In some cultures, mirrors are spiritual icons. They’re featured prominently in legends of all kinds. In Japan, for example, the mirror holds a prominent place in many household shrines. A mirror was one of three sacred objects given to Japan’s first emperor by the Sun Goddess Amaterasu’s grandson. Mirrors in ancient Japan represented truth because they reflected only what stood before them. They were a source of much mystique and reverence (being uncommon items) in that time. Today in Japan they symbolize wisdom.
When you look in your mirror, what does it tell you? Does it remind you of your flaws, things about you that must be covered up before you greet the day? Or does it remind you that you are the only one in your life who can make your day, your week, your month, your year, your life an amazing experience? Is your mirror encounter positive or negative?
Mirrors can inspire you to be your best, or they can evoke interpretations you hold about yourself that trigger shame. I wonder how many take the latter interpretation over the former. Perhaps that’s why so many people look to others to solve problems they see in the world. They are too connected with their smallness and minimize (or even ignore) their greatness, that reality of who they are that can change the world.
Maybe that’s been the bane of our existence—feeling small and insignificant, we look outside ourselves, expecting others to come up with the answers.
Cult of Personality
Charismatic leaders have always taken advantage of this. They’re smart, funny, outgoing, and seem to know something we don’t. Their personalities are attractive and draw us in.
Many charismatic leaders have served humanity well. Others, not so much. These days, however, the charismatic leader—that larger-than-life figure who rallies millions around a cause—is hard to find. The Gandhis, Kings, Kennedys . . . these people are fewer and farther between. We have our Thích Nhất Hạnhs and the Lhamo Dondrubs. We have our Damons and DiCaprio’s. But these people aren’t making the kind of earth-shattering changes we all know humanity needs.
We may be keen to the shenanigans that sometimes accompany charisma. Perhaps society moves too fast, or ideas charismatic leaders bring these days are too fleeting. Maybe some charismatic leaders are too focused on making a crap-ton of money with the latest app, tech innovation, or social hack, than to focus on the opportunities that could really make a difference.
Even leaders with no real charisma, but whose leadership is founded on more enduring principles—courage, bold action in the face of certain self-destruction or failure—don’t last long in the public’s consciousness. The Edward Snowdens, Chelsea Mannings, and Gary Webbs come to mind. Their work leaves an enduring mark, but in most cases the world hasn’t changed in the way we plan to change it here at Copiosis.
Public consciousness in the age of 140 characters may also be too fickle to hold even these leaders in long-term esteem. We’re on to the next thing before they can captivate our attention. The establishment doesn’t tolerate them as it once did either. They’re easy targets. They are often crushed so completely and often early in their careers our memories of them fade quickly. The nail that pokes up, gets the hammer. Establishment retaliation can be swift and severe. Can you say character assassination? These people’s personal and professional lives rarely recover. Is it any wonder we see fewer leaders of this kind?
Maybe the era of larger-than-life charismatic leadership is over. If the era of the mega-leader is done, what or who fills the void? Perhaps the person in your mirror.
“MLK and Malcolm X USNWR cropped” by Marion S. Trikosko, U.S. News & World Report Magazine