Recently Shauna Aura Knight posted about the Frosts and Consent culture in the Pagan Community. She makes a number of excellent points, but there’s one in particular I want to focus on as it relates to responsibility and leadership. She notes that we don’t need perfect leaders, but what we do need are excellent leaders, leaders who are capable of taking responsibility for their actions and are also willing to be held accountable for their actions. Such things aren’t easily accomplished, especially if the community is hesitant to enforce standards because of the fame of the person involved. Yet if we don’t hold each person to the same level of responsibility and accountability, we are fooling ourselves about what type of community we are creating.
Part of what makes a good leader is that person’s willingness to accept that they aren’t perfect and that they have feet of clay. In other words, they make mistakes and bad choices, yet they are willing to own those mistakes and choices and learn from them. A good leader recognizes that they must necessarily hold themselves to a high standard of behavior and weigh their choices and actions against that standard. A good leader is humble, able to see their own faults and actively work on them. None of this is easy, and sometimes the hardest aspect of the work is being honest with yourself: truly recognizing your faults and how those faults affect you, the people around you, and the community at large.
In the course of my own life, I’ve made some bad choices and mistakes. Sometimes, I didn’t recognize at the time that what I did was a mistake, and sometimes I have. In some cases, people were kind enough to call me out and hold me accountable, and other times I held myself accountable. Occasionally I have had to face the behavior head on, because there was no way I could deny it any further. I can’t say I’ve always been a person of virtue or that I’ve always made the right choices. The truth is never so rosy, but the true test is what each person chooses to do with their mistakes and choices. Do you learn from them? Do you keep repeating them? Do you make changes that are consistent with your realizations? None of this is easy work to do, but it is work well worth doing and applies to each and every person, whether you identify as a leader or not.
True responsibility isn’t something that comes from the community, however. True responsibility starts from within. If we, as a community, are to embrace certain standards of behavior, then the discipline must come from within. If there is no discipline, no willingness to work on ourselves from within, then change will come hard and will not be easy to sustain. But if we are willing to take a long hard look at ourselves, own our choices and decisions, and use them to spur the necessary changes within ourselves, then the purposeful changes we create will be sustainable, because we will want those changes and we will make them part of our lives.
True change cannot occur unless you want it. You have to want to be responsible. Being an excellent leader involves getting in tune with what you truly want and asking yourself what changes you are willing to make in order to manifest it. If you want to change the world, first you need to change yourself, and this involves changing who you are to become what you’d like to see in the world. If you don’t align with what you’d like to see the world become, at some point that misalignment will show through, or people will know on some level that you are a hypocrite and turn away. To be the change you want, you need to truly become the person that aligns with that change in every action and thought. That is a true act of magic.
When you consider what magic is, plainly and simply, it is an expression of your identity both inwardly and outwardly. Now, many people will argue that definition, but I think that when we look at leadership through that lens, we recognize that leadership isn’t just a mundane calling, but also a spiritual calling. Where the magic comes into play involves the particular processes a person uses to face him/herself, as well as how that knowledge is then applied in interactions with others. I’d argue that when a person in a position of authority falls down on the job, it is because that person hasn’t done the necessary internal work that would keep them in a place of accountability within themselves. We can’t expect the community to hold us accountable. We must hold ourselves accountable and use that to empower ourselves and our choices. When we hold ourselves accountable, what we create for ourselves is our code of behavior. If honored, that code will carry us more than any external code of behavior. But when we don’t honor that code, when we continue to make the same mistakes, then we create the circumstances that lead to our fall. Even if we are enabled by the community we are a part of, inevitably mistakes come to light, the scales fall off the eyes, and what people see, what we see, is the truth exposed for what it truly is.
Feet of clay. If you recognize that, then you can own it and make choices that account for it. Every person has flaws, but if we hold ourselves accountable and hold those flaws accountable, we can make genuine change within, which in turn can extend to the community at large. It’s only the first step, but it’s a step often ignored–at the peril of the person ignoring it!–and as we all know, pride does go before the fall.