Wide Spot: Stung

Last year, my revered teacher made some unconsidered remarks to a board on which I serve. Part of the problem was that she didn’t recognize the competence of the people in front of her; that stung us. Another board member pointed out her misconception, and the group went on to vote in favor of the action against which she had argued. I’ll bet that stung her. 

I wondered at the time how she felt, having a student lay out her error so clearly, having us vote down her strong suggestion. She seemed okay with the outcome, although I could feel the bite of irritation in the air. I expect that—no matter how wise she is—some part of her still wanted to bellow, “Pay attention here! I’m seeing this correctly!”

It’s a tricky thing, being a leader. You’re exposed. The people who end up in leadership positions usually do so because they care about something: village government, children’s education, a more equitable economy, reducing our carbon footprint, promoting world peace. They commit time, energy and attention to this thing they care about. They are willing to do what others won’t: run for village council, start a society, teach high school students, protest pipelines, lead meditation groups. These are often thankless tasks. 

It’s only human to want to be appreciated.

Being ‘led’ is also a tricky thing. We want those in leadership—whether elected officials or wise elders—to be competent, compassionate, and responsive to our needs. We want to have a voice, to be considered. What we usually find is that our leaders are human and prone to error. Most of the faults we perceive in our leaders result from lack of skill, limited vision, personal prejudice or exhaustion: the same faults from which we all suffer. 

It’s only human to want to be heard and respected.

The recent coronation of King Charles reminded me that for thousands of years, religions have prayed for their political leaders. It is beautiful thing to pray for the people who have by choice or circumstance ended up out front. Just as importantly, leaders have traditionally prayed for their “flock.”

I’m not suggesting prayer as an alternative to vigorous political debate, thoughtful activism, and high ethical standards. I’m not suggesting that we need to agree or even like one another. I’m not suggesting that everybody gets religion. I’m suggesting a practice, not an opinion or belief: the practice of prayer specifically designed to shift the flavour of our relationships.

This kind of prayer is the simple recognition that the other person, like me, is human and therefore needs what I need. It’s as easy as saying, “May X be healthy, beloved, joyful, and free from fear.” Address it to the Higher Power of your understanding; maybe add something about being willing to work for the good of the whole, or wisdom and generosity. 

Every time we practice prayer for each other, we take a step toward appreciation; we take a step toward hearing the other. We begin to take the sting out of our differences and disagreements.

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