Leadership not for Aged! – Dr James Kottoor

Wasn’t Jesus only in His 30ies? 

James KottorLeadership is not lording or bossing but serving, nor pushing from behind but pulling from front, with the magnetism of a life of vision & conviction lived with full vigour, intensely, fervently, deeply, totally, passionately, bravely, even risking one’s life for achieving the goal as Jesus did.      

Isn’t it simply outrageous and ridiculous, to suggest that those in their thirties should be catapult into leadership roles in religion and politics, just because some exceptional figures  like  Jesus or  Alexander the great in that age bracket became world celebrities? Thus ask some concerned well-intentioned critiques.

“Ab esse ad posse, valet illatio, ab posse ad esse non valet”, is a universally accepted Latin maxim. It means: If something has happened, it is certain to happen again. But just because something is possible, it does not follow it will necessarily happen. In the case of Jesus he also said: “I have given you an example” to be duplicated, nay even to do greater things than he did. If so what should be the response of those who proclaim Jesus as the “Non-negotiable” role model in all aspects of their life? That is the moot question.

A few others who shot themselves into pinnacles of achievement in their thirties are Adi Sankara, Vivekananda, Ramanuja, Martin Luther King, Sanjay Gandhi and many more according to Wikipedia and other research websites.

Quality matters, not Quantity

When someone said Sanjay died an immature death at 33 Vinoba Bhave was reported to have said: “Absolutely wrong, he was more mature than Moraji Desai” according to OSHO online library. “Living long life means nothing. Meaning comes from intensity. It is a question of quality, not quantity. How long you live makes no difference. How you live, how deeply, how totally, how intensely, how passionately – everything depends on that. And he (Sanjay) certainly lived totally, intensely, passionately and he risked everything for It.; he was not in any way a coward,” is the explanation given, although views in conflict dominate.

Of course performance of individuals in their thirties can be discussed endlessly without arriving at a convincing conclusion. But what about Jesus, especially for Christians? Is not what is said of Sanjay, literally true of Jesus? Followers of Jesus today may not have any difficulty to agree with it.  But then see how  even the highly placed and supposed to be enlightened contemporaries of Jesus in religion and politics reacted to him? Did they give him a blanket approval? Not at all! They looked upon him with suspicion.  Hence they  stamped  him as immature,  radical, rabble rouser, friend of drunkards and prostitutes, nay even insane (“out of his mind”) by the powerful opinion makers of his time. Was not creation of such a vociferous public opinion   responsible for his crucifixion and death?

Now suppose, some one in his thirties appears today on the religious and political horizon and start saying and doing things Jesus did.  Will he ever have a chance to get a better treatment? Or just think of Christ himself revisiting his church today! A much better mind than mine thought of it long ago and that is the famous parable in Dostoyevsky’s novel: Brothers Karamazove (1879-1880) where Ivan and Alyosha a novice monk are presented in the roles of the Grand Inquisitor and Jesus.

Grand Inquisitor of Dostoyevsky

According to the parable it was during the time of Inquisition that Christ came back to earth in Sevile, Spain and did a number of miracles like the ones narrated in the Gospels. People recognised him instantly and went berserk and hysteric to worship him. The inquisition leaders smelt instant threat to their thrones. So they arrested him immediately and sentenced him to be burned at the stakes the next day.

But  before doing that, the Grand Inquisitor visited Christ stealthily in his cell and tells him, not to shake the boat, not to incite the mob,  and explains how  the Church knows better, nay how it has been quite  safe and secure under his  efficient rule and advises him to return to heaven speedily as the Church does not need him any longer.

In the secret talk the Grand Inquisitor, explains how Jesus in his life time made a fool of himself by resisting the three temptations of the devil in the desert with human cravings for food, power and world dominion.  Had Jesus succumbed to those temptations he would have had abundance in all food delicacies, all sorts of glittering power and become king and emperor of the whole world. Worse still Jesus did the blunder of giving such freedoms to resist temptations of the devil to his followers and the mass of humanity, totally immature and incapable of handling such freedoms.

What the Catholic church does instead under the Grand Inquisitor and his minions is to deny all such freedoms to the masses or rather take all decisions for the people by keeping them ignorant and suffering but happy with the hope of a  promised  heaven after life. In short he says: “Anyone who can appease a man’s conscience can take his freedom away from him.”

All through the long lecture Christ opens not his mouth to utter even a word. At the end instead of answering Jesus simply kisses the Inquisitor on his “bloodless, aged lips” At this the Inquisitor releases Christ but tells him never to return. Christ, still silent, leaves into “the dark alleys of the city,” of Sevil.

The dramatis personae in this parable, as mentioned above, are Ivan the Grand Inquisitor and Alyosha in the role of Christ. Now Ivan asks his brother: “Do you now denounce me for my views?” Alyosha responds by giving Ivan a soft kiss on his lips, to which the delighted Ivan replies: “That’s plagiarism… Thank you though.” The brothers part soon afterward. The moral of the parable is clear and you readers may react with silence or a plagiaristic kiss of peace to the one who condemns you for your expressed or suppressed freedom of expression. (For more see Grand Inquisitor, in Wikipedia)

Non-negotiable Role Model

To come back to where we started, what is the main issue under discussion? It is leadership of Jesus the “Non-negotiable” role model

presented for his followers in the church. The example he set for leaders, if taken literally, is that they should be in their thirties age-wise; the prime of youth and its length should not be more than three years.  The greatest leader is the one who has the greatest capacity to serve and inspires others to be a leader like him. Any one can be a great leader because everyone can serve. You don’t need a college degree for it, only a heart full of grace, as Martin Luther King said.

So just think of a Pope or other leaders in the church like bishops and parish priests in their thirties and just for three years only to perform all what they plan to do during their short tenure. According to Fr. Hans Kung, in his recent article: “Paradox of Pope Francis”,   Innocent  III (1198-1216)   Pope at the time of Assisi’s St. Francis, was only 37 when he was elected Pope.

“Innocent III, the duke of Segni, who was only 37 when he was elected pope;  was  a theologian, educated in Paris, shrewd lawyer, a clever speaker, a capable administrator and a sophisticated diplomat. No pope before or after him ever had as much power as he had” according to Fr.Kung.

In an utter condescension to all sorts of human frailties we may show double generosity, allowing entry to leadership posts to those who are in their forties also, and for a period of not  just three but six years to perform or perish. What about those who ask for further concession? To me, it is better to dispense with such leaders for any office. Those who can’t perform in three or six years, it is better for them to be followers, not leaders.

Indian Wisdom Suggests

It is in this context that the division of human life into four Ashrams (Stages of life) – Bhrahamacharya (Celibate student life 8-18), Grihasta (Family social life18-40), Vanaprasta (Retirement from family life 40-65) and Sannyasa (Life of total renunciation 65-death) of Hindu sastras or vision of life from cradle to grave becomes relevant as a guiding principle. The most productive years of human life to enrich oneself and others are those when one has the greatest amount of get-up and go which starts in one’s thirties (Grihasta) and reaches the pinnacle around sixty which  is considered the retirement age  as the years thereafter are considered  one’s declining years.

If this is true, is it not simply ridiculous to thrust top leadership roles on those who are already in their Sanyasa years of seventies. Unfortunately this is what often happens in religious and political circles. Wisdom, grace, maturity, competence and capacity to lead are generally associated with the elderly experienced people. What they often lack are speed, energy, courage and boldness to take risks.  A dynamic leader needs both streams of qualities. That is why they are exceptional or a rare species. So one has to look around to find them, if organised community life has to become constructive, productive and challenging.

Today one of the explosive threats faced by city states and global community is the widening disconnect between soaring aspirations of the youthful majority seeking quick solutions and the inability or all too slow response of the weak-kneed and inefficient elderly who are at the helm of affairs, all because of their age rather than their expertise. A minute study of tensions and tug of wars going on in various aspects of life in India, I believe, should amply demonstrate this truth. According to UN-HABITAT report, by 2020 India would be the youngest nation on earth with the medium age as 29.

This gives added emphasis to the relevance of youthful model of leadership provided by Jesus for our own times and India in particular. Of course it was not relevant or acceptable in Jesus’ own time and it will not be acceptable in our own time as well for two reasons: 1. The mass of humanity, as the Grand Inquisitor observes is either incapable or averse to handling human freedoms aright. 2. As a corollary, so to say, you have to be crucified before you are canonised, as it happened even in the case of Jesus. So where are those who are ready to take up their crosses and do the uphill task of marching up to the top of Calvary?  Let them – and they alone – step forward to take up leadership roles, whether in religion or politics. Hence also the unmistakable call of Jesus to his followers: “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Pope Francis Shows  the Way

Pope Francis is setting an example in this direction with his high thinking and simple living, with his readiness to tread the dusty roads of history which started for him in the dirty streets of Buenos Aires’s slums of the poor called Villas of Misery (villas miserias). He did not go there in German made bullet proof cars as some of our bishops do but on foot. He had told his priests not just go and visit these shanty towns and come back to rest in comfortable presbyteries, but to live with the people amidst the sweat, dirt and squalor of the slums.

Even after becoming Pope he  flaunts his aversion to  palatial surroundings in Vatican,  with his pronouncements like “Carnival time is over”; the church of the Sacristy must end;  get out, get out of the Sacristy to be one with the down trodden, because inequality is the biggest sin crying to heaven for retribution; what is to be condemned is “careerists and social climbers” among clergy and clericalism strutting about saying “I am the boss”; what is needed is not commanding and bossing leaders but listening and serving selfless people, washing the feet of sinners (drug addicts, aids patients) and outcasts including women of all faiths or no faith.

In another month  in July Francis will be heading for the World Youth Festival in Brazil, which will be his first foreign tour. Will it be for a symbolic sharing or handing over of the leadership torch in the Church from the 76 year old young at heart Francis to the REAL youth of the world?  It is time for day dreaming about YOUTH LEADERSHIP in the Church and in society. May be Jesus is revisiting his church in the person of Francis Pope to liberate it from the clutches of the descendents of the Grand Inquisitor and his minions. If so we may look forward to an ecclesial spring time, but of course not without carrying the cross and undergoing daily crucifixion.

The writer can be contacted at: jkottoor@asianetindia.com

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