Both embody and encourage behavior that is healthy for everyone involved. This means growth without injury, and no discrepancy between what is modeled and what is taught. A good leader will model what he wants the disciple, the follower, to do. This is the difference between a tyrant or dictator and a good leader. A leader should not ask the follower to do anything he himself does not or would not do.
Dictator Absentee/ Neglector
Involved/Directs/ Teaches/Challenges Lets be/Gives freedom/Allows room to grow
Good parenting breeds good governance. What we do as individuals, we bring into the world; what we do as families we bring into our governments. The world is as we see it. We create our world. We create our problems. So much of what I am seeing in the United States and beyond is the outcome of bad parenting. People think being willful is having a strong will. So when their children act out of willfulness, the parents applaud the children’s strength. Children who actually obey and show discipline are thought of as weak-willed and brainwashed, as somehow unreflective and inhuman. We have gotten this whole thing wrong.
Leaders and authorities who were brought up this way—to be spoiled brats—are tyrants and dictators. These leaders are not strong willed; they are willful. We have lost sight of this truth in an environment where everyone is fixated on self-esteem. When we promote self-esteem over character, we get a society of citizens who are both willful and brainwashed. This is the American dream to be free to do what we want when we want.
Whatever happened to building character? When my children were young, I read them biographies of great people. We also read a series of stories about values, which connected each value to an historical figure. Patience, determination, kindness, humor, truth and trust, caring, courage, respect, fairness, learning, responsibility, honesty, love, integrity, helping, dedication, friendship, creativity—these are qualities that come from a disciplined will.
The worship of self-esteem is destroying our sense of responsibility. The truth is, we validate our rights by our contribution to society. Democracy cannot happen with ignorant people. In our ignorance, we all want to be treated with kid gloves, and our children have become outgrowths of that desire. We can’t be happy if our children experience any discomfort. We are no longer educating our children, because when a teacher says a student got something wrong, the teacher has wounded the student’s self-esteem. We have come to a place where self-esteem is a weapon. So the child watching the adults in her world goes to school and figures out how to manipulate through being the poor victim of the mean leader who is making her feel bad about herself. The meanness cuts both ways.
Because there is less and less real reflection, we have forgotten that if we “think” well of ourselves then we also “think” poorly of ourselves. If the only way I feel good about me is when I get what I want, then I will be unhappy for much of my life. And if this is the pursuit of happiness, then my happiness will most definitely require someone else’s unhappiness. We are allowing mere desire without discernment to rule our lives.
A leader or a parent operating according to this model will be not looking out for others, but pursuing their happiness at the expense of everyone else. If I operate this way, then everyone else exists to fulfill my desires. If I am on top, you should be focused on my needs. If you ever get to be in this position then you will do the same.
Where does that leave our sense of leadership? In truth, only those who know how to obey can command. People who believe they are losing their will when asked to give up their willfulness have a difficult time seeing that obeying is an important step in learning leadership.
Freedom does not mean no discipline, no structure and no limits on doing what I think I want. Freedom means responsibility. Without a disciplined framework, we cannot have a civil society. Following a framework goes deeper than this as well. We can follow the framework of a spiritual or religious tradition. But without imbibing the essence of that tradition and practicing its disciplines, we will be neither spiritual nor free.
When we are disciplined, we actually open up options that we never had before. We have freedom. When we encourage freedom as indulgence, the range of activity is so limited. We are imprisoned in a chaotic world.
As we discipline ourselves or are disciplined, we do not lose our will but rather give up willfulness. With discipline, we are not at the mercy of distractions, and therefore we have freedom to act.
Free will is choosing to do it God’s way; surrendering to Love.
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