Let’s stop playing follow the leader

Dear President Trump,

Yesterday I told you about Brother Phap Luu’s encouragement to let go of blaming others for their roles in perpetuating injustice and climate degradation. What I forgot to include is that he also said we need to stop looking to or waiting for charismatic leaders to solve our problems. My sense is that he sort of just tagged this idea in and didn’t develop it the way he did the idea that blaming others isn’t a helpful or particularly skillful practice. It is, though, entirely possible that I was especially snagged by the ixnay on blaming others since as we both know, it is a favorite pastime of mine. Regardless of my checked-in vs. checked-out ratio, the gist is that we’re likely to keep falling down the same rabbit hole if we put all our stock into this or that good looking, persuasive smarty-pants who’s singing a tune we like.

Hmm, maybe having Joe Biden as the presumptive Democratic nominee to replace you is the universe’s way of telling us we can’t replace you on the back of a White Knight – ‘cuz we don’t have one. We have an old man who’s been around the block a bunch, who stutters and says goofy things sometimes, and who doesn’t have much pizazz despite those dark sunglasses he likes to wear. We don’t have fiery, passionate Bernie, brilliant, loveable Elizabeth, passionate, brilliant Kamala, scrappy, whip-smart Amy, or even uber-cool, brainy Pete. We’ve got Joe and although he has solid experience and is by almost all accounts a very nice, very compassionate person, he’s never going to be The One. Joe is not someone we can realistically build a long-term vision for the country around – he’s going to be lucky to make it through one term.

To his credit, Joe seems to get this, which is a good thing because for this Joe-venture to work, he’s going to have to be humble and have plenty of smart, creative people in the administration working with him, guiding him. And critically, all of us who want someone reasonably sane, competent, and compassionate in the Oval Office are going to have to put on our big kid panties and take responsibility for way more than we have over the last couple of decades. We’ve got to rethink how we are with one another and the choices we make so that we can figure out how the heck to work together to come up with systems and supports that actually allow us to function honorably, peaceably, and sustainably. The leader can set the tone and be a role model, for sure – we still need that in our leaders – but the idea that a leader, any leader, can or should be our be-all/end-all is very dangerous.

Before I sign off, I want to say that I’m trying to figure out what Brother Phap Luu might say about the practice of critiquing oppressive systems – not in a hot coals blaming sort of way but in a ‘hey, I think you are overlooking X, Y, Z, A, B, C….’ sort of way. For example, I’ve listened to a good number of dharma talks lately and had to look really, really hard for one by a woman and thus far all but one of the ones I’ve come across have been by white people. Is this just a coincidence or are white men privileged at Plum Village (I know there are women monks there) and tapped to give big live-streamed dharma talks because there might, maybe be some bias or something unfair baked into the ethos there? Questioning the pattern isn’t necessarily blaming anyone, but it is something of a challenge and it is suggesting that some discernment needs to happen and that if a problem is detected, remedies should be developed to address it. Seems reasonable enough to me, and my hands don’t feel the least bit burned by those darn hot coals.

May we be safe to be X, Y, Z, A, B, C……
May we step up to our civic responsibilities even when we have acceptable leaders.
May we find healthy, constructive ways to call out apparent biases and injustices.
May we accept that the work of realizing the beloved community is messy, messy, messy.

Tracy Simpson

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