This short piece by Robert K. Greenleaf was published in the May, 1976 issue of Friends Journal: Quaker Thought and Life Today. I find his words to be timely, thought-provoking and challenging. This morning, Gentle Reader, I offer Greenleaf’s words for your consideration. Greenleaf writes:
Late in January of 1976 I attended an International Symposium on Leadership Development that was held in Indianapolis under the auspices of The Center for the Exploration of Values and Meaning which is based there. In the course of the conference I had occasion to say some of the following things.
…we Americans are arrogant. It hurts; but I accept the charge. Our arrogance stems, I believe, from the fact of our great power. In the years that the British were the great power, they were seen as arrogant. When the next shift comes, the nation that emerges into the unfortunate spot will quite likely be seen as arrogant. Civilization, it seems, has not advanced to a point where, as a natural gift of grace, either individuals or institutions, or governments are likely to be both powerful and humble without some basic changes in public thinking that are not yet evident. Some may make it but the odds are against it.
In this conference I have learned from Father Benjamin Tonna of Malta that humility in the more powerful is ultimately tested by their ability to learn from, and gratefully to receive the gifts of, the less powerful. It is in my experience to know this, but sometimes one needs to be taught before one understands one’s own experience.
When I retired from my active business career twelve years ago I was asked by an American foundation to take an assignment for them in India. I found the top cut of Indian society with which I dealt, both in and out of government, to be highly sophisticated. Yet I was treated as if I had a level of expertise far beyond what my old colleagues at home who knew me well would concede.
This is heady stuff, a fertile breeding ground for arrogance, and the several thousand who participated in aid programs in India, both private and governmental, in the heyday of technical assistance were all exposed to some measure of it.
In 1971, when I signed off on this foundation relationship, I had some things to say in my report that have a bearing here in this conference on the question of how those in a position to lead can best lead, and why Americans who try so hard at it are seen as arrogant by so much of the world. This is what I wrote:
‘Anyone who has spent even as little time as I have in India cannot help having views about the whole aid-giving/aid-receiving relationship. . . It does not seem to me to be a sound basis for a relationship for one nation to be aid giver and another aid receiver for a long period of time. A one-way flow of aid is all right for an emergency or a short period of readjustment. But not as a long term thing. . .’
‘I believe, further, that, on balance, the Indians have as much to give us as we have to give them (different things, perhaps, but just as much). And it seems presumptuous, over a long period of time, for us to assume that because we happen to have a surplus of money, the giving should be one way. Therefore, I believe that if we want to continue to be useful to the Indians, we should use our resources as much to learn from them as to facilitate their learning from us.’