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Leadership And The Power Of The Observer

10/05/2016 8:10 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Humans are capable of conscious experience--for example, to feel the blueness of blue as distinct from a spectrometer which can record the blueness but cannot feel it. This has been identified as the hard problem of consciousness by Australian philosopher David Chalmers. But this points to a far greater capability of humans--to involve themselves in a feeling but still be at a distance from it and to observe that feeling. There are profound and great lessons of life and leadership disguised in this capability of consciousness that humans display to different degrees in various critical life and work situations.

The capability to consciously involve oneself in a situation in order to empathize with other people while at the same time detaching oneself inwardly to observe that situation is undoubtedly a great leadership capability. To be an effective leader, not only must you empathize with others in a critical situation but you must also be able to stand at a distance from it, objectively observe and show and lead the way out.

This capability to stand as an observer is a profound consciousness and leadership potential that some have naturally got and many more can consciously develop.

It becomes an even more difficult job to do when one is a part of the critical situation and has one's own share of the pain involved in it. It is here that the real capacity to observe is put to test. Instead of being carried away by the pain, one stands at a distance from the feeling and observes it. Not only observe the pain that continues as a feeling inside but observe one's whole egoic self that feels like as much of a victim as others in that situation. This capability to stand as an observer is a profound consciousness and leadership potential that some have naturally got and many more can consciously develop.

As one retreats within to take the stand of an observer and goes deep enough one can feel the whole egoic self coming into the purview of the observer, bringing in a perspective which has a real force of the power of detachment as well as empathy. This gives one a clear roadmap as a perspective as well as a clear course of powerful action.

A very prominent example that illustrates the point well is that of Nelson Mandela. Although he suffered for years along with millions of his compatriots and was imprisoned for almost three decades, he displayed the capacity to stand at a distance from the situation inwardly and observe it with detachment. The observer within him could so unbiasedly and cleanly detach from the painful situation that he could leave it all behind and lead himself and his people into fresh and novel avenues of progress, leaving all hatred and prejudice behind.

"As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in a prison," he famously said. This is evidence that the observer within stood taller than the egoic self that had been involved in and victimized by the situation.

Developing a perspective, mapping other peoples' viewpoints, putting them in context and connecting them in a situation is not possible without this capacity to become an observer.

Much like a great novelist who observes the lives of people and can employ a "shifting viewpoint" as he sets out to describe them in his work of art, a great leader can empathize with different viewpoints. This is possible only with an observer within who can rise beyond one's egoic perception and understand others' viewpoints and work out a synthesis if need be.

Developing a perspective, mapping other peoples' opinions and viewpoints, putting them in a proper context and connecting them in a situation is not possible without this capacity to become an observer.

This observer is an immensely important imaginative possibility that arises out of human capability to be "conscious of being conscious" as described by Gerald Edelman in Wider Than the Sky: The Phenomenal Gift of Consciousness. This can be developed into a greater power improving and developing one's own as well as others' lives, which is something that profound spiritual, philosophical texts like the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads bring out. It puts into proper perspective not only the outer world but also oneself.

In Western philosophy, the observer is envisioned as a source from where impartial observation and judgment flow in our lives. But the observer as a spiritual potential and possibility of human consciousness is what truly equips us with a great leadership capability.

When human intelligence steeps itself in the purity and power of observership it is capable of rising to a higher perspective and show humanity novel avenues of progress. When Einstein rose above the centuries-old Newtonian mechanistic worldview he was able to give humanity a novel vision of the world. Our ways of seeing the world determine our worldview. Our worldview flows into our ways of living.

Nelson Mandela had the power to look beyond the long-rooted vision and policy of apartheid, despite being a victim of it and suffering 27 years of imprisonment. He not only rose above it but also had a clear perspective and a penetrating insight into the system that he sought to purge of evil.

Nelson Mandela had the power to look beyond the long-rooted vision and policy of apartheid, despite being a victim of it and suffering 27 years of imprisonment.

Observership is a deep spiritual seeing into not only the outward circumstances and forces underlying them but also into the inward egoic complex and forces of nature which are in close correspondence with the outward circumstances and their underlying forces. A great leader is able to penetrate deep and see through in both the directions. In this sense it's "total seeing" or "seeing in totality." It is for this reason that it is also transformational and compassionate.

J. Krishnamurti takes observership to its highest heights possible when he says, "The observer is the observed". In fact the whole frame of observation depends on the limitations that the observer imposes upon itself. It is the angle or the stand that the observer takes which decides the frame of observation within which we observe the world around. This realization leads to choiceless and total awareness. Thus, unless we realize the essential truth of Krishnamurtiji's words we are not able to surpass the limitations of the observer.

The Mundaka (III, i,1,2) and the Shvetashvatara Upanishads (IV,6,7) and the Bhagavad Gita (XIII,22,23) lay great emphasis on this potential and power of 'pure observership'. Summing up the essence of their teachings on 'observership':

It's like two birds sitting on two branches of a tree.

One eating and enjoying the fruit,

The other just observing, rooted in the delight of pure observation.

Both these birds signify the power of the observer within us.

One can choose to float along the stream of nature or the ordinary stream of consciousness,

Or one can rise above and be a pure spectator.

As the Gita elucidates, this potential to rise above truly empowers. It gives us a real leverage over our own ordinary or lower tendencies of nature and rise into our higher perspective and potential.

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