Originally posted on the old Servant Leadership Blog on March 13, 2008.
degrees temperatures in Minnesota today prompted me to exit my bus early
and walk home to get some exercise and enjoy the evening. The snow was
melting fast, and water was running everywhere, bringing back memories
of my childhood splashing in the puddles. As I walked along, I couldn’t
help but notice the trash, dog poop, and other pollutants that had
accumulated over the winter being carried away by the melting water. I
recalled the news earlier this week on an Associated Press investigation that detailed the “vast
array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants,
mood stabilizers and sex hormones — (…) found in the drinking water
supplies of at least 41 million Americans (…).”
Continuing my walk, I reflected on how to relate the way we treat our
water to the state of leadership in our world. Once I got home, I
looked to Robert Greenleaf for the answers.
In his essay the “The Search and the Seeker” from the book Seeker and Servant,
Robert Greenleaf relates an experience of a friend of his coming across
two boys who found a butterfly who had emerged from its chrysalis in a
window well that was enclosed with a screen. Two women notice the boys
and stopped to help them figure out a way to free the trapped butterfly.
For Greenleaf the story was more the then just the “human concern for the hurt of the natural world”.
The butterfly represented “our
beautiful loving self (truly a gift of grace). The bars can be the
hardened attitudes of the inhuman in us that keep our natural loveliness
imprisoned. The boys could represent our creative capacity for
awareness (…). The adults may be our rational, responsible, perhaps
impersonal, self that thinks of its role as good but would not be aware
of the imprisoned beauty except as that awareness is mediated by the
boys. (…). But it is a message from the environment that could pass
unnoticed. It is part of the vast world of symbolic communication, the
riches of wisdom in which we are all constantly immersed but which some
of us miss altogether”.
what was the message that the environment was trying to tell me? Could
it be that the sunshine and warmth is a representation of the potential
for compassion that we humans have. My memories of playing in the
water, as a child might just be a reminder that we need to recoup that
ability to play and enjoy life. The dog poop could be a sign that our
quest to find companionship in our pets is a waste of an opportunity to
find companionship with our friends, families, and neighbors in our
communities. And the garbage and pollutants that we dump in our water
might be telling us to let go of our focus on consuming the right pill
or product, and instead focus on finding real balance and health in our
So those are my thoughts from today’s walk with Greenleaf.