Thursday, December 27, 2007

Elitism and Leadership

My wife recently pointed out to me that I've changed since we were married, particularly in my attitude towards those from different communities and with less religious commitment. It seems I've lost some of my elitism and disdain for others. I pointed out that it would be pretty sad if I hadn't changed at all in the past 13 years and that she has changed also in many positive ways. But, to her point, she is correct and that can probably be attributed to a combination of my exposure to Religious Zionist writings and to the burdens and challenges of the real world.

It is easy for those living in the protective confines of a yeshiva to look down upon those who fail to live up to every standard. However, once you are exposed to the responsibilities of real life and the challenges of going out into the world, you gain greater respect for what people are able to maintain and understanding for their imperfections. This is also emphasized in the writings of Rav Kook and his followers, who (used to?) look at the positive in everything and everyone, even atheism.

To this point, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has an excellent insight into this week's Torah reading about the importance of a rabbi identifying with and respecting his community (link):
Click here to read more

A fundamental principle of Jewish leadership is intimated here for the first time: a leader does not need faith in himself, but he must have faith in the people he is to lead...

This is the critic as detached intellectual. The prophets of Israel were quite different. Their message, writes Johannes Lindblom, was “characterized by the principle of solidarity”. “They are rooted, for all their anger, in their own societies,” writes Walzer. Like the Shunamite woman (Kings 2 4:13), their home is “among their own people”. They speak, not from outside, but from within. That is what gives their words power. They identify with those to whom they speak. They share their history, their fate, their calling, their covenant. Hence the peculiar pathos of the prophetic calling. They are the voice of G-d to the people, but they are also the voice of the people to G-d. That, according to the sages, was what G-d was teaching Moses: What matters is not whether they believe in you, but whether you believe in them. Unless you believe in them, you cannot lead in the way a prophet must lead. You must identify with them and have faith in them, seeing not only their surface faults but also their underlying virtues. Otherwise, you will be no better than a detached intellectual – and that is the beginning of the end.
I see a lot of cynical, elitist leaders who look down upon their flock. This, it seems to me, is a recipe for ineffectiveness and for errors in judgment on a myriad of issues: ineffectiveness in that their rebuke is often off target and usually dismissed as distant (i.e. from an outsider who doesn't understand), and leading to error in that they do not understand the mindset of those who will be effected by their halakhic rulings. This all just another poisonous effect of cynicism and failing to judge others favorably.

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