Today’s readings investigated individual rights and liberty. We had two sessions – one in the morning and one in the evening. In the morning we tackled Aristotle, Rousseau, Sumner and the Declaration of Independence.
We discussed the Aristotelian notions of place in society, including the positionality of slaves and masters. We wondered what Rousseau meant by free when he wrote of forcing a man to be free who refuses to obey the general will. We debated the merits of the Declaration of Independence, from the use of the language to its call to action. We closed with The Challenge of Facts, a clearly written document that, among other things, seems to indulge in victim blaming.
I like the ways the facilitators ask framing questions. What would Hobbs say about this? What might Aristotle say to that? These sorts of questions challenge us to reconsider old understandings and bridge the new ones.
After some down time, we ventured up the mountain to a cabin called Toklat. There we enjoyed a discussion of Melville’s Billy Budd, closing the night wondering what Captain Vere could’ve or should’ve done differently. It’s an interesting exercise to imagine how we’d be better or different leaders under similar circumstances. I think that’s the key, really. The ability to imagine different outcomes keeps us youthful and agile.
And so concludes the first full day of the Aspen Seminar. I’ve done a few group events over the years, but this one is the first one where such significant bonding occurs so quickly. We’ve had a few meals together and several hours of pointed conversation, and that’s been enough for individuals to connect while the whole group creates its own personality. It’s fascinating really.
Today’s session was on human nature. Our readings included Aristotle, Hobbs and Darwin. We discussed each text to understand what the authors said, whether or not we agree with their argument, and how we can apply the text to our leadership contexts.
At one point I talked about the importance of cultivating the potential inherent in each individual. My point echoed a key idea in Nichiren’s cherry, plum, peach, damson teaching. In brief, each plant is valuable in its own right, and need not strive to mask its uniqueness nor work to be like another plant in order to reach its full potential.
Our inquiry was essentially: what is the inherent quality of humans? Before a corrupting influence, who are we and how do we behave? The essence of the oak tree is contained within the acorn. An acorn is never going to be something else other than an oak tree, although circumstances can prevent it from growing or hamper it from reaching its full potential.
Your leadership style rests in part on what you believe to be true about human nature. Like Mencius, I believe humans are inherently good. The leader’s role, then, is recognizing the potential we each have, and cultivating it. Of course not everyone agrees with this, and again it’s the disagreement that makes the Conversation worthy to take place.