Thought for the Day - John Bell - 22/08/2012

With Parliament in recess, we don’t hear much from our political masters. MP’s, as well as many business leaders, are on holiday. I hope they have a good holiday. I hope that they will not be like 70% of smartphone users who, it was reported, stay wired to work ensuring that business can invade pleasure. I hope our nation’s leaders get passionate about other interests, so passionate that they might even be reluctant to return.

I say this because of a story I read yesterday. I can tell it in a minute. It’s about trees.

It’s about how once upon a time the trees wanted to appoint a king over them. So they asked the olive tree first. And the olive tree refused. It didn’t want to leave behind its production of oil by which humanity was enriched.

Then the trees tried to get the fig tree to become king. But the fig tree was unwilling to leave producing fruit which was a delight those who ate it.

The trees then turned to the vine and asked if it would become king. But the vine also refused. It enjoyed producing grapes which became wine which was pleasing to everyone who drank it.

So then the trees went to the thorn and asked if it would be king over them. And the thorn tree said: ‘If you really want to appoint me, come under my protection. Otherwise you will be scorched by fire.’

That’s it - the story about the trees trying to appoint a king. It’s not one of Aesop’s fables. It comes from the book of Judges, which - along with other things - is about leadership.

It‘s a divinely inspired parable which suggests that those who have other passions will be reluctant to lead, whereas those who simply want to have power will jump at the chance of being the chief. And more than that, they will give dire warning of what might happen if they are not allowed to have their way.

Hence the thorn tree: If you really want to appoint me, come under my protection. Otherwise you will be scorched by fire.’

There’s something profound here with which I am still wrestling; something about how people whose life is about more than being in charge have other yardsticks, other perspectives, other passions which enable them to make balanced judgments.

It raises the question as to whether the best leaders are those who achieve first class honours degrees and get catapulted to the top to organise things the way they want. Or are the best leaders those who, like the olive and fig and vine, have flourished in other fields, which makes them grounded and experienced if also a little reticent?

The story asks whether those most worthy of power in the parliaments of the world, in finance, industry, the church, are those who crave it, or those who have other lodestars by which they live.

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