Throughout the COVID-19 crisis I have prayed for our leaders – for President Trump, for Governor Cooper, for their advisors, for congressional and legislative leaders, for local leaders, for health care leaders, and for those who lead education. The situations they face demand wise leadership. The answers are not easy. The scientific community is not of one mind, and the newness of this virus leads to changing opinion. There is no clear option that is the obvious course to take; every path they choose to take has costs and risks.
The media scrutinizes and critiques their every word and decision. Depending on the media bias, they are either praised or condemned. The general public takes to social media platforms where we all consider ourselves expert journalists and proceed to critique our leaders and their decisions, often with overstated and cruel words. We accuse them of making decisions with malevolent intent, as if these leaders would really desire to bring harm to the people they serve and lead.
In the midst of the pandemic, leaders have also had to address issues related to the unjust killing of black men. “Black Lives Matter” protests and debate over racial injustice and how it should be addressed challenge our leaders. The polarization of our society, both socially and politically, leads to harsh critique of our leaders in the media and social media from at least some voices, no matter what leaders say, propose and decide.
Hopeless leadership situations are often described by the phrase, “herding cats”. Herding cats refers to the impossibility of trying to control the uncontrollable. When people are so insistent on their individual rights and preferences and are unwilling to go along for the greater good we are behaving as cats that refuse to be led. Many of us decry the sorry state of leadership; few of us are willing to admit the greater problem may be the sorry state of “followership”.
This week we are watching as our leaders try to determine the best way to educate our children and teens as the new school year rapidly approaches. The leaders face two realities. COVID-19 has not gone away. People are transmitting and getting this disease. Most recover without long term issues. Some, however, get quite ill. Some die. Young people seem less likely to get seriously ill from the disease. But, there is likelihood that some teachers and students will get the virus and transmit the virus. Some may become gravely ill. The second reality is that our children need to be educated. On-line learning efforts were commendable in the Spring, but there is no evidence that on-line learning is preferred for education. Our young need the interaction with teachers, they need the socialization of being with peers and engaging in extra-curricular activities that help them to discover their interests and passions. We also know quite well that students live in different home situations – the impact of suspending all on-campus education is greater for some than others.
Making decisions in the light of the two competing realities is difficult. The best path our leaders have indicated would be a Plan B approach – a combination of at school and on-line learning. However, as decisions are announced the outcry is overwhelming. The accusations that leaders are ignoring health concerns and are indifferent to illness and death unfairly mount. The media fuels the frenzy. And, it appears more and more likely that school systems will collapse against the outcries and reject our leaders’ plans to have kids on campus and engaged in activities they need. Herding cats indeed!
Much of the Bible is about leading people – the Exodus, the kings, Jesus with the disciples, and Paul with the early churches. People have been hard to lead for a long time. But, the Scriptures are clear – being good followers leads to better outcomes than complaining and rebellion. A “stiff-necked people” who refuse to be led are headed for disaster.
With all of the lamenting for good leadership, let me add a voice calling for good following. In these difficult times, one great contribution to make for the good of our communities, state, nation and world would be this – be easy to lead!