We are all lead­ers, on lead­er­ship – part 3

Jerusalem Post - - COMMENT & FEATURES - (Reuters) • By WAR­REN GOLD­STEIN

Dr. Robert Cial­dini, a ground-break­ing aca­demic in the field of hu­man be­hav­ior, says in his book In­flu­ence, the Psy­chol­ogy of Per­sua­sion that so­cial in­flu­ence is one of the most pow­er­ful forces driv­ing hu­man be­hav­ior. We are a very pow­er­ful source of in­flu­ence on the peo­ple around us, even if we of­ten don’t re­al­ize it. We are con­sciously or sub­con­sciously al­ways look­ing to other peo­ple for guid­ance.

Cial­dini writes about a very in­ter­est­ing ex­per­i­ment in which a stu­dent fak­ing an epilep­tic seizure re­ceived help 85% of the time when there was only one by­stander, but only 31% of the time when there were, in ad­di­tion to the sub­ject un­der ob­ser­va­tion, five by­standers present. In other words, if some­one col­lapses in front of a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual, then that in­di­vid­ual springs to the res­cue most of the time. But when there is a group of peo­ple at the scene, the nat­u­ral in­stinct is to look around and see if and how oth­ers are re­act­ing – and to take one’s cue from there.

Cial­dini refers to another in­ter­est­ing study – mor­bid and fright­en­ing, but also very pow­er­ful – which demon­strates that if a sui­cide is re­ported in the press, the sui­cide rates for the city in­crease for three months (spik­ing in the first month, re­duc­ing slightly in the sec­ond and third, but still re­main­ing much higher than the av­er­age). Hu­man be­ings are so­cial crea­tures and we look to those around us for di­rec­tion.

Be­cause of the power of so­cial in­flu­ence, we all are lead­ers. Lead­er­ship be­gins with the self, but doesn’t end there. We are called on to lead oth­ers through the im­pact of our so­cial in­flu­ence, which is so much more pow­er­ful than we can imag­ine. To get mar­ried is for hus­band and wife to ac­cept their lead­er­ship roles for each other and then later for their chil­dren, who them­selves should be raised to be lead­ers in the fam­ily. Ev­ery par­ent is a leader within the fam­ily. Ev­ery child too.

And be­cause we all in­flu­ence each other, we have to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for our homes and our fam­i­lies. We have to set the tone in our home and lead by ex­am­ple. What­ever a child grows up with, they will con­sider to be nor­mal and nat­u­ral, and what­ever is ab­sent from their home will come to be con­sid­ered ab­nor­mal and un­nat­u­ral. If a child grows up in a home in which peo­ple speak ag­gres­sively and un­kindly, then that will be­come their norm; but if a child’s home en­vi­ron­ment is one in which peo­ple speak to each other kindly and respectfully, and with­out dis­parag­ing oth­ers – then that is what they will learn to do. The same goes for a child grow­ing up in a home with kashrut and Shabbat.

What do we want our chil­dren to value? What kind of home do we want to see them build one day? The power of in­flu­ence goes beyond fam­ily, of course. Just by be­ing among a group of friends, and, for ex­am­ple, re­fus­ing to speak lashon hara – neg­a­tively about another per­son – is in­flu­enc­ing those around us for the good.

Lead­er­ship ex­tends to com­mu­nity and so­ci­ety. The To­rah phi­los­o­phy of lead­er­ship finds par­tic­u­lar ex­pres­sion in a few cru­cial mitzvot. The mitzva of learn­ing To­rah, for ex­am­ple, is de­fined by the Ram­bam (1135-1204) as “learn­ing and teach­ing.” The mishna in Pirkei Avot says “es­tab­lish many stu­dents.” This, ex­plains Rabbi Is­rael Lip­s­chitz (1782-1860), is re­fer­ring not only to the of­fi­cial rab­bis and teach­ers of the com­mu­nity, but to each and ev­ery one of us. Ob­vi­ously we have to teach with in­tegrity and not pro­fess knowl­edge and ex­per­tise we do not have – but, sub­ject to such lim­i­ta­tion, we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to share the wis­dom of To­rah with as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble.

There’s also the mitzva to love Hashem, which the Ge­mara (Yoma 86a) de­fines as “mak­ing the name of the Heaven beloved to all.” In other words, we have an obli­ga­tion to in­spire as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble to love Hashem. The Ge­mara ex­plains that this is achieved by speak­ing gen­tly and kindly to peo­ple and show­ing re­spect for their dig­nity, as well as by con­duct­ing our­selves with in­tegrity; when oth­ers see how those who subscribe to To­rah val­ues live their lives in such an el­e­vated man­ner, then they want to be a part of it.

Then there is also the mitzva of kid­dush Hashem – sanc­ti­fy­ing Hashem’s name. It is a mitzva for ev­ery sin­gle one of us to pro­mote Hashem’s rep­u­ta­tion in the world. Of course, the most fun­da­men­tal way to do this is to set an ex­am­ple – liv­ing an ex­em­plary, Godly life can be a bea­con to our fam­ily, our friends, our com­mu­nity and greater so­ci­ety.

We are all called upon to be lead­ers, start­ing with our­selves and then ex­pand­ing to reach the peo­ple around us. If each one of us em­brace this call­ing of lead­er­ship, to­gether we can make the world into a bet­ter place for all.

The au­thor is the chief rabbi of South Africa.

LEAD­ER­SHIP IS in all of us.

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