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A call to public leadership

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The first words that came to mind were ‘Lemmings’ and ‘cliff’ even though that was very unfair to the rodents in question. The radio descriptions of a ‘mass movement of people’ to the beaches of Dorset were disturbing enough, but the subsequent TV footage was simply mind-blowing.

People arrived in droves, apparently oblivious to social distancing advice. The discarded litter and anti-social behaviour were even more depressing. And it wasn’t confined to Dorset either because ‘raves’ in London and all-out brawls in Ogmore did very little to enhance our national reputation. All of which must surely cast doubt on our sense of civic responsibility.

And just as ‘Boris and Co’ were making much of this theme, I was given a new book that deals with that very subject. Entitled ‘Lessons in Leadership’ and written by the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, it consists of a weekly reading of the Jewish Bible.  I found it a captivating read.

I should have expected nothing less of course. Lord Sacks possesses an extraordinary mind and an enviable ability to communicate truth in ways that resonate with everything I hold dear. So much so that I can readily say ‘Amen’ to the publisher’s claim that he is ‘one of the world’s leading Jewish thinkers and moral voices of our time’.

The exciting thing about this book is that it offers Sacks’ sharp mind and extensive knowledge, and a superb opportunity to illuminate one of the most pressing issues of our age: leadership. Now you might be tempted to think that I am going on to discuss Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

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Sacks won’t let us evade our own responsibilities. For Sacks, a leader is someone who takes responsibility. “Leadership is born,” he says, “when we become active not passive, when we do not wait for someone else to act because perhaps there is no one else – at least not here, not now. When bad things happen, some avert their eyes. Some wait for others to act. Some blame others for failing to act. Some simply complain. But there are people who say ‘If something is wrong let me be among the first to put it right. They are the leaders.”

I couldn’t agree with him more. Leaders make a difference and they do what they can to make this world a better place. Leadership is primarily not about office or positions of power; leaders influence others and good leaders inspire others to work for a better world.

I love the Hebrew language; it is so evocative and not least when it comes to the concept of ‘responsibility’. For, as Lord Sacks points out, the Biblical term comes from a word that essentially means ‘other’. That says it all because things would be so much better if we all learned to take ‘the other’ seriously.

How can we do that? Jesus summed it up this way: we are to love the Lord our God with every fibre of our being and love our neighbour with the same intensity that we love ourselves. Given the current covid pandemic, I would suggest that we need many more leaders who can inspire us to live this way. Or, as Lord Sacks might put it, perhaps a few more of us need to stand up and be counted!

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Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.

Views and opinions published in Christian Today are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

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