Monday Musings 249 – Gods can have feet of clay
A few comments with friends cutting across states and the country on the subject of Narendra Modi went to the following effect - “ He is our only hope and India has a future only with him today and the best thing would be to give him charge for the next 20 years and then see what India does’. Well this is not about Modi as everything unfortunately turns out to be these days but about a question that such hero worship almost to the level of cult raises – and I ask this question not necessarily in the political context but equally organisational or social context – what are the perils of such a phenomena?
Here is my point – the moment a large group of people put all their hopes on one person and start to believe, if not fantasise, that he is the messiah who will pull them out of their current rot and if not for this person we are doomed because no one else has either the vision or the ability or the charisma to lead us through the current malaise – these people either as a voting mass in a polity or a employees in organisation are creating conditions for either disappointment or failure or both.
The same question in an organisation or institution can be framed as – the belief that ONE person, worse still ONE specific person will miraculously change things for the better – be able to provide direction to the lost, provide vision to the blind, energise the sleepy, spark up the mediocre and wave the magic band – and voila the company will start growing, increase market share and become a shining beacon of excellence – then I suspect as argued above we are creating conditions for either disappointment or failure both.
Such hero worship, romantic as the idea may sound is flawed in multiple ways and often ends in grief. Here are some of my reasons. You can add yours.
One – such obsessive cult often distorts vision. The idea of a messiah or a miracle man is fiction. It sounds great in myths and stories but real people have real abilities. They come with their expertise but also with their handicaps. Such expectations make the journey of improvement led by only one person either too simplistic or worse delusional. This phenomenon takes eyes away from the nuts and bolts of reality and puts disproportionate focus on the personality. It takes away attention from dirty daily work required to be accomplished by many more and focuses on the meaningless ritual of hero worship.
Second – while it is great for the leader who is at the receiving end of such adulation and dependence (who would not like people fawning and drooling over them!), it is damaging to the masses – the very people who are waiting for this messiah. In the act of depending way too much on one person, the masses relinquish their free will, often without being aware of it. They abdicate their own role in the process of progress, almost saying ‘’since I cannot do, let me be unquestionably loyal to someone who in THINK can’’. Loyalty is not a substitute for the spirit of ownership. This leads to a voluntary but corrosive disempowerment.
Third – this creates fertile ground for such messiah becoming a tyrant. One only needs to study history to know that every single dictator began his journey as the ‘ONLY hope to his people/institution during his times’. Not his fault actually – he was given it on a platter by those who believed a messiah is what their system needed. Benevolent dictator is either a myth or a precursor to an absolute dictator. Megalomaniacs and overblown egos draw their sustenance from flattering masses and adulating employees. The system is handing over the power of collective and concentrating it in one individual in the name of hope and support.
Fourth – Any leader in any context when burdened with unrealistic expectations of creating magic ( eg – only he will solve all problems, under only him there will be prosperity/growth, only he will arrest depleting profitability and bring back glory etc etc) is quite likely to disappoint. It is not a question of the person’s ability, but the odds get stacked against him with such huge burden of expectations. The absoluteness of the hope that gets attached to him makes even a slip look like a fall. He is up against multiple factors - law of averages, bad timing, or it could be an issue of underestimating the changed context (war prime ministers of countries are often a failure in peace time, growth CEOs often struggle during consolidation, or it could be the proverbial Peter’s principle etc etc). Uneasy rests the soul that carries the weight of such expectations.
So whenever in polity or workplace I hear the mention of such a messiah, I become a healthy sceptic. The whole idea that one saviour is on whom my future depends is so bloody demeaning to my idea of individual self respect and free will. So I suggest we question such gods, keep them on their toes, scrutinise their thought process, decision making at all times. Make them feel challenged at all times. It will be healthy for them and good for us.
In any case about gods and messiahs I have come to realise, they often have feet of clay.