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  • Bray Cohen

What hero will it be?

What Hero will save us?

Over the weekend I was watching the one of the latest hero movies when one of my children asked:

“What hero would make a difference to the Corona virus Dad?”

My first reaction was to answer with an illusionary reassuring way by selecting one of the latest contemporary heroes.

My reflected thought eventually arrived and the answer I gave was closer to the truth

but one as I said it, feared would not reassure her discomfort with what is really happening and what was needed.

As the world is being paused to take some deep breaths it is time to reflect on the answer that we are looking for in response to perhaps our own inner child’s fear.

As David Whyte challenges us; “questions that have no right to go away! “

Questions that require us to reassess the horizons of our life. They are truly humbling as we don’t know the answer. For too long, too many of us have been entranced by heroes. Perhaps it’s our desire to be saved, to not have to do the hard work, to rely on someone else to figure things out or to trust that we can make a difference by asking questions without knowing the answers! We are constantly barraged by politicians presenting themselves as heroes, the ones will fix everything and make our problems go away. It’s a seductive image, an enticing promise. And we keep believing it. Somewhere there’s someone who will make it all better. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s visionary, inspiring, brilliant, trustworthy, and we’ll all happily follow him or her.

We can abdicate our responsibility and avoid taking leadership!

The even more enticing picture is that we are the ones that can fix the problem or the challenge. As much as this is potentially seductive, we both dis -empower others and become victim to our own need. To appear as the illusionary hero and take away the pain that others, in particular those close to us are feeling

Neither alternative is better than the other in the current complexity. I recall reading an article by Meg Wheatley many years ago in which she said: “It’s time for all the heroes to go home.”

William Stafford the poet wrote;

“It is time for us to give up these hopes and expectations that only breed dependency

and passivity, and that do not give us solutions to the challenges we face. It is time to stop waiting for someone to save us. It is time to face the truth of our situation –

that we’re all in this together., that we all have a voice and figure out how to mobilize the hearts and minds of everyone in our workplaces and communities.

So why do we continue to hope for heroes? It seems we assume certain things:

· Leaders have the answers. They know what to do!

· People do what they’re told. They just have to be given good plans and instructions.

· High risk requires high control. As situations grow more complex and challenging, power needs to shift to the top (with the leaders who know what to do.)

Those at the bottom of the hierarchy submit to the greater vision and expertise of those above. Leaders promise to get us out of this mess; we willingly surrender individual autonomy in exchange for security. Everyone wants the problem to disappear; cries of “fix it!” arise from the public. Leaders scramble to look like they’ve taken charge and have everything in hand.

As we are seeing the causes of today’s problems are complex and interconnected. There are no simple answers, and no one individual can possibly know what to do. We seem unable to acknowledge these complex realities.

Heroic leadership rests on the illusion that someone can be in control. Yet we live in a world of complex systems whose very existence means they are inherently uncontrollable. No one is in charge of our food systems. No one is in charge of our schools. No one is in charge of the environment. No one is in charge of national security. No one is in charge!

These systems are emergent phenomena—the result of thousands of small, local actions that converged to create powerful systems with properties that may bear little or no resemblance to the smaller actions that gave rise to them. These are the systems that now dominate our lives; they cannot be changed by working backwards, focusing on only a few simple causes. And certainly they cannot be changed by the boldest visions of our most heroic leaders.

If we want to be able to get these complex systems to work better, we need to abandon our reliance on the hero arriving and to watch out for the desire to be saved or be the saviour.

We need to support those leaders who know that problems are complex, who know that in order to understand the full complexity of any issue, all parts of the system need to be invited in to participate and contribute.

We, as followers, need to give our leaders time, patience, forgiveness; and we need to be willing to step up and contribute.

We need leaders who are willing to provide conditions and good group processes for people to work together. To provide resources of time, the scarcest commodity of all and insist that people and the system learn from experience, frequently. To offer unequivocal support, to reflect back to people on a regular basis how they’re doing, what they’re accomplishing, how far they’ve journeyed. To work with people to develop relevant measures of progress to make their achievements visible. To value conviviality and esprit de corps—not false rah‐rah activities, but the spirit that arises in any group that accomplishes difficult work together.

Often leaders that are attracted to heroic leadership will believe in their own superiority and will have lots of excuses as to why they may not want to garnish opinion from others.

The challenge for us is to realize that their organization or community is rich in resources, and that the easiest way to discover these is to bring diverse people together in conversations that matter. To engage those conversations that will enable the diversity of solutions to emerge. To extend sincere invitations, ask good questions, and have the courage to support risk‐taking and experimentation. To be the archetypal Seeker or Learner.

Many of us can get caught up acting like heroes, not from power drives, but from our good intentions and desires to help. Are you acting as a hero? Here’s how to know. You’re acting as a hero when you believe that if you just work harder, you’ll fix things; that if you just get smarter or learn a new technique, you’ll be able to solve problems for others. You’re acting as a hero if you take on more and more projects and causes and have less time for relationships. You’re playing the hero if you believe that you can save the situation, the person, the world.

Our heroic impulses most often are born from the best of intentions. We want to help, we want to solve, we want to fix. Yet this is the illusion of specialness, that we’re the only ones who can offer help, service, skills. It becomes exhausting!

It is time for all us heroes to go home because, if we do, we’ll notice that we’re not alone. We’re surrounded by people just like us.

To respond honestly with empathy and compassion to our children’s question:

Who will fix the problem?

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