Mao recognized that the Chinese Communist Party was making huge blunders because it was closed off from criticism. As a result, he invited criticism. People were hesitant to talk to the government for good reason. Thousands had already died for daring to speak their minds. Finally, the people began, ever so cautiously to speak up. Mao heard them and began to make changes. This produced hope and more honesty, but more honesty meant that some of the complaints began to go “too far.”
Mao wanted some truth, but not all the truth.
As a result, the critics were slaughtered as the bloody dictator began a purge of genuine culture. Tyranny loves enthusiasm because it can challenge enthusiasm. Tyrants hate genuine dissent or arguments.
Mao is (blessedly) dead and few of us will ever live in such an intolerant regime by a narcissistic genius, but all of us can learn something from this basic truth. Tyranny demands mediocrity.
Mediocrity can recognize process problems: the local commissar is not getting the rice to us on time. The tyrant does not mind this sort of criticism because it does not challenge his essential rule. The local commissar can be replaced, the rice can arrive on time, and the tyrant is a hero. Real thinkers dare to ask: “Why is the state in charge of getting us rice?”
When Stalin was murdering Ukrainians and shipping the survivors off to Siberia, mediocrities in his government complained. The children shipped to Siberia in cattle cars were arriving in villages without schools! Stalin could tolerate such criticism because it was process. The trains with the victims should run on time. Nobody dared suggest that, just perhaps, hauling thousands to exile in Siberia was (itself) a bad idea.
Tyranny loves mediocrity.
Tyrant natures (even those of us who are not powerful) resent the successful. We hate the excellent. We want to pull down the powerful.
Jesus was not afraid to hang with dynamic leaders like Peter, James, and John. We are afraid to have friends more gifted than we and hope that the famous have feet of clay.
I have seen my dad, as a pastor, get both kinds of criticism and listen. He has been told: the trains are not running on time. He has fixed it, but he has also been told: “We don’t like the direction of the ministry.” He listened. Sometimes he agreed and sometimes he did not, but you could stay in the church and on his team regardless.
He was no tyrant, but a genuine leader.
Business leaders will often pay thousands for high priced consultants to work on process when the problem is glaring: they are the problem. Why isn’t the problem fixed? The culture of fear and the tyranny cannot be fixed without the would be tyrant giving up power.
Let’s be plain: few leaders are irredeemable. In real life, few are Stalin or Mao. Tyranny is a pathway that most of us slide towards in order to do good or out of frustration with dissent that slows down the good things we are called to do. It is not tyranny when the leader listens and disagrees. You will know the tyrant if the respectful critic is still in a position of power after the criticism.
The tyrant berates “underlings” and toadies to superiors. The tyrant (as Plato demonstrates in Republic) ends up alone.
Thank God for those on my social media feeds who tweak me, challenge me, and give me a hard time. My best friends in the world have had to tell me when I was stupid, disingenuous, or just wrong. I love them and thank God for them.
God, help me to continue to walk in this way, because as a result, I have friends who are better, brighter, more gifted than I am. My cabinet at The Saint Constantine School is free to attack, disagree, and go on building the great thing we are doing by God’s power. Plato was right. The tyrant ends up alone with paid workers who in private mock and belittle the tyrant. The good leader may fall, fumble, and is fallible (see David), but ends up with friends.
God, help me to avoid tyranny.