LEADERSHIP AND A CULTURE OF VIOLENCE

 
by Robert Stewart, C.A., C.M.C., Director of Canadian Centres for Teaching Peace
and host of the Annual Peace Education Conferences in Canada.
Mr. Stewart can be reached at stewartr [at] peace.ca

"There is a new problem in our country.  We are becoming a nation that is dominated by large institutions -- churches, businesses, governments, labor unions, universities -- and these big institutions are not serving us well.  I hope that all of you will be concerned about this.  Now you can do as I do, stand outside and criticize, bring pressure if you can, write and argue about it.  All of this may do some good.  But nothing of substance will happen unless there are people inside these institutions who are able to (and want to) lead them into better performance for the public good.  Some of you ought to make careers inside these big institutions and become a force for good -- from the inside."  Robert Greenleaf

Everyone is a leader ... and everyone can be a better leader.  As peace educators and proponents, we are leaders and agents of empowerment at least with students of peace, and often beyond.  If you want to be a more effective peace leader, you have to work at it.  You have to recognize the current dysfunctions, better ways of leading, and how to work for change.  The Culture of Peace Program calls for the transformation of all our institutions from a culture of violence - our leadership 'institution' is one in dire need of transformation.
 
To many peace people, "lead" is a four-letter word with negative connotations, usually because of our experience with hierarchies, and authoritarian and corrupt leaders.   This makes it all the more important for us to learn about leadership and act to change it in those leaders who are causing violence (direct and systemic). 
 
Canadians must awaken to the fact that we are in the middle of a leadership crisis -- in this damning statement are included world leaders, national leaders, political leaders, business leaders, union leaders, religious leaders, media leaders, educational leaders, peace education leaders, NGO leaders including peace NGOs, philanthropic leaders, etc. - anyone in a position of significant influence.  The unfortunate reality is that most leaders (current readers excluded of course) apply their handiwork from a perspective of unbounded self-interest, within a culture of violence that too often rewards psychopathic behaviour.  This should capture our urgent attention.
 
"What causes war and violence?"  Most responses start to list many things like religion, racism, poverty, patriarchy and male tendencies, natural resources, etc.  After much study, my personal conclusion is, "most violence is the result of unscrupulous leaders, out of greed for power and resources, who exploit their people into violence on their behalf, provoking them with the 'usual suspects': religion, racism, poverty, fear, etc."  If we did not understand this before, the war on Iraq and estimated resulting, unnecessary loss of 100,000 lives should have taught us this valuable lesson.  But this is nothing new -- Thomas Jefferson instructed us, "We believe no more in Bonaparte's fighting merely for the liberties of the seas than in Great Britain's fighting for the liberties of mankind.  The object is the same, to draw to themselves the power, the wealth and the resources of other nations." 

And if you are still doubtful, note that our leaders starve the peace profession and educators of resources.  To our leaders who claim to support peace, I challenge them to "show me the money".  Huge quantities of money is spent on war, military, police, jails, courts, education for war, while virtually nothing is spent on peace, peace education, conflict transformation, alternatives to violence, etc.  The world spending on wars and military tops $1 trillion annually ($500 billion in the U.S., $12.3 billion in Canada).  On the domestic scene, violence in homes and on the streets worldwide devastates economies as well as lives, the UN's World Health Organization warned in a report detailing how countries are spending billions a year dealing with the consequences.  Meanwhile, all the expenditures on building peace in our communities and world is insignificant in comparison.  To our leaders, shame on you for your actions. 

It is not overly simplistic to suggest that we can lay the blame for all our world's major ills at the feet of our leaders.  Of course this can be extended by devil's advocates to lay blame on the general public for not holding our leaders responsible and accountable, and that is valid but secondary - our leaders are the primary perpetrators, so we should not rush to blame the victim.  But we also can not let the public off the hook.  As Albert Einstein warned, "The world is dangerous not because of those who do harm, but because of those who look at it without doing anything."  Shame on us for that.  It is time for the public to stop the perpetrators, our leaders, from exploiting us and continuing to escalate the human cost of violence at home and abroad. 

Pericles, in describing his society over 2,000 years ago, said: “We do not allow absorption in our own affairs to interfere with participation in the city’s; we yield to none in independence of spirit and complete self-reliance, but we regard him who holds aloof from public affairs as useless.”  And the Greeks had a word for the “useless” man, a “private” citizen, idiotes, from which the English word “idiot” comes.    It is remarkable that 2,000 years later, with all our "development", our citizens have lost this important lesson, and the 'village idiot' has made a comeback.

Shortly before an election, the London (England)   borough of Lambeth organized an exhibition to encourage voters to exercise their privilege on election day.  There were all sorts of interesting features; picturesque episodes in the long struggle for the right to vote, charts showing the ebb and flow of voter interest in past elections, maps and models of new developments planned for the borough with brief biographies of the candidates.  But most magnetic of all the attractions was a mysterious box.  It bore a sign reading:

THIS PERSON CARRIES THE HEAVIEST BURDEN.

Visitors were invited to peer within and to press a button.  A light went on disclosing the only contents of the box – a looking glass!

If we were to hold an exhibition of peace and violence and leadership and followership, might not the very same feature be included?  A mirror for the individual to look at themselves!  It would dramatize the thought that peace work must be carried out by every single member of the community.   As a citizen it is YOUR responsibility.   These admonitions creates an obligation to set personal objectives, to survey every facet of the local scene to find where service and information may be helpful.  This is not to dictate to the individual but to help them to do what they want to do, what they know they should do, and to persuade them that what they do is important.  It should be clearly understood by everyone, too, that the impact of peace and violence is created by individuals.

After years of concentrated effort the central problem remains the same.  We are still trying to devise ways and means of capturing the imagination of the individual.  Opportunity is there, information is there, the desire to use both is there in the majority of citizens.  Yet we still have to persuade the individual that their effort, however small, will and does affect the total.  This is a leadership issue.  This is a peace issue.  Peace leaders must get better, and every one of us is a potential peace leader.

To change the attitudes and behaviours of our leaders and citizens is not easy.  Martin Luther King Jr. stated, "Leaders only change because they either see the light or feel the heat."  As Peace Leaders and citizen followers, we must see the light and turn up the heat.   It will take a movement of a great many individuals.  We will have to transcend political and personal agendas, and build the political and spiritual will to significantly reduce the human cost of violence, in our communities and world.  We will have to advance leadership and citizenship education and practice throughout our country

The leaders we choose, and that we choose to be, should be servant leaders.   It is time for Peace Leaders, and potential Peace Leaders, to recognize our ability to change things and step up to the challenge.  We have to work smarter, and achieve our potential to affect change.  With huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons at the disposal of questionable leaders, and rapidly dwindling ecology and natural resources, time is of the essence.  To not act is intergenerational tyranny.  Such is the burden of a leader, a peace promoter, a parent and a free person.  To survive these challenges we must work in solidarity, and build a supportive capacity.  That is one of the characteristics of a Culture of Peace.

 

Bibliography:

1. Agenda for the Leadership and Peace Workshop http://www.peace.ca/leadershipworkshop.htm and background material at http://www.peace.ca/peaceleader.htm

2. Article on Leaders and Violence http://www.peace.ca/leadersandviolence.htm

3. Summary of Robert Greenleaf's book 'Servant Leadership' http://www.peace.ca/servantleadership.htm