Archive for May, 2011

The leadership fetish

May 21, 2011

Consider the leader. Not the Leader, such as Abraham Lincoln or Napoleon, nor the pioneer such as Newton or Columbus. But consider instead the leader that we demand exist within every group, the mantle many aspire to take on. Consider  the appointed or elected, de facto or de jure leader in every organisation, from the smallest of groups to the largest of corporations, and ask “why do we exalt them so?”

There are exceptional figures in history and in the present blessed with charisma, acumen, and vision.  Good for them and lucky for us that they be installed (regardless of means) in positions of leadership where their talents might be harnessed for the benefit of both self and others. However, people being people (or perhaps just Singaporeans being Singaporeans), we now too often see the tragic farce of buffoons and nincompoops, lacking in the virtues of leadership, being shoehorned into positions of leadership and authority… to our chagrin, anguish, and a substantial amount of schadenfreude.

A disclaimer: There is very little (dare I say, none at all?) unbiased and trustworthy empirical evidence to back up most of the claims made within this post. The opinions in this post are just that: the author’s opinions, mostly shaped by personal interactions, observations of the world around himself, speculation, assumptions, and some degree of creative reimagining. Do not swallow wholesale (if you do, well, I’d have to conclude you might fall in the category of people elderly and polite British women would describe as “silly”. Also, I  can fix you up with one of my friends from Nigeria who has an offer you can’t possibly refuse). Rather, decide for yourself if the hypotheses submitted do in fact hold true in the social world you inhabit and, if finding them correct, commence weeping quietly for the tragic state of affairs you now see.

Right. Back to the topic at hand: what is the matter with our society (to be more accurate, the one I observe. But I’ll go on the assumption that it doesn’t differ too greatly from the one many of the people who will read this inhabit) that it is not only necessary but also desirable to mold every halfwit Tom, Dick, or Harry into a shape that, if squeezed hard enough (and with sufficient lubrication), will fit into the throne of leadership?

To begin, let us ask how and why we indoctrinate our young and brainwash ourselves into aspiring towards being a leader. Yes, we do see often enough those examples of truly great leaders: demi-godlike figures with wisdom, power, authority, vision, and persuasiveness. We respect them, and we aspire to be like them, and we convince ourselves and our children to take small steps towards that goal, to snatch up every opportunity to lead and to lord it over our peers. We see parents urging children to “take up leadership positions in school”, we see university/scholarship applications asking for “leadership positions”, we hear youth described as “future leaders” throughout their adolescence, and even into their time serving in the armed forces.

However, you (that is, an overwhelming majority of people) will not become one of the exalted few, by virtue of the fact that there can only be that many Prime Ministers, Presidents, Kings, CEOs, etc.  And since new countries are just that much harder to find nowadays, and the chances of heading a multibillion-dollar multinational company are slimmer than that of being eaten by a shark, Tom, Dick, or Harry are odds on not going to have the opportunity to do much leading beyond managing a handful of underlings under the glare of fluorescents in an overbright office, dreaming of the day (that will never come) he gets his promotion and trades in his PDA for a real personal assistant.

And yet, we persist in elevating the status of minor roles, and we celebrate the appointment of petty leadership, when a group can function just as well, or even better, without the jostling, the politics, and the passive-aggressive competition for the spot of top dog. We have idolised great leaders, but through our very desire to learn and to share in that glory we have inadvertently  diluted and perverted it. Instead of attempting to emulate the virtues of great leaders, we merely fetishize the idea of being the “leader-person”.

So, the next time someone tells you to lead a project, a team, or a group of potentially homicidal barely-out-of-their-teens conscript soldiers, ask yourself if you are capable and willing, or merely a functionary for an institution that demands rigid hierarchies, or if you have fallen prey to the social structure’s fetish of taking strange pleasure in being leader-in-name, regardless of true capability, drive, inspiration, or belief in the cause.

Edit: So, yes, I do believe that if you don’t believe in a cause you shouldn’t be participating in it, let alone leading it. Also, yes, it’s a tragic state of affairs that, human as we are, we find ourselves often in situations not of our own choosing doing things not exactly as we might desire. It’s a tragedy of our existence; to bastardise Rousseau, we are born (and meant) to live free, but everywhere we are in chains not of our choosing. And what choice do we really have, when the options are to accept it stoically, live as a hermit, or to grow disillusioned, jaded, and insane?


May 21, 2011

I lol’d

May 20, 2011

39.1 degree fever and put on an IV drip. Thanks SAF medical personnel, you deserve a medal.

Note to self: brain probably too addled to be truly conscious of typing, more likely to be hitting the keys powered by subconscious drives. I just wanna ORD


May 2, 2011

Excerpts from The Sea and the Bells (Pablo Neruda, translation by William O’Daly)



One returns to the self as if to an old house

with nails and slots, so that

a person tired of himself

as of a suit full of holes,

tries to walk naked in the rain,

wants to drench himself in pure water,

in elemental wind, and he cannot

but return to the well of himself,

to the least worry

over whether he existed, whether he knew how to speak his mind

or to pay or to owe or to discover,

as if I were so important

that it must accept or not accept me,

the earth with its leafy name,

in its theather of black walls.


excerpt from (H.V.)

…his lack of trust in himself grew worse

as if anyone were ever able to convince

those who never believed in themselves

to not wound themselves in their war

against their own shadow. They are as they were born.


It Happens

They knocked on my door on the sixth of August:

nobody was standing there

and nobody entered, sat down in a chair

and passed the time with me, nobody.

I will never forget that absence

that entered me like a man enters his own house,

and I was satisfied with nonbeing:

an emptiness open to everything.

Nobody questioned me, saying nothing,

and I answered without seeing or speaking.

Such a spacious and specific interview!


To consider the physical self, the house of the soul, no more significant than a vanishing wind or a transient vine to the leafy earth, to face nothingness and nonbeing, to plunge headlong into battle against one’s lonely shadow, and to emerge with a pyrrhic victory , satisfied with nonbeing, to be no more than a resounding gong? Or, to be, despite unceasing, remorseless, decay in a world infinite beyond comprehension, an uncracked bell sounding a perfect note of lovely truth and perfect brotherhood? 

Note to self: melancholy is bad for you, just look at Sylvia Plath