The Lonely Path

There is comfort in being in a space unoccupied by others. The plague of clichés and the clutter of egos take up residence in crowded spaces. Blending into the crowd always threatened my sanity. Living up to an expectation set against a standard that I don’t subscribe to will always result in disappointment for the one that holds such expectation. Sadly, the fulfilment of our expectations defines the sense of significance for too many.

A simple but defining realisation dawned on me in recent months. There is a conflict of sentiment in encouraging others to own their life. To pursue a path that is unique to what they yearn to see realised in this world places a burden on their shoulders that most are unwilling to bear. It’s much easier to talk about the change that is needed but to recede from the battlefield when the time to act arrives is even easier. Leading the charge against complacency is never a popular role to take.

Spectators are the armchair critics of life. The back seat drivers, or the wall flowers. They observe the most, analyse the most, criticise the most, and do the least. But their time spent gathering information about everything that is wrong positions them well to be the first to point out the shortcomings of those that choose to go to battle. Through nothing more than the momentum contained in their numbers, they become the opinion makers and the advisors, much like the politicians that send everyone else’s children to fight wars that are created around boardroom tables.

The odds are stacked against the ones that set out to make things better. Gaining critical mass for positive change amongst a mass of critics is beyond daunting. It requires a healthy dose of tenacity, resilience, and a dollop of manipulation. The populist leader however chooses to have a healthy dose of manipulation and nothing more. Offer incremental change and deliver only a fraction of it, and the history books will celebrate you for generations to come. All you need to do is give people reason to believe that they were part of a movement that made them feel better about not making progress in life, and then release them to go back into the dreary cycle of their lives.

It’s easy to see why the path of leadership, authentic leadership is a lonely one, especially when you consider that leading does not require a vocal following. It doesn’t even require a conscious one. I once heard that the definition of leadership is to do more than is expected of you. This makes so many sincere contributors leaders despite them feeling like nothing more than burden-bearers.

Step up to take up the slack of the slackers and automatically you take a lead role. Fill the parenting void of absent parents and you become a role model. Assume responsibility for an outcome that everyone needs but no one wishes to own, and you become a rebel. Speak out loud what you know everyone else is thinking but would never utter from fear of inheriting responsibility, and you become the abrasive protestor. The fly in the ointment, or the pain in the butt. Good intention makes no difference. The moment you choose to improve the quality of your life or the life of those around you, prepare to be judged because in stepping up, we automatically make visible those that are sitting down.

It’s that easy to start out on the lonely path of leadership. Not pseudo-leadership that needs a title or a declaration to be established. True leadership. The one inspired by the struggle of the common man, or the aspiration of the unknown dreamer. That is the lonely path, because if everyone recognised the importance of the change that is needed, change would not be needed. Natural progression would happen without disruption. The human condition would improve as a natural consequence of commonly-held values that are actually valued. But they don’t value the values that they profess to uphold. Unless they are the designated leader, it’s not their job to care.

So it rests on the shoulders of the restless ones among us. The ones that see the value of progress and can’t rest until it is realised. The ones that see the gaps and fill it with contributions that uplift the weary souls, or the under resourced. The ones who act, in spite of the critics and the knowledge that they will likely be damned before they are appreciated, let alone celebrated. They are the ones on that lonely path. Despite this, they are also the ones that are most likely to stop and offer a hand to the one whose lethargy finally saw them fall foul of the same system that they once coveted.

Companionship is rare on this path. By implication of their nature, compensating for the selfish embrace of the other is simply a matter of course. Realising that your restlessness is likely to threaten rather than attract the ones that it is intended to uplift, living a life of restrained expression becomes second nature. The smile that never reaches the eyes, or the embrace that feels comforting but is rarely reciprocated are easily overlooked in the haste that accompanies the indulgence of the distracted.

[This is an incomplete thought process…]

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