Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Absurd

A different form of leadership from what dominates our world today will be needed to guide us into a sustainable future.  In my latest posts I have been referring to Robert Greenleaf’s   servant leadership, which is a prime example of what this leadership will need to encompass.  I have included several quotes from his seminal essay on the topic “The Servant As Leader”.  
Reading the essay is what convinced me of the need for servant-leaders to guide us. Delving further into the lives and works of servant-leaders who Greenleaf quotes in the essay has helped me to flesh-out Greenleaf’s ideas on the servant-leader.  A few names from this long list includes the likes of writer Herman Hess, Saint Francis, philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, and poet Robert Frost.

One interesting servant-leader from this list of influencers is the author/philosopher Albert Camus.    According to Greenleaf “Albert Camus stands apart from the other great artists of his time, in my view, and deserves the title of prophet because of his unrelenting demand that each of us confront the exacting terms of our own existence, and, like Sisyphus, accept our rock and find our happiness in dealing with it.”  

What intrigues me about Camus is his writing that delves into the philosophy of absurdism.     Some quotes from his book THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS that help define the philosophy follow. 

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.  Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.

Living, naturally, is never easy.  You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for many reasons, the first of which is habit.  Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, and the uselessness of suffering.  

(…), in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger.  His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land.  This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity.  All healthy men having thought of their own suicide, it can be seen, without further explanation, that there is a direct connection between this feeling and the longing for death.

One kills oneself because life is not worth living, that is certainly a truth – yet an unfruitful one because it is a truism.  But does that insult to existence, that flat denial in which it is plunged come from the fact that it has not meaning?  Does its absurdity require one to escape it through hope or suicide – this is what must be clarified, hunted down, and elucidated while brushing aside all the rest.

All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.  Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door.  So it is with absurdity.   

Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or the factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm – this path is easily followed most of the time.  But one day the “why” arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement.  “Begins” – this is important.  Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness.  It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows.  What follows is the gradual return into the chain or it is the definitive awakening.  At the end of the awakening come, in time, the consequence: suicide or recovery.   

As I look around at the absurdity that fills our world today, I find myself asking the question why.  Until we start to ask that question and then begin our search for the answer, we cannot awaken.  It seems though that the world is starting to awaken and a search for a new way is beginning.  Greenleaf’s message on the servant-leader is a key to finding the answers we seek and his prophet Camus can guide us through the absurdity that fills our world.      

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