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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
21 April 2007
King Poet [Kavi Arasu] Kannadasan (1927-1981) apprenticed politics in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, as one of its founder members from 1949 to 1960. In 1961, he left the DMK party with his colleague E.V.K.Sampath and both established the short-lived Thamil Thesiya Kadchi [loosely translated as, Tamil Nationalist Party], which merged with the ever powerful and resourceful Congress Party subsequently. When DMK party said adieu to one of its founding principles [aka, agitation for a separate state for Dravidian language(s) speakers], Kannadasan had the last laugh and he ripped the then DMK leaders, including the founder C.N.Annadurai and his lieutenant and current DMK leader M.Karunanidhi, with the only weapon in which he was an unrivaled master. Rib-tickling derisive Tamil poetry was the weapon Kannadasan used for ridicule on his former pals turned political foes.
For taste, I provide just five lines – first in Tamil, and then in a liberal English translation – from one marvellous poem, that even the tormented victim of that poem (Annadurai, a true Tamil scholar) magnanimously felt ‘delighted’ in receiving such a skewering in Tamil poetry from the King Poet. Here are the five of Kannadasan’s skewering lines.
“Thalai Illaar Thalaivar-ena Naditthha Kaalam
In translation, these lines read:
‘Those without heads acted as heads in that era
The second and third lines presented above were ‘bulls-eye hits’ at the current DMK leader Karunanidhi [who had cornered the appellation ‘Kalaignar’ – the Artist – famously for his soap box oratorical skill in sonorous voice], whom Kannadasan despised for some reason or other. What is of relevance to the current discussion on leadership is the first selected line, in which Kannadasan used the literal and figurative meanings of the word ‘Thalai’ [literal meaning ‘head’, and derivative meanings ‘brain’ and ‘leadership’] for word play.
When this Kannadasan’s DMK-derisive poem appeared in early 1960s, in the aftermath of China-India war of 1962, I was a ten year old living in Wellawatte, Colombo 6. In those days, we were occasionally entertained by a Sinhalese stilt-walking street performer. A visit to our neighborhood by this boru kakula guy [Sinhalese, boru = false, and kakula = legs] would make our day in watching cheap entertainment.
The boru kakula –as we tagged him - was not so physically attractive though he amply used the white-powder to decorate his face. To enhance his ‘attraction’, he was a cross-dresser to hoot - a blouse in a gaudy color with a matching knee-length skirt was his dress of choice. He used to visit our neighborhood with a handkerchief in hand and singing a couple of Sinhalese baila songs. His voice was not of professional quality, but he provided some fun for onlookers, with his eccentric rendering of the then popular melodies like ‘Paratugeesi kaaraya – ratawal allanna Sooraya’, and dancing in stilts. This particular song, if I’m not wrong, tells the story about how Portuguese came to capture the Sinhalese Kandy kingdom, five centuries ago.
I mention Kannadasan’s DMK-derisive poem of early 1960s and this stilt-walking street entertainer of my childhood memory for a reason. Just make a check list of the so-called ‘alternate Eelam Tamil political leadership’, promoted by the news media analysts in Colombo, Chennai and New Delhi, as the best hopes for Tamils
In my view, these three are politically cross-dressing, stilt-walking dwarfs, providing cheap entertainment for onlookers in Colombo and Chennai. Eelam Tamils have designated these three as ‘those without Heads acting like heads’ (to borrow Kannadasan’s elegant lines).
Since 2004, Anandasangari has turned into a scavenger role, and Karuna plays the scarecrow role in Colombo politics. Devananda has settled himself since 1994 into an obligatory SLFP parasite role. By any reasonable criterion for assessment, can they show any positive achievement for Eelam Tamils, worthy of a leader? Why they are Tamil non-leaders (except in the eyes of Sinhalese policy makers in Colombo) is self-explanatory. First, these three cannot stand on their own legs, for want of followers. Secondly, these three thus stand on the decorated stilts – for the sole purpose of providing cheap entertainment. Thirdly, these three will suffocate without sustenance from Sinhalese-controlled government, military and news media.
To reproduce the first two lines of Emory Bogardus’s 1929 essay, presented in part 1 of this series, “Leadership is the special influence that one person exercises over other persons. It is manifested when one human being arouses the dormant attitudes of other persons, changes the attitudes of others, or arouses new attitudes in others. In each of these type-situations, the “other persons” are as important factors as the leader, and the process by which one person succeeds in affecting the attitudes of others is most important of all.”
It’s time for stock taking. Other than their routine bad-mouthing of LTTE’s leader Pirabhakaran to placate their Sinhalese political patrons, can the three nominally Tamil scavenger (Anandasangari), scarecrow (Karuna) and parasite (Devananda) politicians provide details for evaluation by Tamils, that by acting independently or collaboratively, how much they have aroused the dormant attitudes of Tamils, changed the attitudes of Tamils or aroused new attitudes of Tamils? –as stated by Bogardus in 1929.
One of Karuna’s boast when he was sacked by the LTTE in March 2004 was that he had taken with him around 6,000 cadres from the Eastern front. This number was gloatingly swallowed by the Indian gumshoes and scribes whose unfulfilled dream was to see LTTE’s disappearance. Now here is the latest information. As per a by-line news report by Sarasi Wijeratne,
If Karuna is indeed a “leader of the Eastern Eelam”, how come Karuna’s so-called “followers” had decreased from the magic number of “6,000” to “2,000” in three years? Even the “2,000” number is in all probabilities, nothing but a face-saving fake provided by a Karuna acolyte for political spin. The natives of Eastern Eelam and intelligence analysts have reported that the real field strength of Karuna “followers” range between 400 to 500 – all receiving vital sustenance from the Sri Lankan military.
Below I provide the complete text of a Presidential address by Emory Bogardus, which appeared in the Sociology and Social Research journal in 1931. In this address also, Bogardus emphasizes the point that “Leadership is but half of a process of which the other half is followership.” The prescription of Bogardus for optimal leadership strategy is to possess proper balance five pairs of personality traits. These are as follows: (1) aggressiveness and inhibition, (2) spontaneity and standardization, (3) vision and concentration, (4) versatility and specialization, (5) optimism and pessimism.
Balance in Leadership*
by Emory Bogardus
[Courtesy: Sociology and Social Research, March-April 1931, vol.15, pp.334-341. Note: The words and phrases in italics, are as in the original.]
Balance is a term used in describing the physical world with its balances of electrons and protons, the biological world with its balances of genes or of chromosomes, the personality world with its automatic and endocrine balances. Leadership, especially social leadership, also has its system of balances.
Leadership is a process whereby one person influences large numbers of persons in important social situations. Leadership is but half of a process of which the other half is followership. Leadership has its origins in an interplay of biological heredity, social heritage, personal experiences, and social opportunities and stimuli. A leader may be primarily an intellectualist such as John Dewey; an executive, such as Andrew Mellon, or a welfare leader, such as Ramsay MacDonald. Social leadership, the special background of this discussion, involves contacts with people, public appearances, a practical knowledge of human attitudes and yearnings.
Leadership, particularly social leadership, is often an expression of a combination or balance of personality traits. Sometimes one personality trait stands out, but generally another is also operative, holding the first in check and keeping it from going to the extreme. The simplest balance in leadership, to which this paper will be confined, is that of two personality traits operating in a system or configuration or gestalt.
Aggressiveness and inhibition, for example, may be viewed as personality traits which if expressed separately defeat leadership, but if operating in a balanced system give a proper setting for leadership. The person who is ever aggressive becomes tiresome; he becomes unpopular. He does not last long unless there is no one else available to meet special situations. He is soon accused of desire for personal power. Overaggressiveness led Napoleon to St.Helena; the German Junkers to Versailles.
Overaggressiveness or obtrusiveness brings sharp adverse reactions. The able but obtrusive person is tolerated but not joyfully accepted as a leader. The person with an exaggerated ego may be recognized because he does things that need to be done or because he does needed things better than anyone else. His aggressiveness defeats his other claims to distinction.
Inhibition, on the other hand, taken by itself, hinders achievement, fears to undertake difficult tasks, and smothers ability in disability. Inhibition leads to inferiority complexes. Inhibition never risks. Inhibition holds back when situations are calling loudly for someone to step out ahead.
The able but backward person is likely never to achieve because he does not try. He who will not accept responsibility, who not only keeps out of sight but out of work, who is afraid to make mistakes, who is always apologizing, who cringes at the slightest criticism, never attains a leadership level. How often we hear it said of a person: ‘It is too bad that he does not come out of his shell.’
When found together in a perfected balance, aggressiveness and inhibition, however, overcome each other’s weaknesses. Inhibited aggressiveness pushes ahead on occasions of special need, but does not rush headlong against stone walls or over precipices. It is buoyantly strong but not superficially glad like Pollyana. It puts a mighty shoulder to the wheel of great tasks, but is not forever boosting anything and everything. It hopes all things but also endures all things.
In a perfected balance, aggressiveness gives courage, while inhibition prevents recklessness. Aggressiveness speaks up frankly, but inhibition prevents it from being brutally frank. Aggressiveness criticizes, but inhibition keeps the criticism from turning into meanness. Aggressiveness hopes for the best, while inhibition is busy preparing for the worst. Aggressiveness drives a person over obstacles, but inhibition holds him from stumbling headlong. Aggressiveness uses up energy but inhibition saves energy for another day. Aggressiveness pushes a person out in front, but inhibition keeps him from getting so far ahead that his is disowned by his group. Aggressiveness seeks the new, while inhibition holds on to the best of the past until the new has demonstrated its superiority. Aggressiveness expends, while inhibition conserves. Aggressiveness shoots its little bark over rolling waves; inhibition ‘sits pretty’, keeping the boat from rocking too much. Under restraint aggressiveness grows restless to smash ahead by revolutionary means, but inhibition insists that time be given a chance to move by evolutionary change. Either aggressiveness or inhibition expressed separately may defeat leadership, but when integrated properly are leadership in operation.
If the excess aggression of the overly aggressive person could be cut off and given to the habitually backward person, both might become leaders. Behead one person’s obtrusiveness and transform it into pep for the bashful person, and two leaders might be made to grow where now there is none.
A second set of personality traits which need to be integrated in order to give that balance of personality which spells leadership is spontaneity and standardization. Spontaneity is catching; it attracts attention; it surprises and pleases; it is magnetic and captivating, but it is all too often unreliable. He who leads by fits and jerks, who is ‘up’ in spirit today and ‘down’ tomorrow, who cannot do much unless he ‘feels like it’, or unless ‘the spirit moves him’, soon exhausts his leadership opportunities.
On the other hand, the trait of standardization possesses great reliability, and the standardized person can be counted on, for he moves by precision and generally knows whereof he speaks, for he handles routine rapidly, for he carries the load when there is no gallery and no applause. However, he is not magnetic, becomes the center of no multitude, does not enjoy the company of the brilliant. Systematic, orderly, he is tiring to many persons who wish that he would kick over the traces once in a while. His personality gets locked up within his own standardization devices, and his leadership shrinks.
Let a person keep his spontaneity but return it into varied channels of system, and leadership opportunities will knock at his door. Let the spontaneous person become systematic enough to be dependable; and let the standardized person loosen up sufficiently to become stimulating; then both will grow into the stature of leadership. Spontaneity integrated with system gives a balance in personality that presages leadership.
A third balanced integration of personality traits that may be coined into leadership is vision and concentration. Vision alone pulls a person out toward the far horizon in all directions. Concentration by itself pins him down to a dead center. Vision alone becomes visionary; concentration alone becomes aloofness, but taken together, vision makes a person circumspect, while concentration affords thoroughness and attention to detail. Vision prevents concentration from losing itself in a rut or a well, while concentration gives point to vision.
When coupled together properly, vision furnishes concentration an adequate setting. Vision gives meaning to concentration. Vision enables a person to concentrate wisely, with reference to time, place and the object. Vision extricates concentration from blind alleys. Concentration, on the other hand, prevents vision from becoming wholly superficial. Concentration adds achievement to vision. Pulling together vision and concentration create leadership.
A fourth couplet of personality traits, closely related to the vision-concentration balance, is versatility and specialization. Versatility, the ability to do many things, is often its own downfall. If you can do many things you may become superficial in some. If you are versatile you may easily become overburdened. Multiplicity of stimuli in a large city transforms any capable person into a multiple-burdened Atlas staggering along with many worlds of responsibilities on his courageous back.
Specialization, on the other hand, may mean going to seed. It may shrink into narrowness and intolerance. It may begin with a groove and end in a grave. The different groups of social science specialists in the past, for instance, have often poked fun at each other and cracked sharp jokes at each other’s expense; each group meanwhile has blindly believed its own specialty to be superior to any of the others.
Together, versatility and specialization keep a person at enough tasks to bring out his main abilities but do not allow him to become a crank on any one thing. Together, versatility and specialization keep a person at work on just enough problems to enable him to move from one to another with a winning freshness of attack. A dozen or more problems at a time dissipates human energy, while only one in season and out upsets mental equilibrium, but a balance between marks the road to leadership.
A fifth citation of balance in personality traits affecting leadership is optimism and pessimism. The always optimistic person is cheery to have around but does not inspire followership in crisis. A hundred percent optimism does not grapple sufficiently with harsh realities to make its leadership efficient in strenuous hours. Optimism has a blind eye. It is especially subject to the fallacy of wishful thinking; whatever it wants badly it is sure is going to happen.
But what about the always pessimistic person? He arouses no enthusiasm for anything, not even for his pessimism. He inspires no one to go anywhere, or to undertake anything helpful. He is like the old story of the Irishman who died, but who did not believe in Heaven or Hell, and who reported back that he was all dressed up and had nowhere to go. Constant pessimism shuffles along heavy-footedly through the mire of discouragement into despair. Pessimism is guilty of doubting, instead of doubling itself to the task; it pulls back instead of pushing ahead.
Balance in leadership requires an integration of optimism and pessimism. To become a leader, a person needs to have a throbbing artery of optimism balanced by a vein of pessimism. Optimism without a ballast of pessimism is at the mercy of the winds. Pessimism enables optimism to keep its feet on the earth while pointing skyward. Acting together, pessimism requires of a leader a careful chart, prepares him for a stormy day, equips him for emergencies, while optimism carries him over troublesome obstacles, keeps him going when others are wavering, cheers him and his followers on when the load is a burden and the sky is murky overhead.
Balance in leadership means that a person may be optimistic about his pessimism, thankful that he has some; and pessimistic about his optimism, that is, suspicious of it. Without either he would be unfit as a leader. With both working together in a perfected configuration, he is already on the highway of leadership.
It may now be noted that balance in leadership does not mean a deadlock of personality traits; neither does it signify a deadly warring of opposing elements; neither does it imply first one trait in charge and then its opposite in operation. Balance in leadership means a system or a configuration not of opposing personality traits but of opposites working harmoniously together as the night works with the day. It does not imply situations such as the one represented by a boy who was upstairs having a temper tantrum. His brother offered the following explanation: “Billie is upstairs. He wants badly to come down – but he won’t let himself.” Balance in leadership is no dual personality dilemma. It is no Dr.Jekyl and Mr.Hyde affair; it is more like Andy and Amos, a traveling equilibrium, each stimulating and checking the other.
Balance in leadership is a superior integration or configuration, whereby, for instance, aggressiveness and inhibition work together, driving a person ahead to meet strenuous emergencies with magnificent control; whereby a captivating spontaneity makes attractive a dependable, efficient standardization; whereby vision enables a person to concentrate wisely; whereby versatility keeps concentration from losing its head in the sand; whereby optimism and pessimism stimulate a person to look all the time and everywhere for the very best and at the same time keeps him prepared for the worst. St.Paul illustrated the idea even when in bondage. You may recall his words: “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”