Leadership: Selfless or Self-serving
“Each of us is a unique thread, woven into the beautiful fabric, of our collective consciousness.” Jaeda DeWalt.
It has been long maintained that the wisdom of the collective unconscious speaks to us by way of stories. In channelling what needs to be heard, artists act as modern day shamans who are best able to express the zeitgeist of an era.
In his book, Vital Signs, Gregg Levoy explains our culture’s fixation with vampires & zombies, “Part of the reason so many people are fascinated nowadays with vampires and zombies is our collective fear of being sucked of our life force, drained of our vitalities, and left in a bloodless and catatonic state...Most of us know, or have known, the experience of feeling like the living dead. Being at a job that, like a vampire, sucks the life out of you. School years spent staring zombielike into space and dreaming about the pleasures of the flesh or perhaps about freedom. Evenings spent clocking your statutory 4.8 hours of daily television. Being in a relationship in which you feel like a mere ghost of your full vital self."
While zombies might have top billing in escapist-oriented culture, it is sociopaths that are featuring most in more realism-based ones. Think Don Draper in the corporate world, Frank Underwood in the political realm or everyman Walter White in small town nowheresville.
Rise of the Sociopath
One of the most acknowledged cultural offerings of late took a break from singular character studies to focus more on a societal one. Elliot Alderson, the protagonist in the TV series, Mr Robot, is neither a hero nor anti-hero. His social criticisms and distancing techniques masquerade as a defense to compensate for his inability to connect with people. Guided by conscience, he relies on his dissociative disorder to survive in contemporary society.The series is an attempt to show the strain placed on younger generations who have grown up in a society characterised by rampant individualism, hyper-consumerism, excessive social media intake and a burgeoning crisis of meaning. What Elliot finds dispiriting is the dearth of role models. Consider how icons of family values, Bill Cosby, Rolf Harris, Martha Stewart, Lance Armstrong and others continue to fall by the wayside. Being in the IT industry, Elliot’s disillusion is expressed toward one of his own:
“Is it that, we collectively thought that, Steve Jobs was a great man? Even when we knew he made billions off the backs of children. Or maybe it's that it feels like all our heroes are counterfeit.”
Cannibalistic or Conscious Capitalism
As one reviewer put it, Mr Robot may be fictional, but at least it helps us make sense of the strange new world taking shape beneath our feet.
Australia’s most ‘successful’ businessman, Rupert Murdoch is famed for pitting his children against one another when it comes to whom might take the helm of his media empire. He is certainly not alone in his sociopathic tendencies. Gina Rinehart, our richest businesswoman, is another whose personal net worth exceeds $10 billion.
Daughter of a mining magnate, she asserted in her mid 20’s that “Whatever I do, whatever I do, the House of Hancock comes first. Nothing will stand in the way of that. Nothing.” So began her anti-social approach of company tax avoidance, reliance on government subsidies and exploiting temporary visa workers to lower wages. Despite inheriting her wealth and expanded it through questionable means, she regularly lambasts the most marginalised in society.
John Keats famously declared Beauty is truth, truth beauty. The poet believed that art conveyed insight better than any other human expression. Gina, sees things very differently, having argued that “Beauty is not neat squares of green land, or paintings, or jewellery or artefacts, or Paris boutiques. Beauty is an iron mine.” Not even motherhood could stem her myopic pursuit of wealth. Upon returning to work a fortnight after having her first child her first comment was, “Goodness. I’ve got to pick up two weeks work.” Years later her two eldest children would launch a lawsuit against her, claiming that she bullied them into signing documents to defraud them of mining profits. It has hard to determine which of our countries greatest “successes,” is actually the most deeply unhappy of the two.
With business and politics dropping the ball when it comes to nurturing the development of future generations, education has been the last bastion. That was, until a disturbing trend began recently, according to the anonymous blog, Secret Teacher:
Showing that another world is possible on the political front, José Mujica spent the last five years using social legislation and personal example, to become Uruguay’s most famous president. While politicians maintain lifestyles far removed from those they represent, statesmen do otherwise. Upon becoming president in 2010, he was required to submit a declaration of his personal wealth. It came to around $2000, the value of his old car.
When addressing the Rio+20 summit he asked, “Does this planet have enough resources so seven or eight billion can have the same level of consumption and waste that today is seen in rich societies?” Declining the luxurious house offered by the state, he chose to stay at his wife's farmhouse, where he and his wife work the land to grow flowers. Donating 90% of his salary to small entrepreneurs and charities that help the poor - his salary was in line with the average Uruguayan income of $200 a week. Mujica epitomised the truism that it is the poorest who are usually the most generous:
“I'm called 'the poorest president,' but I don't feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more. If you don't have many possessions then you don't need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself.”
Mental Health and Human Connection
It is frequently said that we are reaching a tipping point when it comes to how we relate to the environment. The same may be true socially. America’s National Institute of Mental Health, reported that rates of antisocial personality disorder had almost doubled over a period of 15 years. In Martha Stout’s book, The Sociopath Next Door, she argues that our western culture of individualism fosters both the development of antisocial behavior and the ability to disguise it. Eastern, more communal cultures tend to focus on the interrelatedness of all living things.
Filmmaker Roko Belic visited 14 different countries in an attempt to find what made people happy and he released his findings through a documentary. In the slums of India, he saw the poorest of the poor taking care of one another, “While those back home built fences around their homes and didn’t know the neighbors who they’ve lived next to for 10 years.” In Japan, he discovered a similar communal bond near Okinawa where the community came together after having its village burned down and family members lost during WWII.
He then turned to a Western attempt at restoring communal feeling, visiting a co-housing community in Denmark that a single mum with two kids joined. Not only did it relieve her of the financial burden, the extended family and sense of belonging restored her sense of wellbeing and happiness. Inspired to action by what he personally saw, Roko left his aloof suburban neighbourhood to move into a trailer park and remarked, “Literally, within the first two weeks of moving here, I met more people than I did in 10 years of having a house in the suburbs of San Francisco.”
Arthur Miller once commented that, “An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.” It is time we saw through the hollowness of naked individualism and leave the mask of separation aside to embrace our interconnectedness. As Ian MacLaren simply put it, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Once again we’re facing an evolutionary fork in the road or a tipping point of sorts. Each of us must make the choice to side with the sociopaths and the worn out model of cannibalistic capitalism or join those taking the path of the heart as they usher in conscious capitalism and a return to community. The latter may still be a fringe affair, but the tide is turning, just as it has done with sexual equality, racial equality and gender equality over the last century.
Accompany us at an upcoming workshop and join with other practical dreamers to help determine what part it is you will play in the building of a better world.
“When one dreams alone, it is only a dream. When many dream together, it is the beginning of a new reality.” - Friedensreich Hundertwasser