History consistently gives us a glimpse into human error and functioning, and this is nonetheless so in the case of Napoleon Bonaparte. Many know of him because of his short stature, wars, and exile; others may (begrudgingly) know him from ABBA’s song, Waterloo. Questioning him was a personal offense, and anyone who did so was swiftly marginalized and cast aside so as not to spark a desire for change in the hearts and minds of those whom he lead (Burns, 2003, p. 109). He censored what subjects read, listened to, worked towards and associated themselves with (Burns, 2003, p. 109). He sought order, and the French people sought liberty and happiness (Burns, 2003, p. 109). Though the first part of the French Revolution called for an end to feudalism, Napoleon’s protection of individual property rights vastly benefitted the wealthy more than the poor (Burns, 2003, p. 110). In like manner, woman’s rights were cast aside, giving power to their husbands in decision-making, activism or politics (Burns, 2003, p. 110). Moreover, Napoleon centralized education, hoping to ensure that the coming generation would eschew the kind of rule and order he bestowed on France (Burns, 2003, p. 111). He stuck by leader and follower in their most basic and strict forms, citing his new order to be what the world needed to enact the American dream proposed in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence (Burns, 2003, p. 111).
One of the most widely known areas of Psychology is that of Erik Erikson and the Psychosocial Developmental Stages. As children grow and develop, their knowledge and understanding of the world moves from comprehending the absolute and concrete, to the abstract and unknown. By the time they reach adolescence, they search for their own identity: to be set apart and known for who they are by developing and evaluating their personal beliefs, values, and ideas against that which has been taught by parents, teachers, and peers (Erikson, 1994). When adolescents and young adults are unable to reconcile who they are or want to be, in light of another’s opinions and beliefs, they experience role confusion, feeling unsure of themselves and their place in society (Erikson, 1994). Conversely, they may rebel and go against anything that stands for the values that have been forced onto them (Erikson, 1994). Thus, this time in life becomes pivotal in shaping who they become, where they go, and what they will do in the future by exploring possibilities, identity and personality traits (Erikson, 1994). As seen in Napoleon’s reign, what the French people heard, saw, and learned was censored and primarily geared to perpetuating the beliefs and assumptions of one man, squashing critical thinking, reason, and discourse in the process. There was a looming identity crisis afoot between the ruler and his people. For the students in this era, critically developing an authentic and unified view of the self would be nearly impossible, as they experienced role confusion or rebellion in who they were taught and expected to be by their government and those in authority around them. We may believe we know everything or have the right plan or pathway to establish some beneficial act or goodness into the world. But we must realize that 99% of the rest of the world believes the same thing. If we went about forcing our beliefs onto each other, no one would ever get very far in creating change. We must come to terms with our own fallibility and need to have diversity in insight, values, ideas, and beliefs. If anyone is to be able to understand who they are at their core, as well as their role in the world and who or what they want to be, we need to give others space and freedom to become who they are meant to be fully and authentically.
Similarly, in leading others or developing a shared mission or vision, there are instances in which we can hold our own views and ideas too highly, negating to consider or understand the views, ideas or vision of prospective team members or collaborators. I believe in and want to work towards developing humility in myself, the work I do, and how I understand, consider and collaborate with others in their own work and vision. The majority of humanity believes their set way of accomplishing a goal is the right or only way to get something done. With a million people working toward a million goals in a million ways, we may never get anything accomplished if we are prideful, stubborn, arrogant or blind. However, if we work together, set aside differences, and collaborate, a myriad of people working toward a shared goal have a higher chance of success and transformation than those striving to do it all on their own. The views and beliefs I have will not always (or may never) be the same or similar to someone else who has a vision similar to mine. The qualities and traits I find in myself that are valuable are not always going to be seen as so in someone with different qualities and traits. The weaknesses I have are the strengths another person has, who can help propel our vision forward and create the transformation and change we collectively seek. Rather than force my will on those around me or create people who think, act, and feel the exact same way as I do, I want to help others embrace their identity, core values, and personhood.
In our faith, we throw around this idea of wanting to be more Christ-like. We ask, “What would Jesus do?” but do not critically consider what Jesus would actually do, outside of a Sunday School level of theology. Jesus would love this person; Jesus would be nice to this person. But our idea of Jesus would not go out of His comfort zone to understand another human being, serve or come to terms with the fact that human beings dimly see the truth of the human experience and condition (Labberton, 2010, p. 72-75).
“As long as you and I see myopically, through the broken glasses of our ordinary lives, then the bedrock of justice has yet to be laid solidly (Labberton, 2010, p. 76).”
We fight for rights, justice, liberty, freedom, love, and happiness without a clue of what these truly entail. We think we know what they mean. We believe that we know everything. Our own uniqueness and perfection are hammered into us since birth by the ones who love us most and every experience we have ever had colors, shapes, and pervades our perception, actions, and beliefs (Labberton, 2010, p. 70-72). The truth of the matter is that we need humility, grace, and mercy from the Lord of All to grant us even the faintest understanding of what faithful and real rights, justice, liberty, happiness, love, and freedom mean (Labberton, 2010, p. 73-74). We must pray for vision, wisdom, and discernment. We must forgo our jaded view of the world and all we believe to be right as we hurt and dehumanize those around us, and open our hearts and eyes to all who have value and worth in view of a loving and gracious God (Labberton, 2010, p. 76).
Burns, J. M. (2003). Transforming leadership: A new pursuit of happiness (Vol. 213). Grove Press.
Erikson, E. H. (1994). Identity: Youth and crisis (No. 7). WW Norton & Company.
Labberton, M. (2010). The dangerous act of loving your neighbor: Seeing others through the eyes of Jesus. InterVarsity Press.