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Wednesday, 18 February 2009

More on leadership

Just two thoughts today that have been threading themselves uncomfortably through my mind this last week, knotting themselves together. They need to be separated out. They feel dangerous to be so closely juxtaposed.

1) Further to my last blog on Leadership - and if you haven't read it, it's time to catch up now, just click on to it on the right here - I've been reminded this week, as Israel limps towards a new government, of the thoughts of Nachman of Bratslav, that always thought-provoking 18th century Hasidic manic-depressive:

"There are so-called leaders versed only in superficialities and outward values. They cannot lead themselves, and evil impulse prompts them to lead others. They are not so much to be blamed as those who vote for them and support them. These adherents will be called upon eventually to give an accounting for their action."

Cynical maybe, and 'evil impulse' is perhaps quite strong for our contemporary temperament, but who doesn't recognise the grain of truth in Nachman's words? Both the lack of substance, of moral and emotional intelligence, in Israel's 'leaders' - and that there will one day have to be an accounting for the failures to move beyond the fears and prejudices of the past. Nachman may have been thinking of an accounting in the 'next life', but even if one doesn't believe in that, we still recognise that our failures live on and that although we may escape being held to account for these failures as individuals, as a society we reap what we sow.

2) I was amazed this week to read that in France there had never been official state recognition of the nation's responsibility for the deportation by the collaborationist Vichy government of the country's 76,0000 Jews between 1942 and 1944. Francois Mitterand, who'd been President from 1981-1995, had insisted that France "was never involved" in the mistreatment of its Jewish population (it was the Germans, you see) and it wasn't until Jacques Chirac in 1995 that a French head of state admitted the country's "inescapable guilt". In a court case this week, France's highest court has finally issued a ruling (in a case regarding financial compensation) that recognises the state's responsibility in the deportation of their Jews to Nazi concentration camps.

Given the amount of historical information that has been available for decades, this is extraordinary - until one realises that all nations have their own myths, and distorted self-images, and defensiveness about their own collective behaviour. Paradoxically it has been Germany - first as West Germany, and since 1990 a re-unified Germany - that has invested much time, effort and painful self-examination in the laborious process of truly 'accounting' for their past. But even in Germany this took years to do - decades, in fact - and whether it is an individual or a nation there is always resistance to looking at shameful or uncomfortable facts full in the face.

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