Leading a group is a great opportunity and a serious responsibility. Some martial artists in that position are unprepared for some of the challenges they face. This is a danger for them and for the people whose lives they touch.
Even skillful and sincere leaders are subject to flattery. It can seem innocent. It can seem valid. After all, teachers may say to themselves, I am wonderful! The members appreciate me!
It is natural for people to flatter those above them in any status system, consciously or unconsciously currying favor to get ahead.
If that works, if it is rewarded, then the members will rely on it for success.
If that continues the leaders will become addicted to it, and feel that it indicates genuine confirmation of their high status and their value to the members of the group. As this happens those who do not flatter but merely do the work may be overlooked. They resent this. Their peers resent their hard work and suppress them or seek other ways to overshadow them in the esteem of the teacher.
This is an unhealthy group dynamic. Left unattended it spreads. It can be avoided. The way for leaders and teachers to eradicate this kind of corruption is to dedicate themselves to deepening their own art and at the same time dedicate themselves to serving the members. Avoiding the temptation to become important, have a big school, or to gain prestige and other rewards for themselves, but to take as their reward the well-being and achievement of the people they serve. This is not always easy. It is a good and righteous practice in itself. It is a part of martial arts practice. It is also very appealing to people.
The antique aphorism has it that “The greatest warrior conquers himself.”
What do people think that means? It means more than courage, more than persistence. It also means conquering self-serving egotism and yielding it up to a spirit of self-sacrifice and service of others. It means to continue to train and learn and discover.
The alternative to this healthy attitude is evident in pathological groups that, though they may start with a wonderful aspiration to get strong and join a great tradition, devolve into discord, irritation, resentment, schism and dissolution.
The final blow may be sudden – subgroups splitting off and going their own way, scandal involving theft or sexual misconduct, the emotional dissatisfaction of the leader replacing his or her initial idealism and driving people away.
Anyone can spot this but not everyone can identify its cause. Maybe you will be able to. Then you may be able to repair it. The place to start is in your own heart and your own actions. All you have to do is to refuse to join in what is not right.
A famous warning appears in the story of King Lear: Due to his own inflated ego King Lear was easily flattered and deceived by self-interested people, very close to him, who took advantage of him. He only realized his foolishness when it was too late. He found that his status and power were an illusion, resting on nothing.
What we can discover through good training, as we build stronger minds and more intelligent bodies, as we get fast, strong, flexible and balanced, is this:
It is not just that we take good care of what we love. The causality works the other way too: We begin to love what we take good care of. Whether our family, our students, our training, our own lives.
That is a key component of the action plan for a sound and stable group.
Other motives – tricky, controlling, self-serving, ambitious, deceptive, greedy or angry – collapse under pressure and do not serve the members or the leaders. This is why we need good groups. Everyone is susceptible to error. It can seem easy, natural, harmless, appealing and even true to follow along. But if we keep an eye out for each other, affirm what is healthy and discourage what is not, we can all be better together than any of us could be alone.
There is no substitute for real achievement and good will – whether in a large, global organization or alone in a forest clearing, hidden from the world.
Painting by Gustav Pope
Post by Jeff Brooks © 2019