It started with an email and ballooned into a complicated problem within one of the communities I belong to. It was a tense few days before it settled down.
While we were trying to sort it all out, one of my mentors asked me to think about what my priorities were. My answer was almost immediate: it’s about the individuals, it’s about their safety and security. One of my guiding principles is that “Life is about relationships and not rules. That people will take priority over procedures”. I came to that conclusion (partly inspired by one of my Middle Eastern friends) at a time of my life when I was transitioning out of one community and into a time where I would wonder in the desert for a while. My “Long Walk”.
This guiding principle gave me a radical edge to my thinking and my actions. I was focused on the person in front of me, stopping for the one, being the Samaritan. What others would say or think wasn’t important, I would act independently and decisively, without compromise or listening to naysaying counsel.
At the time this was noble, brave and easy to do. Like the retiring Judges of MegaCity One, I had no community, no oversight, no accountability. But now I’ve joined a new community, I’m part of team, we work, plan, act and solve problems together. We support, protect and cover each other. I’m a strong team player, innovative, but not a leader. As I integrated into the new team, I readily accepted oversight and guidance of those in the community who were more experienced and given positions of responsibility. But, now they asked me to step aside, not to act, not to stop for the beaten traveller, they pointed out where my actions had already lead me outside the teams guiding rules, how cynical outsiders might start to question my propriety. The conversation ended with me feeling compromised in my guiding principles: they had asked me to base my actions on procedures rather than the people.
I was left with the choice of being team or going rogue. The leader’s authority and experience said one thing, my guiding principles something else. Where do I go now? Do I compromise on my principles and stay, helping to build something that will change lives, or stay ‘true to myself’ and walk away.
The cultures I live in are full of those who break the rules and reach new places. The Dalai Lama had said “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively”. So many of our movies heros are those who ignore orders from their leaders and succeed in whatever the mission is. Jesus had a theme of ignoring the rules of the religious authorities in preference to people who were sick, or hungry. But rules give common purpose and community. We might all choose different coloured cars, but what would happen if we all choose our own speeds or what side of the road we’d drive on!
Resolving my dilemma is difficult. There’s no solution. It remains in tension, suspended between two opposites points. Like a wire suspended across Niagra falls, which needs to be tensioned taut, before anybody can walk over it. But to me it seems that I need to slow my breathing, and find my centre point of balance on this wire. There will be times when it will be easy to be on either side or the other, and times when I need to walk the tightrope between the my personal principles and the teams procedures. One one side I’ll have gone rogue and left the team, on the other side I’ll have turned my back on myself and my principles.
Is this not compromising my principles? Am I not halfway over the gorge to becoming a ‘company man’? The answer, I suppose, has to be ‘yes’. But I’m only half way over, and who knows what the future holds, perhaps I’ll end up on the team side, or maybe the other, where I’ll leave the team and go rogue, or the third option…the tension becomes too high and the wire snaps, dropping me into the maelstrom and washing me down river to something new.