Herding Cats

John Michael Greer

Author and Archdruid John Michael Greer has a new blog post titled “The Secret of Herding Cats.” It’s an essay on the ineffectiveness of the climate change activist movement. As with all his blogging, this entry is reasoned and thoughtful, but ultimately more pessimistic about our long-term future than I think appropriate.

But this blog entry has the best illustration I’ve come across in a long time. Religious leaders of all descriptions – but especially Pagan leaders – frequently call what they do “herding cats.” We know what that means: our groups are full of folks who are fiercely independent and who are reluctant to work together unless it’s on their own terms. That makes leading them virtually impossible.

Greer says that’s wrong. He says:

In point of fact, herding cats is one of the easiest things in the world. All you have to do is go to the place you want the cats to go, carrying with you a #10 can of tuna and an electric can opener. The moment the cats hear the whirr of the can opener and smell the fragrance of the tuna, they’ll come at a run, and you’ll have your herd exactly where you want them. Now of course that strategy assumes two things. It assumes that you’re willing to go to the place you want the cats to go, and it also assumes that you have something to offer them when they get there.

This illustration is exactly right. An effective religious leader has to lead from the front: you have to go where you want others to go and do what you want others to do and then say “join me.” You can’t lead from the rear and scream “move where I say move.” Or as my Baptist father used to say “practice what you preach.”

And it’s not just going where you want people to go – you’ve got to have that can of tuna with you too. Most of us aren’t quite so instinct-driven as cats, although you should never underestimate the power of pizza and beer to generate a good turnout! This is where the ability to articulate a vision comes in – you have to be able to tell people why they should do what you think they should, and how their lives will be better if they do.

So the next time you feel like you’re herding cats, find a metaphorical can of tuna and go open it where you want to cats to go.

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