Liv­ing in an in­ter­con­nected age

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - Tamra Wright

MOSES, THE Torah tells us (Num­bers 12:3), “was a very hum­ble man.” And it’s just as well that hu­mil­ity was one of his defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics. Lead­ing the Is­raelites in the wilder­ness, he en­dured 40 years of com­plaints, re­bel­lion, and gos­sip about his per­sonal life, only to be told that he would not be al­lowed to en­ter the Promised Land. To add in­sult to in­jury, when we gather at the Seder to retell the story, Moses is hardly men­tioned. (His name ap­pears only once in the Hag­gadah, within a bib­li­cal verse cited by a midrash.)

Dur­ing the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil of the past year or so, an old adage has re­peat­edly come to mind: “a com­mu­nity gets the lead­ers it de­serves” (pos­si­bly a re­work­ing of Alexis de Toc­queville’s fa­mous claim that “in a democ­racy we get the gov­ern­ment we de­serve”). As­sum­ing this is true, what would we need to change to pro­duce a bet­ter cadre of lead­ers?

We live in un­cer­tain times, and there is an un­der­stand­able ten­dency for peo­ple to grav­i­tate to­wards strong, charis­matic lead­ers, de­spite the well-known risks. But over­re­liance on mes­sianic lead­ers can be­come a con­ve­nient ex­cuse for ne­glect­ing per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity. Per­haps a gen­er­a­tion or two ago it was rea­son­able to ac­cept that there was lit­tle an or­di­nary in­di­vid­ual could do to in­flu­ence ma­jor world events. Steven Covey, au­thor of the 1980s best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Ef­fec­tive Peo­ple, em­pha­sised the im­por­tance of recognising the dif­fer­ence be­tween your “cir­cle of con­cern” and your “cir­cle of in­flu­ence” and fo­cus­ing your ef­forts in the lat­ter, much smaller sphere.

But, in the dig­i­tal age, when even the leader of the free world con­ducts diplo­matic busi­ness on Twit­ter, ev­ery­one is po­ten­tially con­nected to ev­ery­one else, and the bound­ary be­tween Covey’s two spheres seems much more per­me­able.

In Cog­ni­tive Sur­plus: Cre­ativ­ity and Gen­eros­ity in a Con­nected Age, Clay Shirky showed that peo­ple now spend less of their time pas­sively con­sum­ing me­dia. We are still glued to screens, but of­ten in ac­tive ways, cre­at­ing memes, blogs and sta­tus up­dates. Yes, a huge pro­por­tion of In­ter­net traf­fic is de­voted to cat pic­tures, pornog­ra­phy, and gam­bling; but there are also in­cred­i­ble feats of col­lab­o­ra­tion, like Wikipedia (which re­quired 100 mil­lion hours of “cog­ni­tive sur­plus” to cre­ate), or open source soft­ware, such as Linux.

In our in­ter­con­nected age, cynically sit­ting on the side­lines of pub­lic or com­mu­nal life should no longer be seen as our de­fault mode, but should be an ac­tive choice. If we are un­happy with the qual­ity of our lead­ers, we can col­lab­o­rate with oth­ers to make changes.

At the time of the MPs’ ex­pense scan­dals, the idea came up at a Shab­bat meal that peo­ple should get to­gether with 10 or 20 friends and draw up lists of the clever­est, wis­est peo­ple they knew. Peo­ple who were nom­i­nated and were also known to be of great in­tegrity, would be en­cour­aged to pur­sue a lead­er­ship role, whether aim­ing for high po­lit­i­cal of­fice or a more mod­est po­si­tion, per­haps within the Jewish com­mu­nity. The more such a per­son was gen­uinely taken by sur­prise and humbly re­sisted the call, the more con­vinced the com­mit­tee would be that they had cho­sen the right per­son.

As far as I know, no one took this idea any fur­ther. After all, my friends have other con­cerns apart from MPs’ duck houses. But I think there is also wide­spread re­luc­tance ei­ther to put one­self for­ward for a lead­er­ship role or to wish it upon a friend. Lead­ers face many chal­lenges, some spe­cific to our age and some — com­plaints, gos­sip, and po­ten­tial re­bel­lion — that were al­ready fa­mil­iar to Moses.

I am priv­i­leged to serve on the fac­ulty of a unique pro­gramme for Jewish, Chris­tian, and Mus­lim clergy and lay lead­ers. Faith in Lead­er­ship’s “Se­nior Faith Lead­er­ship Pro­gramme”, run in part­ner­ship with the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge, is not about in­ter­faith re­la­tions per se. Over the course of three in­tense res­i­den­tial mod­ules, de­liv­ered in the in­spir­ing set­ting of St Ge­orge’s House, Wind­sor Cas­tle, it en­ables par­tic­i­pants to de­velop their lead­er­ship skills in the com­pany of their coun­ter­parts from the other two com­mu­ni­ties. Strong bonds of trust, and in­deed friend­ship, are formed, some­times be­tween the most un­likely pair­ings.

One ses­sion in­volves each par­tic­i­pant giv­ing a short talk about his or her work. After two min­utes (whether or not they have fin­ished speak­ing!), we give them a stand­ing ovation. It works a charm. Moses, after all, was the most hum­ble of lead­ers. But the rest of us could do with some heart­felt ap­plause from time to time.

After two min­utes, we give them a stand­ing ovation

Dr Tamra Wright is Direc­tor of Aca­demic Stud­ies at the Lon­don School of Jewish Stud­ies

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.