* This is an excerpt form Chapter 2 of the essay All Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision
I want to repeat the quote from my friend to illuminate an important aspect of a Servant Leader’s worldview.
“Compassion is not boundless. To be effective, it needs to be channelled into a specific locality or sphere in which you have the influence to make at least a part of the world a better place.”
I believe he meant to say that compassionate action is not boundless. We all know that no one individual or group is going to “save the world”, and we all know the results for those who have tried. An imperial attitude of domination -however well-meaning- will always meet with fierce resistance, and when greatness succumbs to grandiosity, a hero always burns.
But empathy and compassion can indeed be boundless. The modern-day adage “Think globally, Act Locally” sums this up pretty well. Our actions have an impact on the vast web of inter-related relationships and systems throughout the world, and those of us who understand and act in accordance with this understanding naturally develop over time a sense of kinship and empathy with people -and even animals- that we don’t know personally. And, when people with this worldview act, it is always with the understanding of the impact of that action on the world. They act locally with a vast global attitude.
It is beyond the scope of this essay to delve into how a person comes to the fulcrum of development in which she genuinely empathizes with literally billions of others. It also needs to be pointed out that the paradigm of perfect, altruistic enlightenment in a single individual can be harmful because it’s an impossible ideal.
Servant Leaders are not and can never be perfect, altruistic flawless human beings. But, they can, and often do practice the principles that inform their greatest moments of clarity and good will. In those moments, the servant who has chosen to lead recognizes with crystal clarity the responsibility he has to take care of the present. He recognizes that taking care of the present can help to take care of the future for people he will never even meet.
This is most certainly a boundlessly compassionate worldview, and it matters a great deal in a world of extraordinary need.
But, Servant Leadership should not be viewed as a station of completed development or evolution. Rather it should be viewed as a cultivated attitude and as a practice. Part of that practice includes the commitment to humility, listening to others, and to remain open to new knowledge and learning.