Greek Gods Among Us

Greek Gods Among Us


Seems to me that if we’re going to lead well and follow well, we’ve got to come to terms with something deep and basic in human nature.  And understanding this odd aspect of our humanity is especially critical when our environments are topsy-turvy, insecure, scarce or scary.  Such an environment could be part of your world now:  anything from a kid going through adolescence, a family grieving the loss or illness of a loved one, a city in crisis, a state in the midst of massive change, or even a globe at risk. You’ll see this aspect of human nature bubbling up in three current events.

Tiger roared back yesterday at the Masters. The media’s yapping after the Pope. And Congressman Bart Stupak has said he’s not running for re-election. Perhaps it’s my son’s fascination with Greek mythology that has me thinking these stories are all a bit like the tales of the Greek gods. We would never call these mere mortals gods, but we certainly put them on lofty pedestals.  The Vatican, for instance is quite literally filled with busts of popes; and how appropriate that Nike – named after the Greek goddess of victory – stood by Tiger. We put these demigods up, and we knock them down.  Indeed, the tea bag crew which claims to have downed Stupak – and the media members chanting for the Pope to account – seem to measure their power precisely in their ability to take their targets down.

So, that’s it. Every leader is mortal and imperfect. Yet we want SO much from them, and we grow so hurt, scared, angry, and crazed when they let us down. In our enlightened age, people in their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond, continue to wrestle with their disappointments about the mom or dad who let them down. Congregations lurch and spasm for years after a pastor has not fit their impossibly conflicted hopes and expectations. And we still can’t decide about that darned Thomas Jefferson – president, philosopher, scientist and slaveholder.

The main lesson for followers is this: get over the childish expectations that the boss, parent, teacher, mayor, CEO, or school superintendent is going to do everything your way. They’re fallible and so are you!  The fundamental truth they experience is that there’s one of them and usually a whole lot of you’s; if they met your expectations, they’d be dashing someone else’s. I’m not saying, “tolerate everything,” but I am saying, examine your expectations of them with every bit as much passion as you examine their behaviors.

And the main lesson for us as everyday leaders: know you’ll fail them. Don’t scamper too quickly onto anyone’s pedestal, because it’s a lot harder coming down than getting up!  Accept that your job often requires that you fail them (you can’t go on being parent or boss forever! They need to take over more and more.) Part of the work is helping them to keep from careening from infatuation to infuriation with their leaders, to instead focus on their own leadership. You’ve got to be frustrating them a little all the time, if they’re going to do the work they need to do.

A little less exalting, a little less faulting, to

Lead with your best self.

  • Good morning Dan,

    It does appear that when things are looking bleak, we do try to look for that comfort zone to lean on our leaders.

    We have had some great leaders, Ghandi, Dr. Matrin Luther King Jr., Martin Luther (The Saint), and FDR. Their message still affect society today.

    The greatest leader of all is God. As imperfect as I am, I continuously praise him.

    God bless you and all who read this message,

    Thomas K. Burke – Mentor

  • Bravo! Expectations of others have the capacity to make us miserable.

    When my wife and I were working with new adoptive parents preparing to make the 2-week trip to finalize their Chinese adoption, and bring home that long awaited child, we provided packing advice.

    After covering all the essentials – to take and to not take – we would encourage them to look for one last item in their luggage. Usually, they would find it packed close at hand in a carry on or carry everywhere. We would urge them to root it out and be sure to leave it home.

    That was their “Expectations.” They have ruined more adoption trips and processes than probably anything else.

    The absence of expectations, whether in dealing with another culture, a boss, or a life situation, is called freedom, is called openness, and maybe even the threshold to happiness.

    Again, Bravo Dan.


  • one reason that many of us focus so strongly on others, whether to lift them up or to tear them down, is because of the illusion that we’re actually doing something productive. When we get together with others and vilify a “leader” or “role model,” we tend to walk away feeling as though we’ve acted, made a difference, contributed something.

    When we refrain from talking about others, positively or negatively, and focus instead on becoming the leader or role-model that we wish others would be for us, then we actually do make a difference, we do contribute something positive.

    • I cannot fault the idea of doing all you can to become the leader and roll model you can. Encouraging people to not band together to redress grievances, not to speak their mind in public, particularly as regards their elected officials is decidedly chilling. Our government was formed by men like that darned Thomas Jefferson, in order to establish a more perfect Union where men and woman could live free; free to pursue life, liberty and happiness. Free to support, free to dissent, free to call a growing movement of patriotic Americans “that tea bag crew.” When we are no longer free to comment and complain, when we are no longer able to demand that our leaders indeed hold themselves to a higher standard, the American experiment is doomed. Do not disregard the genuine grassroots Tea Party movement. It is the voice of the American People.

  • For some it is unreasonable expectations, but for every one you named from the Pope to Catholic Bart Stupak and Buddhist Tiger Woods, there are other agendas which lead people to attack and tear apart. Infidelity, be it to the teachings of Jesus, or to a cause like life, or to one’s wife is merely the opportunity to destroy.

    The pope is not infallible, and if a person reads the definition of infallible as used by the Catholic Church for decisions made by the Pope, one understands the term “infallible” was a poor choice of words, and not what was meant. It means only that his decision is the final word of the Church for the time being, much as a U. S. Supreme Court decision is not infallible, and may be adjusted or changed with new decisions of the Court.

    Bart Stupak had decided some time ago not to run again, and that may have been as long ago as when he ran the last time, and told a few persons that that time was the last time he would run.

    So often the people who protest do not understand who is pulling their strings.

    I will stop here, since discussing the agendas of those who attack is a long process, but it is better to look for the agenda of those who attack, and to analyze the arguments they make on the errors of those they attack.

  • Wonderful words this morning to help us all keep centered. Thank you.

    It reminds me of a book that has been on my mind lately. It’s called “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. She helps us think about our mindsets and how each of us can improve ours. Do we have a “fixed” mind or “growth” mind.

    Helpful start to the day. Thanks again.

  • While your point is generally well taken, I must strongly disagree with you on the matter of the Catholic Church protecting pedophile priests–and comparing this to a politician not running again or an errant sportsman is grossly minimizing the abuse situation. It is not a “hopelessly conflicted hope and expectation” of Catholics that priests not molest children nor that the Church put its own interests and that of the pedophile above protecting the victims of crime. Far from expecting anyone to be perfect, I think most Catholics would just like the Pope to take responsibility and say “we were wrong, and we will do our best to never let this happen again.” Remember “Mea culpa,mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”? We said it enough times, and now it is the Pope’s turn.

    • Pat,
      Your point is well taken. The Pope/Church have work to do.
      AND – not but – so do we all. Lots of us take advantage of children – or condone it by complicity and cover-up. Jesus said that anyone who led a child astray ought to have a millstone put around their neck and be cast into the sea. It’s serious business. The point I’m making is that extreme exaltation of human leaders – we have done this with our popes (and priests) – or extreme judgment can get in the way of the work we all need to do.

      In this case, it’s hard to argue that as Catholics we don’t have some serious work to do to grow up and insist on some transparency and accountability, as you argue for. We ought not hide behind the majesty of the church; despite Jesus’ metaphor, we are not sheep. Neither should we be sheep in condemning. We need to keep our wits and minds about us as we cast judgment and seek solutions!

    • I have seen so many organizations cover up what they do, or hide some facts to convice voters, employees, customers that they are good and decent, when they are really deceitful, that I am not certain that any human organization can be expected to always do the right thing, even when it is as bad as covering up child abuse. It is necessary that those who are able to speak out, do so, otherwise organizations only get worse as they get away with covering up their abuses.

      • Perhaps, in the case of the Pope, the biggest error was a notion that the end justifies the means. If he values having more “celibate” male priests, then leaving defenseless deaf children victims for years is a “cost” that he apparently traded for what he values most. A huge and regrettable mistake, of course, especially when you consider the Catholic Church’s stated “preferential option for the poor…” When will he see and admit it?

        Having a human, erring human being as pope should in no way affect the deeply-held faith of any Catholic. What the church bureaucracy does or has done has nothing to do with tenets of faith.

        Perhaps the error is in those of us who don’t recognize that those Greek demi-gods had feet of clay. As Eric Berne pointed out in transactional analysis (I’m OK; You’re OK), there’s no need to pretend to be perfect. We’re not perfect… but we’re not dirt, either!

        On our good days, we can generally be kind, generous, truthful, compassionate, patient, loving, affectionate, supportive, etc.–with most people. And then there are the times when hormones are running, or sleep is lacking, and adequate nutrition is not available, and allergies make us cranky and selfish and impatient, etc. Oh, well! Best to forgive ourselves and others for those days, as we would a beloved child who inadvertantly pulls our hair or pokes a tender spot without realizing that it hurts us. Best to accept that all of us are flawed, and to apologize when that’s called for, and get over it, get on to healing the relationship.

        I used to be a perfectionist, but now I’m in recovery. 🙂

  • Good point, Dan.

    As Tiger Woods said in an interview after yesterday’s Masters, where he came in tied for 4th place, “I came here to win and am disappointed that I didn’t. However, people are making much too much of this (his return to the pro golf tour).”

  • Politically speaking when the federal and/or state government injects itself more and more into our lives and becomes the “parent” you are going to have the public demand more and more from our leaders. The saying “they made thier bed now they have to sleep in it” comes to mind.

  • We are ALL servants in one capacity or another. When we serve humbly…with a true mindset on the goal and compelling others as we go; well, it makes for a steady journey.

    When we’re quick to put ourselves UP on a pedistal, keep in mind: “You can’t fall far from LOW.”

  • Bravo again. Beautifully put reflecting best practices in critical thinking. Thank you.

    I think idealization is learned when we first see our parents and know that the caregiver has all the power, is all-powerful in terms of the world we know. Our task as we age and, hopefully, mature, is to develop a better understanding (some call it insight) into our childish/primitive motivations for making idols out of ordinary men and women — and sometimes our motivations for seeing them fail.

  • How true! As my husband and I look down the short road to retirement, we are reassessing our careers. The one thing I feel we have overlooked is the training/mentoring of others to take our place. Learning how to navigate the waters of discontent is something we need to a) learn to do and b) learn to pass on.

  • Dan, for the most part, I agree with your article. Leaders must make decisions that benefit the organization, and sometimes those decisions are more difficult within various departments of the organization. As a Marine Lieutenant Colonel, I’ve spent years on both sides of these types of decisions. The key to acceptance and confidence in these decisions is trust. And trust is built through consistent action, honest communication, unselfishness, and transparency.
    In my experiences leading Marines, I’ve always told the Marines with whom I’ve had the privilege to serve, that I will always tell them “the why” behind my decisions – except in the rare, extreme case when lives are at stake and there is no time. Earnestly, honestly communicating “the why” builds trust and credibility, confidence and faith, in each other. Consistency in decision and action does the same.
    The difference between this type of leadership, and the examples you mention are very clear to me. First, I don’t consider Tiger’s example as the case of a leader failing his organization – the golf fan public is not “led” by Tiger. However, the public is rightfully disappointed by his lack of honesty and transparency, and the appearance that he’s willing to exploit his infidelity (and the words of his deceased father) in order to make a buck for Nike. Although I may personally disapprove of his actions, its not my place to condemn Tiger, but I think I’ll be wearing Adidas or Asics from now on.
    Regarding Congressman Stupak, I think the disappointment by some circles of his constituency and American public is the lack of a clear “why”, the appearance of inconsistency in belief and action, and the lack of transparency in his decisionmaking. I may be wrong, but Congressman Stupak’s retirement indicates that he and his staff feel that more voters are disappointed with his decision than not. If he thought he had the voters to win, I would imagine he would relish the opportunity to silence what you call “the tea bag crew” with a victory.
    Yes, leaders are fallible, but good leaders recognize that good leadership depends on the trust, confidence, and faith of the people being led. This trust, confidence, and faith is built through integrity, honesty, unselfishness, and transparency. We all can recognize self-serving, dishonest, inconsistent leaders. And when we do, we begin to tune out.
    Ben O’Rourke

  • Ben,

    First, it’s great to be hearing from you again. I have to think you were one of the first RFL subscribers – predating my wife’s governorship – and always thoughtful. Marines have much to teach us.

    I want to totally endorse one point and question another. Your philosophy of sharing “the why” is outstanding. Leaders model the way, and the evidence is overwhelming that what followers most respect in leaders is truth-telling. The second thing they want is “forward-looking” leadership. “The why” is about about these two things: telling the truth about where we’re going. I also agree with your limited exceptions. To take it from war to parenting or managing: it is highly rare when we don’t have the time, and the risks are so high that we can’t explain our rationale. Yet we lose so much credibility and buy-in when we don’t take the time.

    Now, here’s where I part with you. You wrote: “We all can recognize self-serving, dishonest, inconsistent leaders. And when we do, we begin to tune out.” I suspect this is true up close and personal – with a marine sergeant, one’s own boss or pastor. But in our media-ated world, when few of us know Wood, Stupak, let alone the Pope, this is not so easy. Is Woods reformed and contrite? Was Nixon? Clinton? Bush? It’s hard enough to tell when the person is in front of you all the time, but so much harder in these instances. I’m not sure Stupak is quitting because he thinks he doesn’t have the votes. He’s an intense campaigner, unafraid of challenges, etc. I suspect that it has more to do with being worn down by those he considered allies – his party and his fellow people of faith. But I SURE don’t know!

    So, I think your guidance to each of us as leaders is fantastic. Ask Why! Ask it of yourself first (the issue for Tiger, and all the others; a hard question obviously, but why, why, why), and then be able to explain it to others.

    Yet, I would still maintain that we should exercise great caution when it comes to our exalting and condemning leaders. We should instead focus on our own work (part of which may be to quit buying Nike if those are your values and your judgment), and not on the high-energy of anger or rejoicing at seeming demons and angels!


  • Dan
    I find some of this article interesting in it’s slant. The media is “yapping” and the “tea bag crew” taking credit for downing Rep. Stupak. Reminds me that leaders sometimes resort to name calling and that sometimes leaders need to be ready when less than complimentary things are said in their direction.

    And if I can, I look at how Rep. Stupak handled this. Like his vote or not, from my distant vantage point, he handled himself with dignity on healthcare, in Congress.

    • Dave,
      On the “slant,” see my comment below to Kathy Weller.
      I agree with you about Congressman Stupak. There is something profoundly sad that a man who “stood in the gap,” was attacked in that space with collateral or friendly fire: the Dems and Catholics he thought were his family turned on him for trying to build a bridge that would hold his value of protecting the unborn and also providing compassionate health care.
      Doesn’t seem like the kind of leader we want to lose, does it?

  • Dear Dan,
    I’ve been reflecting on your article throughout the day, and there were a couple of additional insights that came up for me.
    First, I agree with you that we have to exercise great caution in exalting or condemning leaders. It is very easy for an individual to be swept up in his own subjective view of the world, cultivated by so many different cultural, social, economic, and institutional forces. In my opinion, most people have a narrative which influences how they view the world around them. I think the larger point in not exalting or condemning leaders is for a person to not allow himself to be swept up in his own narrative. We need to challenge ourselves to understand our own narratives and the forces which have crafted the lenses through which we see the world. We need to actively practice seeing the world through other sets of “glasses” so to speak, in an effort to understand our own viewpoints, as well as to get closer to objectivity. When we are exalting or condemning, we are letting ourselves be swept up in emotion, moving away from objectivity.
    I agree with you that we don’t truly know public leaders. Our judgment of them can be so strongly influenced by the powerful force of “the narrative”, “the spin”, or “the messaging”, that its easy to entrench and exalt or condemn. It is counterproductive to make personal judgments and attacks out of anger and generalization. Instead, we all have the power to “vote” — with our wallets, our choices to participate in organizations, or at the ballot box. The point I was trying to make was that the leadership relationship depends on (to borrow from Dr. John Gottman) an “emotional bank account” built on trust, credibility, and integrity. If — after challenging our own narratives, and the public narratives — we begin to consistently experience withdrawals from the leadership bank account, whether through deficiencies of trust, confidence, and faith, then we’ll move towards withdrawal from the leadership relationship. Of course, the perception of withdrawal from the leadership bank account is completely subjective. As leaders though, we have to challenge ourselves to see from the perspective of those being led — are the ones who are leaving the leadership relationship critical to the success of my organization? If so, then perhaps I need to improve my leadership.
    Okay, so I’m all over the map here! I’ll stop rambling… thanks for provoking good reflection!


  • Ben,
    Far from being all over the map, I think you’re right on a solid path. First, I completely agree with you about how our narratives affect our perception. I would add that they’re not just personal narratives. My association with Democrats has me leaning a certain way (as Dave Quigley probably got right above); my middle class upbringing gave me biases. The priests who educated me and the critical/cynical thinkers on the east coast added a lens of skepticism of just about everyone (including myself!). And on on top of our individual narratives, we also participate in group narratives. It feels to me that many of the “tea party” people have individual stories about how others got all kinds of breaks that they never got; they are expecting to hear that they’ve been “cheated,” for example, and are paying for some huge group of freeloaders. And there is now a strong collective narrative that “all politicians can’t be trusted,” “Wall Street can’t be trusted,” the “mainstream media can’t be trusted,” etc., that they are “already” listening in a profoundly doubtful way.

    Whether we’re talking about personal narratives of these collective narratives, I think you’re dead-on that we need to become self-aware. We need to be a little less trusting of our sure answers (including our sure condemnations). I think your notion of narratives adds a lot to the discussion.

    I also appreciate your application of Gottman’s thinking about trust. It certainly describes what’s happened. Many of those in the political process have spent down heavily on the trust that was granted them (Vietnam and Iraq on the foreign policy fronts; countless individuals on the personal fronts; governors in Illinois and our mayor in Detroit). And you might add – as Gottman would – that it’s darned hard to rebuild trust. As we enter another budget mess in Michigan and national elections, I don’t think that the parties see that the oversimplifications and the finger-pointing may win them victories, but the cost is further erosion of trust in the system. With a lot of pain in the world, and fear of our ability to adjust to this 21st century economy, the pressure in the system is greater than it’s been in a long time. Let’s hope we can ratchet down all the anger enough to think with some calm about the tough choices that we really face.

    Thanks for the engagement!


  • Kathy,

    It’s an insult to call people a “crew?” I see crews on the river everyday, rowing for MSU. It hardly seems that terrible. More candor on that in a minute.

    I can’t help but smile at the irony, though. My sense of the tea bag people is that they are very often not measured at all but actually pride themselves on the kind of insult that you think I laid on them. The epitaphs and anger thrown around are to me offensive not just to those committed public servants they paint with a broad brush, but to the voters who voted for these officials, to civility, and to the highest ideals of democracy. My calling them a “crew” feels like it pales in comparison to their signs and soundbites that border on vicious.

    The original Tea Party was certainly a crew – some courageous and angry folks. That Tea Party was very different than this one. It was about “taxation without representation.” Last I looked anyone can run for office; moreover, we’ve erected significant barriers (like the Headlee Amendment) that make it hard for the legislature to tax us. So, if “crew” was somewhat derogatory, you’re probably picking up on my feelings that many in the tea party (like Sarah Palin who says proudly not just that she’s happy about saying “no,” to everything that’s proposed that she thinks is against a principle, but insists she’ll say “hell no.” That feeds people’s indignation (and sells more books), but hardly helps difficult discussions about genuine compromises necessary when we just don’t have enough money to go around.) I think it’s ironic that she’s doing “reality TV,” when she quit the hard reality of governing. It’s easy to pontificate (as the Popes have demonstrated of late), but it’s harder to make hard decisions.

    I will take your admonishment and try to be even more fair than I strive to be every week when I write RFL. I hope in turn you will be equally vigilant about the “insulting” ways that our good public servants are treated when they try to resolve the tough problems we have to face.

    • Angry words? Epitaphs and anger thrown around? Their signs and soundbites that border on vicious? What are you tqalking about? I have seen none of that. Get honest!

  • Dan:

    You know that Kathy was not objecting to “crew” You know what she was talking saying. Your clever dodge is insulting.

    Do you have any ponderings on the hate speech that was spewed over the airwaves for years when Bush was in office?

    To me it seems that the lefts disproportional reaction to the Tea Party movement means that the movement is very effective.

  • Terry,

    Search my archives for anything negative about George Bush. You won’t find it.
    This is not a partisan website, although people like you and two or three others seem to find NO other filter with which to understand and perceive the world than the Fox MSNBC tussle, that’s not what this blogsite is about. The way you read RFL would be like someone saying the Tigers suck cuz their uniforms aren’t as cute as the Yankees, or saying your business is idiotic cuz you pay workers more than the Chinese do. Can I say it more plainly? This is not a political site. If some of my examples are political and if they sometimes leak with my political beliefs, and if you can’t deal with that, don’t read it. I feel bad that you can’t seem to broaden your view beyond this one particular lens. Now, having said that, I am about the broader issue of speaking the truth and being accountable for what I say. Thus:

    In case it’s not utterly clear to you -which apparently it’s not – I will answer your question and it is EASY for me to do so:
    I condemn hate speech. Period.

    I don’t think George Bush was particularly bright. But I think it hurts our dialogue when people call him an idiot. It undermines trust. I hope this satisfies you.

    Now here is a question directly relevant to the inference that I draw from your question: If Dan Mulhern did not condemn hate speech as I just have, would that make the current hate speech good or helpful?

    I’d like to hear your answer. Because this blog is much less about who’s right – me, you, or the man on the moon – than it is with what’s right. So, I ask you again: is hate speech from the right (from what I would absolutely say is a MINORITY of the tea bag people) okay because there is hate speech from the left (which I would also say is a minority of those people).

    If the business next to you cheats on their taxes, Terry, does it make it okay for you?

    Isn’t it about what’s right: speech that uplifts the dialogue, Terry, and not about whether “she said it first,” or “he did it more than I did it.”

    I await your reply to any and all of the above questions.


    I am not sure how to have a useful dialogue with you Terry. Can you honestly say that you look for the value in what I or others are saying? Have you ever written anything positive about anything here – besides the comment of one or two other people who sing from what appears to be the same single viewpoint that you have?

    I am not interested in a game of gotcha with you. I am trying to promote a third way: a way of discussion, where people seek understanding first.

    • Dan-

      It is clear that I responded to your use of the term Tea Bag. You know that is not the name of the movement and you know it is derisive. However you revel in the fact that this is a non partian forum that promotes the exchange of useful ideas. That is untruthful and manipulative.

      The Tea Party movement has become huge and is having a positive impact on the political discussion. The majority of the people in the movement are respectful and civil and there have been very few incidents especially compared to the demonstrations in the 60’s or the ones against Bush. I get upset when Democrats feign outrage for political purposes when history is littered with deplorable acts of violence from the left.

      I admit that my political views affect how I respond to your blog. I would be refreshing if you could admit the same.

      • Terry,
        I repeat:
        Now here is a question directly relevant to the inference that I draw from your question: If Dan Mulhern did not condemn hate speech as I just have, would that make the current hate speech good or helpful?
        I’d like to hear your answer

        • No but I guess I dont get your point. Hate speech is not helpful whether it is directed at individuals or a group. Falsley characterizing a movement to try to demonize them is not good or helpful.

  • Right on Terry. The Left seems to have the hate. I just listened to our Chief Executive using his bully pulput to ridicule the Tea Party folks.

  • A clarification/correction for Terry and Greg: I did not mean to write “tea bag.” We could explore whether my unconscious was thirsty for my favorite brand of Red Rose, or whether it was about the rather grotesque current usage. But I did not mean to demean.
    I didn’t even notice until Terry’s latest post.
    I am all for political dialogue – preferably dialogue that speaks and listens – from left and right.

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