Monday, March 20, 2006

Wisdom and Leaders


If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,
If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!


--Rudyard Kipling


Even when distinctions between personal virtue and political virtue seem blurry, wisdom's realm is all human relations. It is very easy for commentators to fill paragraphs describing the lack of wisdom in past and present leaders, but little space is devoted to showing what wisdom itself looks like. I don't mean an opinion about this or that policy--there's plenty of that--but the actual personal process of approaching a complex problem with a clear head and a conscience at peace. Maybe that's because it is easier to describe in poetry.

There are a few exceptions, but I wonder if we would see more wisdom in our leaders, if more examples of it were more prominent in our education and day-to-day lives.

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