Are You a Wise Leader?

“When emotions arise, wisdom ceases,” said Lin-chi, a Chinese Zen master (d. 867). I’ve been reflecting on this quote in the light of my last post on emotions and leadership. I’ve certainly been in church meetings where emotions arose and wisdom ceased. When we are in a strongly reactive emotional state, we find it hard to make wise choices. The fight-or-flight instincts have their place, but most of us are not in a life-or-death situation very often.

Staying calm may be the better part of wisdom. Wise leaders express themselves with conviction and passion, but they are thoughtful about where and when they do so. They don’t get derailed from their goals in the heat of the moment. They don’t get anxiously defensive or lose their temper (or at least, they work on managing these tendencies in themselves). Are any of us wise leaders? Becoming wise is a process that takes a lifetime. Are you a little closer than you used to be?

2 replies on “Are You a Wise Leader?

  • Margaret Marcuson

    Thanks, Israel. I know I’ve experienced that sense of biological threat. At the same time, part of the maturing process is learning to pay attention to reality: I feel under threat, but I am not really in danger. That gives me a little space to begin thinking about how I might respond thoughtfully.

  • IGalindo

    Relating back to your previous post about the amygdale, it’s worth noting that while it is true that “…most of us are not in a life-or-death situation very often…” it seems that the emotion-producing amygdale makes little distinction between physical threat to the body and existential threat to self and identity. This may be because when those anxiety fight-or-flight pathways are triggered all we FEEL is the effect of the emotion regardless of the cause (it’s why we call it “reactivity”). That’s analogous to how pain seems to work—once the pathways of pain along the nerves are triggered and established they may result in CHRONIC pain long after the wound or injury heals. (Recall the phenomenon of “phantom pain” in a lost limb).

    All that to say that we should never underestimate the power and influence of our biological selves. Threat to a cherished belief or value (whether it’s right or wrong) can FEEL as much of a (existential) threat to survival as a potential punch in the nose.


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