Sunday, April 04, 2010

Non-violent Leadership

Parable of the Seven Spirits

A Whispered Lesson 

By John Taylor; 2010 April 04, Ala' 15, 166 BE

A Buddhist scripture I just came across sums up much of what I have been learning lately,

"He who leads others by non-violence, righteously and equitably, is indeed a guardian of justice, wise and righteous." (Dhammapada v. 257)

This is my quest as a researcher, to uproot and uncover the kind of guidance that will get the world out of this mess. Not political science so much as the science of leadership and, mostly, "followership." This Buddhist idea of "leading by non-violence," it seems to me, hits the nail right on the head. There are only two kinds of leadership in human affairs, either forced or violent, either violent or non-violent. I think we all know that. However, the problem is that we have not quite grasped what the non-violent kind entails.

I realized this as I watched a video about "common behaviour problems" in dogs, by Paul Owens, AKA the Dog Whisperer.

As a reluctant dog owner -- my son wanted a Sheltie, so his mother paid 500 dollars for Amber, and after the kids tired of taking care of her after a couple of days, Mom ended up feeding and walking it twice a day (I took the afternoon walk), until Mom's back was taken out by arthritis, and now it is I who must walk it three times every day -- I can appreciate the skill this man has, not only in training dogs but explaining the principles of training to the uninitiated. When I see him at work, my jaw drops to the floor. I would not have believed such a thing was possible if I had not seen it with my own eyes. The Buddha, I am sure, would have called him a "guardian of justice, wise and righteous." And not only that, he is gentle and loving-kind to the beasts, not unlike the Master. And just like Abdu'l-Baha, his power is based on a covenant that he establishes between himself and the dog. I will talk about this contract later.
Owens explains a bit about his history as a dog trainer. He started out training dogs using an approach that used both reward and punishment. However, several years ago he switched over to what he calls a "positive training system." It worked so well that he has never looked back since.

In the DVD, he demonstrates how, instead of punishing the dog, he substitutes another, more positive behaviour. "Do not be permissive, he says, be firm. Give the dog something else to do, something to take the place of what you do not want it to do." For example, if a beast is like Amber and goes into a flurry of panicked barking every time someone on a bicycle or roller-skates goes by, then the dog whisperer will teach the dog an alternative response to the stimulus, to go lie down and relax. Simple enough. Myself, I would have agreed that this is a good idea, simple enough. But I'd never have believed it possible. Nothing can stop Amber once she gets going, not verbal admonition nor corporal sanction. In our experience, nothing works. And even he says that you have to catch them early, or you will not even be heard above the barking. How does he do it?

The first secret to non-violent, positive rule, he explains, is to create a need for you in the first place. If you give the dog the run of the house, if you give it free food, total freedom to act upon whatever it wants, when it wants, then what does it need you for? You are just a bug flying around its head. This is so obvious, but you do not see it done in society.

Here is an example. A library decides not to stock a certain book. Suddenly cries ring out through the media that this is censorship. What? Not stocking bad books and stocking good ones is surely the duty of every public institution. Same way, it is our duty as citizens to say good things and avoid bad, hurtful words. It is the duty of politics to offer us healthful habits, not unhealthy ones. It is the duty of religion to offer positive ways to serve God, not scare us with the flames of hellfire. Censorship does not come into it if they lead positively, as the dog whisperer does.

No wonder dogs, given similar lack of leadership, discover mischief and devilment to keep themselves from going insane. This, I realized, is nothing less than a more complete, practical application of Jesus' parable of the seven spirits, as explained in Luke (11:15-28, WEB). The parable starts with religious doctors objecting to Jesus, without permission, is curing people left and right. They object that this cure must be evil, in spite of the fact that it is they who force their beliefs upon their underlings.

"But some of them said, `He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of the demons.' Others, testing him, sought from him a sign from heaven."

Jesus, using the logic of pure monotheism, replies that God does not work against Himself. He either rules all, or He does not rule at all.

"But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, `Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation. A house divided against itself falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. But if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore will they be your judges. But if I by the finger of God cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you."

If even hell depends upon unity and lack of contradiction, how much more must the kingdom of heaven! What is more, when Jesus says "Therefore will they (your sons) be your judges," He is making an evolutionary appeal, an appeal to practical results. A leader is judged by the progress of his or her followers; if the leader fails, their happiness, or lack thereof, will become his judge. I just read an interesting result of recent investigations into the grounds of human happiness:

"According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income." <>

If joining a group, any group, increases our well-being that much, how much more good it must do to join a group in which we really believe? And how much more still one that is well grounded in the truth, that aims to help the world! No wonder Baha'u'llah promises a "myriad oceans" in recompense for a drop of blood spilled in His Cause; that is far more than doubling your income. So it has come to pass, now even science assures us that the results of good management are measurable. "By their fruits ye shall know them." The parable continues,

"When the strong man, fully armed, guards his own dwelling, his goods are safe. But when someone stronger comes on him, and overcomes him, he takes from him his whole armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. He that is not with me is against me. He who doesn't gather with me scatters. The unclean spirit, when he has gone out of the man, passes through dry places, seeking rest, and finding none, he says,
'I will turn back to my house whence I came out.'
"When he returns, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes, and takes seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter in and dwell there. The last state of that man becomes worse than the first."

This is not the kind of advice that sells self-help books! The more you improve your life, the more likely you will meet your downfall. When you meet your match you will be broken, and after that things will get far worse than they were before. One evil spirit will become seven demons. The only way forward is to admit your helplessness, submit and join with the forces of the One True Alpha Wolf, God.

It is the same thing with the dog whisperer. From a worldly point of view, Owens starts off by being very politically incorrect, in spite of the "positive" name of his method. He advocates taking a great number of freedoms away from the dog, including the option of walking about freely. He shows how to train it to stay in a cage while you are gone. This eliminates the chance of it chewing furniture and, in one case he mentions, completely tearing up the linoleum in the kitchen while the owner was away. By shutting down all paths to freedom, the owner can become the dog's alpha. Just after telling this parable, the writer of the Gospel remembers an event that happened right afterwards, one that no doubt glued the lesson into his long-term memory.

"It came to pass, as he said these things, a certain woman out of the multitude lifted up her voice, and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts which nursed you!" But he said, `On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God, and keep it.'" (Luke 11:28, WEB)

The criterion, then, is not sources or origins, as with any worldly phenomenon, but obedient action. The proof of the dog whisperer's skill is in watching how dogs respond to his lead. Same way, if a believer obeys, we know that he has heard the voice of his Master, or if a citizen is happy, we can be sure that his social obligations are being fulfilled.


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