Alexander Pope, an eighteenth-century English poet, may be best known for his proverbs such as “To err is human…” and “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” But my favorite is what he inscribed on the collar of the dog he gave to a prince. It read, “I am His Highness’ dog at Kew. Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?”
Recent studies show that dogs were bred from the wolf for their obedience. Researchers have found that dogs don’t challenge their top dog, who asserts his power by monopolizing the available food until he is satisfied. Dogs are good at following their masters’ orders but poor at making their own decisions.
Wolves, on the other hand, are cooperative with each other even though they may have a strong leader of the pack. In pursuit of their prey, each member of the pack plays his part by observing the situation and deciding what to do. After the kill, they share the spoils together.
When I joined the Farm Bureau, I was amazed by the emphasis it placed on leadership development. I was then too old a dog to learn from the leadership programs offered to young leaders of tomorrow.
Before that, however, I had been an active member of professional societies in physics, engineering, planning and other fields. These organizations, besides publishing academic papers, talked about code of ethics, continuing education, team work and such, but seldom about leadership (with possible exception of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics due to its close tie to the leader-conscious military).
Many people today regard leadership as an archaic idea. They’d rather pursue consensus building, coerced or not. The proliferation of regulations requires a growing basis of obedient citizens. Questioning government decisions is made futile. As man bred the dog out of the wolf, today’s society marginalizes “wolves” and breeds more “dogs” that are politically correct and socially conforming.
At a conference held at the Salk Institute in San Diego this October, the international panel of scientists postulated that “domestication” of humans – making them more tolerant and less antagonistic individuals – began more than 40,000 years ago and accelerated as people lived closer together after the rise of agriculture 10,000 years ago. Its manifestations are changes in the skull features, lower levels of testosterone and stress hormones, and physical and behavioral feminization of the male population.
I dare say our socio-cultural value system has seen marked “feminization” in the past century. Witness the shift of emphasis from victory-at-any-cost to peace-at-any-cost, from risk-taking to guaranteed welfare, economic development to nature preservation, private property rights to public trust, justice to tolerance, and from individual liberty to state control. Like a good dog, we are wagging our tail to these new paradigms.
Despite this prevailing trend or because of it, leadership is ever more important today. I am not talking about how you direct others but how you lead yourself. The former is the art of management, but the latter is the question of moral responsibility, critical thinking, courage and fortitude.
To some it is tempting to be an obedient dog pleasing the master and being petted. However, the strength of our republic and its long-term stability as the world’s leader ultimately rest on your resolve to be your own master and not anyone’s dog.