Virtues of leadership: inclusion, resilience, and hope

Concluding reflections in the booklet “Moral leadership in times of crisis. Inspirational interviews with faith actors“.

The topic of eadership is hot. A quick scan in a major online book store lists no less than 100,000 titles (and this still excludes many of the world languages). Many of these connect leadership with effectiveness or success. The interviews you have read in this book make different connections. They speak of inspiration and a call to action and of three fundamental spiritual virtues: inclusion, resilience, and hope.

It is no surprise that these virtues are highlighted as they are essential in responding to the major crises of our times. Obviously one would think of COVID-19 here. In the long run that may turn out to be only a temporary crisis, but there are serious indications that we will experience similar pandemics on a regular basis because of how our world is organised, how we handle animals, how we sacrifice everything to commercialised globalisation. I see however three even more pertinent and encompassing crises at stake: climate change, global inequities and discrimination, and social disintegration and religious polarisation. Admittedly, these three crises have unfolded slowly and will probably continue to do so, but their effects are devastating and will make this world an uninhabitable space lest we convert and change our ways.

Enter the religious and moral leaders of our times. What we need today are these courageous and radical voices that take these crises utterly serious and at the same time do not succumb to the despair that could easily overwhelm us. This is where we need the virtue of resilience. Resilience is the power to withstand the forces of evil. It is the strength first of all to survive, and then to transform oneself and the world we live in. Many of the stories speak to that resilience. The strength to overcome adversity in one’s personal life is for many the learning pathway to the kind of leadership that supports others to survive and transform. This is an essential quality in our world where many struggle to survive. The history of colonialism and the present neo-imperialism still cast their shadows. Victims of violence, economic injustice, and unevenly distributed medical risk need this support to develop this resilience. If we think about the world twenty years from now, we can assume that the impact of climate change with its natural disasters, famine, and war will require even stronger resilience.

Resilience is directly connected with the virtue of inclusion, because we are more resilient if we function as a community, as a larger organism in which we support and strengthen each other. The social disintegration and polarisation, sometimes sparked and fuelled by religious leaders, effectively undermines our resilience. This is an important insight, especially in a time where the other is seen as dangerous and worthy of exclusion. The victims of such exclusion should be supported to develop resilience, but those who exclude others need to learn that exclusion is a dead end street. We only have one world and we are in it together. Every time we don’t include and embrace the other, we harm this organism of humanity and nature of which we are only a tiny part.

Sure, this inclusion doesn’t come easily. Each one of us, leaders included, is infected with the virus of intolerance and exclusion. Some are more civilised in how to show it. Some even dress their exclusion underthe appearance of moral superiority and spiritual purity. Especially when it comes to religious, gender, and sexual minorities, the history of religiously legitimised exclusion is long and dark. To learn the virtue of inclusion, we need to overcome our short-sightedness, our self-centredness, our hubris to think that we know and understand the divine will. Instead we need to listen to the other, confront our own demons rather than someone else’s, and remain open to the possibility that the other can become a new source of wisdom and insight for us. In other words: we need to become more human.

The virtue of hope, finally, is not just the belief that things will become better. It is the unrelentless faith – against all odds – that a different world is possible. It is the trust in the potential of a humane, secure, and inclusive world where we all live in peace. Hope emerges and becomes electrifying where the negative pole of what is and the positive pole of what could be are brought so close to each other that it sparks energy. This is what happens when leaders show a moral and spiritual alternative as happens in these interviews. It happens when individuals show single acts of kindness. It happens when we read in our sacred texts how our lives can be transformed to be more godlike. Hope is the power to survive and transform and the reason to include each and everyone.

The stories in this book show these spiritual virtues of resilience, inclusion, and hope. They speak of healing souls by walking together. They speak of overcoming racism, prejudice, and stigmatisation. They speak of leaving fear behind and opening up to each other in a spirit of ubuntu or compassion. Every religious tradition offers unique ways of describing that transformation and that attitude of belonging and inclusion, being aware that our existence on this planet is a beautiful gift, a serious challenge, and a moral responsibility. Leadership, then, is not about effectively increasing our personal gains but about building a world society that respects and restores each other’s dignity.

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