“A leader is the one who leads.” At first glance who would not agree with this?
We have known for a long time, that we are a social creature. Aristotle’s observed this movement for togetherness as an egalitarian relating of equals. I picture a group of men in a great hall debating social justice. But here is the problem. Whenever we studied relationships, it was only about relating as peers.
If women had been involved in creating any of these theories, they would have pointed out that relationships are primarily hierarchical in nature, not horizontal. This is so as to render a child able to be taken care of, to render them receptive, and the adult empowered to lead. The true nature and purpose of attachment is to take care of our offspring.
For those of us that come from countries that love democracy, and all things of equality, the idea of hierarchy in relating just doesn’t sit well with us. Our focus has been to push for independence and separateness, this egalitarian relating. We send our children off to become socialized in preschool, placing them with their peers to figure it out. I am now imaging those preschool children expected to be in that great hall debating social justice. That is crazy to expect mature relating from a 3yo, or even from a teenager.
When we read our Bible, we do so in the context of seeking the fruit. We end up suppressing our emotions so as to achieve living in accordance with our convictions, and untimely we fail. We have lost our insight as to how hierarchical relationships provide the context for growing up to unfold. We live our life focused on the good works, on the fruit and not on the relationship.
A failed experience living out my convictions.
When I was younger, I deciding to do this five-month discipleship training school with a mission’s organization. It was inspiring, we read about these famous missionaries who had given up everything and endure this incredible suffering to go to the ends of the earth for God. I spent the last three months of my time in Thailand doing this short-term missionary work. Overall, it was a good experience and helped me get a start in social change that I am now involved.
I remember when I got back from Thailand. I was getting ready to reenter back into normal life. I realized that living this spiritual life wasn’t going to be as easy as it was when I was in school. There was this rarefied environment of required chapel, teaching, community, and all these kinds of things. It felt to me like it was easy to have faith in that environment.
Before I arrived back, I had created this elaborate ambitious plan. I felt pretty good. You can probably guess what happened. It didn’t work, not at all. I didn’t even get past day one. My plan involved waking up early, and on this first day back I was tired from a long flight, different time zone and slept in. The second and third day went by and the plan was out the window. I had lost all enthusiasm about continuing.
This is just like when we make new year’s resolutions, often we are not able to live to our convictions. When we make resolution, we believe we can increasingly take control of things. We are control fanatics, but life is not like that. This is less about control and wishing things to be true and more about being involved in the process, involved in life.
Creating the context in which we need for growth to happen.
If you’ve ever taken ballroom dancing lessons, say you are learning the waltz, there are two parts to the dance. Firstly, we need to know what the waltz looks like, we must learn the steps. The second part is learning to be led by our partner. This is actually a lot more difficult than it looks.
There are these gentle pulls and pushes to indicate the next step, and these are very slight. In legitimate ballroom dancing we don’t plan out the steps ahead of time. We’re improvising in the moment and giving these subtle cues.
So, our job as a participant, is to consent to the leadership of our partner and tend to their movements. Yes, we have to know the steps, but more than that we have to trust that they’re going to lead us in a way that the dance will be good, that we won’t fall down and hurt ourselves.
This is a great picture depicting the dance of a hierarchical relationship, the leader and the follower. We all have these two complementary instincts, that is to lead, what I call alpha. And the second is to follow, to be the dependent. This is the context that we need in life so that we have space to grow.
Where else do we see this hierarchical relationship?
When you meet somebody who has a very strong alpha presence, you’ll find yourself automatically moving into the dependent instincts to do the dance with them. But when you meet somebody who looks like a deer lost in the headlights, you’ll find yourself moving automatically to take care of them. Right? That’s the dance.
If you allow kindergarten children to have free play, there will often be an alpha- dependent structure in their play. They will play ninjas where they are trying to overcome or save someone, or doctors and nurses to heal someone, teacher and student, shopkeeper and customer, cook and patron, firefighter and person to be rescued, driver and passenger, and of cause parent and child. So many different ways to play out these two instincts.
How does the context of relationships help us?
When we perceive the need in another, we are moved to be the answer for them. We don’t need to have the answer, but just be the answer.
For example, if a good friend of yours has had a terrible day at work and needs to share this with you, you would sit, listen and reflect how terrible the events were. You would be the answer for their needs, but you don’t need to have the answer. Simply inviting them is enough, both parties feel fulfilled in this dance. The interaction is relatively easy and satisfying for both.
This is what allows the brain to come to rest, we come to realise we can make it through this and resiliency develops.
Sometimes the dance gets stuck.
Going back to my ballroom dancing lessons, if I had tried to lead the instructor, we would have been fighting against each other. We would both be frustrated, exhausted and unfulfilled. I would certainly be anxious, probably angry that it was not working. You see, it’s very difficult to direct a student or child who is taking the lead.
A leader who is moved to care will feel guilty even if it is not their fault the dance is not working. And the child or student, the dependent will feel shame. It feels like they are the cause of why the dance does not work. We don’t have to agree with these emotions, but they are very important because they move us back into our roles of leading and depending.
What then has gone wrong?
The first is a lack of leadership. Often when you see the young teacher first enter a classroom, they have this look of being blinded by the lights. They are wondering what am I supposed to do? If you walk into the class like you are lost, you won’t be able to manage these kids and you’ll have no idea what happened.
The teacher has to enter the class like they own the class. They enter like their the answer! Not that they have the answers, the children can all beat them with Google these days, but that they are the answer to setting the students orientation and to the invitation to exist in their presence.
Many leaders today have lost the confidence in themselves to invite another person to depend on them. We have a explosion of parenting and leadership courses, discipleship courses, simply because we don’t know how to be the answer anymore. We don’t know how to lead.
Another reason is that dependence is very vulnerable. If the leader uses fear or shame that will not invite dependence at all. Perhaps the dependent is very sensitive and needs a lot more invitation to build the relationship.
For us as adults, giving our trust to another is very hard for us to do. If you think about how we have moved into the suburbs, each one of us has our own kingdom where we have no need to be reliant on our neighbors. Dependence is unthinkable.
We now even resist dependence at work, moving from job to job at any sign of discontent. We simply do not trust those that lead us anymore.
When we look at the life of Jesus, we see a complete non-anxious presence, He was dependent, He trusted God. But when I look at the life of most pastors, I don’t see that same posture. They are worried, anxious, frustrated, exhausted, angry micromanagers, trying to create this certain kind of church or community. They are not dependent on God at all. They are not at rest.
A context of relationship gives space for growth.
No matter who the leader is, perhaps a parent, a teacher, a coach, a pastor, even God. The one who leads, invites dependence and thus makes space for the heart of the dependent to soften. Growth can then unfold.
In our families, our churches and communities, we don’t need more programs or methods or more instruction. The leader invites the relationship, they invite the dependence of those they are responsible for. And then the dependent is moved by that invitation to find their place of rest within that relationship. This is a place that we are not anxious, where we feel satisfied and fulfilled. This is the hierarchical relationship that makes space for growth to unfold.