Friday, January 31, 2020

A Dog's Eye: absolute power

Google 'quotes about power' and there is one which is sure to appear on every list. Attributed to the nineteenth century Catholic historian, politician and writer, Lord Acton, it is often not quoted in full. He used these words of warning in a letter written to an Anglican Archbishop in 1887. These words became more poignant when Stalin, Hitler and other leaders of their ilk came to power.

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men even when they exercise influence and not authority."

I discovered the context of this quote while reading Geoffrey Blainey's brilliant A Short History of the 20th Century  When writing about the mass colonial liberation movement post World War 2, Blainey quotes John Kenneth Galbraith who said "all of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common; it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of the people in their time."

This is not a comment on whether the leaders were or have been effective or not. Nor is it a judgment on their morality or lack thereof. It got me thinking though about leadership. In the 21st century, there seems to be a dearth of real leaders in our world. People are extremely critical, almost hysterically so, of Australia's Prime Minister, the British PM and the US President, just to name a few. I hear many people say we need real leaders, but I'm not sure I know what they mean or indeed, if they know what they mean.

I've been reading the books of Kings and Chronicles in which David, the second king of Israel features prominently. Interestingly, Chronicles has essentially the same content as Kings, but is written in a much more positive light (leaving out the story of David and Bathsheba, for example). I noticed in it some little things David did which showed leadership of a different kind.

Aside from wisdom, intelligence, strength and charisma, I
discovered in David's life some lesser known and often less valued attributes. Grace (mercy), humility and justice. (1 Chronicles 19:5, 21:17 & 21:24). I was reminded of the words of arguably the greatest leader of all time, Jesus Christ. Speaking to his disciples who were arguing about greatness in God's kingdom, Jesus, who is known as the Servant King, said;

"The rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, exercising authority. With you, it must not be so. Those among you who want to be great must be the servant of the others." (Matthew 20:26)

What is your idea of a great leader?

No comments:

Post a Comment