Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Waters in Which We Swim

Written by: on January 27, 2021

From an early age, Mussolini was tossed into the deep end of the political pool. His father supplied the water from Socialist journals and the local newspaper; Mussolini had little choice but to dogpaddle his way along. By the age of 19, Mussolini began to come into his own understanding of politics and philosophy. He was a self-proclaimed “Bohemian…(who) made his own rules and did not even keep them.”[1] He had no respect for Socialists, whom he considered “weak and flabby as spaghetti.”[2] His contempt for the Socialist waters he was raised in was equally matched by his violent sexual drive, which treated women as objects to be ruthlessly conquered.[3]

Mussolini’s primary driver in life was to leave his mark in the world. This endeavor began with submitting articles to local news publications, voicing his anti-Socialist positions and other opposing positions he held against the multitude of people he disliked. His appetite for knowledge drove him to read a variety of writings, including Marx, Nietzsche, Blanqui (a violent French revolutionary), Kropotkin (the Russian anarchist), and Lebon, author of The Psychology of the Crowd. Mussolini would take the ideas of each of these thinkers and activists and piece them together in his own unique, often incoherent, way. His political opinions combined with his strong opposition to religion led to a number of arrest and imprisonments by the age of twenty.[4] The waters he chose to swim in were violent and destructive to all who were in the way.

As a soldier in the Italian army, He proved himself a good, disciplined, hard-working soldier. His time on the front lines, deep in the trenches, hardened him. Having sustained injuries in war entitled him to an even more staunch position against socialist, pacifists, and neutralists. With his return from war, he began envisioning a “new Italy,” which would be led by a dictator “ruthless and energetic enough to make a clean sweep.” Indeed, he even proposed he was just the man for such a task.[5] In 1919, with a rag-tag group of men from different political persuasions and positions, Mussolini formed a fighting group called Fascio di Combattimento. The anti-Socialist, anti-capitalist Fascio stood on a tough political platform which included “80 percent tax on war profits, confiscation of property belonging to the Church, the abolition of the Stock Exchange, and the handing over of industrial management to the workers.”[6] Their first attempt at running for political office in 1919 was a failure, leaving many to believe Mussolini “a political corpse…and Fascism and still born movement.”[7]

Not to be deterred, Mussolini learned from this failure and moved into new waters filled with rhetoric promoting Fascism as Italy’s savior. The economically down-trodden Italian population, ready for solutions to the country’s dire problems, began willingly wading into the waters of Fascism, who’s violent, anti-Communist stance brought stability to volatile circumstances more effectively than the reigning political powers.[8] By 1921, “Mussolini had become a national figure, the leader at thirty-seven of a political party which was growing every month in size and influence.”[9] The Fascist “pool party” was in full swing, and in time, all would be required to join.

As I consider these early years of Mussolini’s life, I’m reminded that rarely we are aware of the waters in which we swim. Awareness happens when another swimmer comes along, uses language to describe the water temperature, color, and flow, and invites us into a different body of water. It takes courage to make such a change. It takes wisdom and discernment to know if that change is for the betterment of all or just the betterment of me. As a leader, I have a responsibility to not just be aware of the water in which I swim, but to also be willing to step away from that water if it is toxic or damaging to others. I have a responsibility to research and carefully select my swimming space. As a follower of Jesus, I am to select water that has space for all people, from all places, and for all times. I’m to select waters that are life giving and restorative. I’m to invite others into that flowing stream, and travel with them as the currents of freedom and goodness carry us along to the vast expanse of Grace.


[1] Christopher Hibbett. Mussolini: The Rise and Fall of Il Duce. (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 1962, 2008) 7.

[2] Ibid., 7.

[3] Ibid., 7.

[4] Ibid., 9-10.

[5] Ibid., 24-25.

[6] Ibid., 26.

[7] Ibid., 27.

[8] Ibid., 28-29.

[9] Ibid., 31.

About the Author

Darcy Hansen

14 responses to “The Waters in Which We Swim”

  1. Dylan Branson says:

    Darcy, what are some ways that you’ve learned to recognize the waters that you’re swimming in? What have the experiences of “getting out of the water” been like for you as you reflect and plunge back into them?

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      I had originally written some of them into the post, but took them out for brevity sake. I have been swimming in the waters of whiteness all my life. I didn’t really know this until I went to seminary, where I also learned that I’d been swimming in the waters of mainline, Protestant, conservative, Evangelicalism for 20 years. Those waters shaped how I engage with and experience the world, God, myself, and others. Seminary offered me new waters to try out and new ways of seeing myself. Stepping out of the water was difficult and super uncomfortable, but also very freeing. I was and continue to be grateful for the people who’ve loved and helped me become increasingly aware of the waters, both past and present. I’m still learning. It is a life long journey.

  2. Greg Reich says:

    When I think of water I don’t think of a peaceful lake though at times that is beneficial. I think of a river. at times there are restful pools, other times trickling currents and yet at other times turbulent rapids. Each and every part of the river serves a purpose. The trickling current stirs up oxygen, the rapids help churn up biological matter quiet pools allow sediment to fall to the bottom of the river creating a place of fertility and growth. With each part fish couldn’t survive. The churning of the water dislodges food they need. They are alive because they swim against the current. For them not to swim is certain death. Aa a fly fishermen I have found that the largest fish don’t lie in the quiet pools but in the current and eddies created by boulders because they know thats where the food is. For me I don’t look for water of tranquility I look for water filled with life and possibility. At times this is water that can get turbulent but like the fish I have found that I need all the river not just the tranquil pools. I have found that some people struggle to swim in turbulent waters but with the right guide turbulent waters can be navigated and people can thrive.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      I love the river imagery and the life it brings through each of it’s states of being. What do we do when the waters we swim in are filled with toxic waste? How do we clean those up so they bring forth the life? It would seem that as a leader, we have choices to make. Mussolini stayed the course and remained in waters that brought forth violence and destruction- any idea or person in opposition to him was belittled or conquered. There was no willingness to experience or share life-giving waters. For me, his example is a warning and a challenge- to not only be careful where I swim, but to choose the waters I wish to enter wisely. I pray I chose the ones that give life for all the fish;)

  3. Greg Reich says:

    I grew up on the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers. Both had issues in some locations with mining contamination. In many cases the contamination fell to the bottom of the river and was covered by health sediment. When it is churned up problems arise and we are reminded of the poor mining practices if the past. When appropriate there is a need for a major cleanup removing some of the contaminated sediment. This is done in ways as to not damage the rive but to restore it. There is a level of toxicity in everything we do. Chemicals combined irresponsibly can have bad effects! None of us would consume a handful of dirt but within that dirt are chemicals like iodine that in the right doses are healthy. An over abundance can cause server side effects.

    Within the body of Christ there is a level of toxicity. Some of this is due to the fact that God has chosen to place His spirit and calling upon earthen vessels. Since this is the case there is often a fine line between that which is holy and spiritual in our lives and that which is fleshly and sinful. Sometimes we see a combination of both. The flesh unchecked can have serious side effects and bridge on the edge of evil. Thus the constant need for forgiveness and renewal of our minds through the word as the Apostle Paul advises. Other times through poor theology and doctrine creating poor practice damage to the body has been done. Over time these practices have sunk to the bottom and have been covered over with better doctrines and practices. When turbulence comes toxic sediment is churned to the surface causing hurt and confusion. In the fulness of God’s time revival and healing comes to the body and the gospel thrives. We see in Matthew 13 the parable of the tears amidst the wheat which represents the Kingdom of God. The issue wa s that weeds where planted amidst the wheat causing concern to the farmers. The answer was don’t pull up the weeds for fear of uprooting and destroying some of the wheat. Leave the weeds until the harvest and they will be separated then. Mean while keep planting and nurturing wheat. My job is to love and nurture not abandon the body to its own demise. My job isn’t to recreate the body in my image either like many are trying to do. God will separate things in His appointed time. We have seen this separation happen throughout the history of the church. Ultimately when Jesus comes again the final filtering of toxicity will take place. If I wade in and start uprooting weeds I will surely damage the innocent in the process. Does uprooting weeds ever condone tromping around and damaging those who are innocently serving God? All true and lasting change comes from within and that change can only be down through Christ!

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      I always appreciate your wisdom. Thanks for taking time to unpack your thoughts some more:) There are just so many considerations during these tumultuous times in which live. Trusting God for discernment is key. Also, “Ultimately when Jesus comes again the final filtering of toxicity will take place.” Indeed.

  4. John McLarty says:

    What’s that old story? Two saltwater fish were having a conversation while swimming around one day and one asked the other, “are you afraid of the ocean?” to which the other replied, “what’s an ocean?” You’re right- we can be right in the middle of something and not even know it. I’m also struck at how quickly and easily the masses can be manipulated. If our leadership is about helping people recognize what’s happening around them AND see/trust God in the midst of it all, what are some good ways to keep from getting caught up in the current?

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      I was going to include that fish imagery here, but I had written in a post or an essay somewhere recently and didn’t want to repeat myself if that was in this space. But it is perfect for highlighting our obliviousness to our surroundings that shape and sustain us.

      You ask a great question- As I consider what it would be like to be caught in a current, I suppose the survival tips apply here: stay afloat, call for help, swim parallel to the shore, do not fight the current. So to put it another way: maintain perspective by staying on the surface, enlist helpful sources/voices, intentionally change direction to avoid being sucked out to sea or down under, and maintain composure. All of these require being aware of how fear drives my fight or flight reactions. Or better yet, how do we avoid the current all together? Stay out of the water when conditions are less than favorable? Sometimes that’s an option, other times, not so much.

      • John McLarty says:

        It seems harder today to stay out of the current, to choose not to fight some fights. Maybe because our social media feeds really stoke those fires. I have people who I love who get really bent out of shape over the actions of US Representatives who live and were elected from another parts of the country. I really want to know why they choose to let some of those people live rent free in their heads. I think people would be so much happier if they put down their phones, got off the couch, and just went for a nice walk. A Congressperson might say something outrageous, but last time I checked, they still only get one vote out of 435. But when we stay amped up all the time, it hinders our ability to respond effectively and appropriately during those times when we do need to jump into the fray.

  5. Jer Swigart says:

    I’m finding that the initial step of identifying that there are waters that I’ve been shaped within is a very significant one. It’s one that is often overlooked. We assume that folks know that they swim in a particular fishbowl within a larger aquarium. Too few of us do. How would you guide an individual through that initial step of identifying the waters?

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      I suppose the best way to begin identifying the waters is to ask questions. Be curious. Engage with others in a way that spurs increased awareness of their surroundings. I’ve also found that as I become increasingly aware of that which has shaped me and written about it via social media, it has caused others to start asking questions and becoming aware, too. So ask questions and share. What else? I’m sure there are other ways to begin identifying the waters in which we swim. Certainly, immersion experiences definitely fit that category.

  6. Shawn Cramer says:

    Darcy, your opening paragraph is worth considering as parents. The water which parents help provide for children shapes them in many ways. I met with a young Indian man who worked on the front lines of rescuing sex slaves. He said his sense of justice was instilled in him by his mother, who would serve simple meals to refugees at the train station. A subscription to a journal, a simple meal… these mark individuals and place them on trajectories.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Agreed. I’m concerned about the aggression level in our country right now, and how it will impact children for generations to come. I know we already see evidence of this from generations past, but this current climate is very concerning. How is it grooming future oppressors, militants, and agitators? But thankfully, the opposite is also true. Many people are finding their voice and becoming advocates and activists for justice, goodness, and freedom. Kids are always watching and listening. May they see and be inspired by the latter more than the former.

  7. Chris Pollock says:

    Thanks Darcy, I appreciate learning from you as you’re learning from the life of Mussolini.

    I just listened to his voice on YouTube. He sure could get the people going! Powerful, electric, he sounded pretty good, what a presence. (I can imagine the kinds of things he was saying.)

    He did a bit of switch to be able to gain their attention. I guess in politics, it matters, like that. Manipulation. What to say, and how to say it, and how to look, so as to win the vote. Always on the lookout out for the ‘genuine article’. You’ve mentioned that you’re ‘not-too-sold’ on Taleb however, perhaps it can be observed throughout history that the tact of the fascist or totalitarian-type leaders invites a certain fragility (their outcome is never the best).

    Approach and messaging, as leaders, is pretty big. Gentle and wise 🙂 as encouraged by the one who said, ‘come unto me…and, I will give you rest.’ (Matthew 11:28, or so).

    What would that have looked and sounded like. How do you see the mindfulness/presence of Jesus expressed in the places and timing that he chose to connect with people?

Leave a Reply