Leaders as Pan narrans


Strozzi -21 copySomewhere around two hundred thousand years ago we Homo Sapiens received the evolutionary nod over our Neanderthal cousins even though we were scrawnier, slower, undernourished, and just so-so toolmakers.  Then for reasons that are still being sorted out we developed language and that changed everything.  We not only climbed higher on the evolutionary ladder, we were suddenly on a different ladder.  Sharing the upside and downside of past behaviors we could now design practices for a different outcome; theorizing about probable futures we could create plans for collective action, with alternative plans handy in case of the unexpected; we could discuss whose turn it is to feed the fire in the middle of the night.

With this new tool we learned to tell the stories that take care of our fundamental needs of safety, belonging, and dignity.  If you throw the bones you’ve been gnawing on outside the cave that nasty saber-toothed tiger won’t come in and gnaw on us and you’ll be doing a good thing for the tribe.  That’s what the grandfathers and grandmothers did and it worked.  Please do this and we will like you, please stay. It’s an emotional thing.

Perhaps we should have been named Pan narrans-the story telling ape instead of Homo Sapiens-the wise one, disputable in the face of history.  The poet Muriel Rukeyser said, “The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”    Stories have a greater reach than analysis.  Stories move us to action, they help us survive and to flourish.

At some point we progressed to stories of purpose and meaning, the respect stories for those who came before us, the stories that live in the constellations of the night sky, the sacred stories of heroes who exemplified courage and integrity, and stories that steer us away from evil.  As we multiplied we then invented stories of the “other”, those different from ourselves, those who we perceived to be a threat to our safety, our property, the superiority of our way of life, the unassailable truth of our God.  We began to tell stories that were unkind, disrespectful, dishonest about the other in order to differentiate and elevate ourselves.  We told ourselves the story that this story would make us safe and allied and right.  The “other” also became the world itself; nature as a commodity, a thing, to give to the marketplace and to use indiscriminately, our dominion story fragmenting life from its wholeness into a part that we can manipulate for profit.  A product.  These stories capitalize the export of violence and the virtue of greed.  Tune into this electoral process to see this baseness modeled in the language and actions of our politicians. That is to say the stories of hate, greed and fear are what has become embodied in so many of our leaders.

It is incumbent upon leaders of all kinds-from leading your life to leading a family, an organization, a nation-to embody stories of kindness, respect, compassion, and wisdom.  And if it’s new to you: embody means making a muscular commitment to action. Yes, certainly letting your voice be heard and doing something. If we do not take this stand we are complicit with credentializing fear, hate, greed, bloodthirst, and our separation from others, nature, from life itself.  The health and sustainability of the body, the community, the polity, and the ecosystem depends upon us to reject the rhetoric of the other.  Our historic moment requires us to live in accord with and to speak the truth of interconnectedness.

Take It Easy But Take It.


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