This week’s reading beautifully displays perspectives spanning the continuum of both subjective and objective historical viewpoints while centering leadership in its most honest, visceral, and human forms. MLK Jr’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail provided an intimate, incarnate, and soul wrenching glimpse into the imprisonment black Americans experienced from our nation’s inception through Civil Rights era. Conversely, Global Leadership Perspectives displays incredible objectivity, both by the editor (Simon Western and Éric-Jean Garcia) who so beautifully encapsulate and analyze the various leadership perspectives, and the individual authors who present excellent insight into their national and cultural context while casting vision for what leadership must look like moving forward.
Western and Garcia’s work is grand in its scope, yet humble in its attempt to propose an ideal leadership model. Instead, writes Western and Garcia, “[…] the gaps identified in the insider-analysis (Chapters 1-20) allowed us to look for what was left out […] Lack leads to desire, and desire points to the symptom, which in turn points to the Lacanian ‘Real’. The ‘Real’ in this case is the leadership that cannot be spoken, the leadership that cannot be captured by empirical research or by knowledge, that sits outside of language and the symbolic, yet resonates in mysterious and unidentifiable ways. This research analysis approach aimed not only to define knowledge but also to gain a glimpse of the Real; to loosely name symptoms that emerged from the chapters, and to use these symptoms to get a sense of the unobtainable ‘Real’ of leadership […]”
Truly, Western and Garcia beautifully hold the tension of the opposites. They do not hold this tension simply by deferring to the median opinion, or by scouring for the common ground among vast differences in leadership perspectives, but by guiding the reader through the ‘narrow way,’ which requires presence with the individual and collective symptoms, while actively choosing engagement rather than disenchanted naïveté. Their work is objective, yet not detached; incarnate, yet clearly not under the illusion of a utopia void of the opposition.
Martin Luther King Jr’s admonishing composition, Letters from a Birmingham Jail provides an incisive, subjective, and personal recollection of the unimaginable injustices done to black Americans. However, though King speaks intimately of the injustice he and his fellow African Americans’ endured, he does not loosen the tension of opposites. King’s commitment to non-violent direct action is case in point. Non-violent direct action is by definition, non-violent, and highly active, and requires a conscious decision to stand firm yet not return violence for violence. King writes, “There are two kinds of laws. Just laws and unjust laws. We have a moral responsibility to keep just laws, but also have a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” He paraphrases Saint Augustine writing, ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’
For King, keeping the tension of the opposites requires non-violence while being conscious of the personal and systemic violence committed against black Americans; likewise, holding this tension requires active civil disobedience, which he saw not as anti-law, but rather an ascent to its highest forms and ideals, to justice. He poignantly writes, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just, and any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”
Such tension is archetypal, meaning it is essential and ontologically rooted in the human experience. Due to America’s historical-global influence, economic affluence, and our undergirding myth of Manifest Destiny, exceptionalism, and white supremacy, coupled with our vast land mass, isolated geography, and enormous population, such tension is nearly impossible. However, non-violent direct action enables us to see the collective tension, which go unnoticed to the powerful, privileged, and societally affluent. To paraphrase King, non-violent direct action is not the creator of tension. It merely brings tension to the surface.
One of MLK Jr’s most notable paradigms in his letters is around the white moderate. He poetically and prophetically writes, “The negros’ great stumbling block in his great stride towards freedom is not the white citizen’s counselor, or the Ku Klux Klan, But the white moderate who is more devoted to order then to justice. Who prefers a negative peace, which is the absence of tension to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice.” Episcopal priest and Jungian analyst, John A Sanford puts it this way, “Indeed, if we strive to be too good we only engender the opposite reaction in the unconscious. If we try to live too much in the light, a corresponding amount of darkness accumulates within.” I would go as far to say that this ‘negative peace’ is led and perpetuated by a diseased Christian imagination that refused to confront its shadowed complicity with racial, ethnic, and gender injustice.
In conclusion, it is the American Benedictine monk, David Steindl-Rast who so eloquently writes, “In its enthusiasm for the divine light, Christian theology has not always done justice to the divine darkness […] Then we try to live up to the standard of a God that is purely light and we can’t handle the darkness within us. And because we can’t handle it, we suppress it.” Our collectively suppressed darkness does not go away. Rather it comes out sideways in the form of policy, social structures, unconscious bias, and passive moderation. This is the leadership gap in the United States. We see glimpses of this gap filled in by Joe Biden, but then he/his administration return to ‘white moderation’. I do sense a socio-political shift to a spirit reminiscent of MLK Jr’s vision, but it’s longtail. The birth-pains are felt through the protectionist spirit of MAGA republicans, who shamelessly identify with our collective shadow. Certainly, rumblings of a moderate/centrist movement seek to find common ground, but this does not confront our shadow, and inevitably maintains ‘negative peace’.
 Simon Western and Éric-Jean Garcia, Global Leadership Perspectives: Insights and Analysis (55 City Road, London, 2018), https://doi.org/10.4135/9781529714845. 266-290.
 Martin Luther King, “Letter From Birmingham Jail” (Read by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr), 2021, https://open.spotify.com/episode/4A0ZSkg3tWF6ZLixBP49DN.
 John A. Sanford, Evil: The Shadow Side of Reality (Crossroad, 1981).23.
 Connie Zweig, Meeting the Shadow (Penguin, 2020). 132.