More Leadership Lessons From Harrison Bergeron

I continue to think about what constitutes powerful leadership. In the book “Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power,” the author states that “life if power.” Interesting comment. However, this author also states, “Power at its best is resurrection to full life, to full humanity. Whenever human beings become what they were meant to be, when even death cannot finally hold its prisoners, then we can truly speak of power.”

Power and leadership go hand in hand. For someone to be a leader presupposes there are followers. If one is a follower, then that implies some sense of power of leader over follower. Power is something that can be used for life or destruction.

Yesterday I displayed a 27minute video of Harrison Bergeron, Kurt Vonneguts short story written in 1961, to my Social Entrepreneurship class. At the end of the video I asked them what they thought. They were speechless, I asked them was the video bad? They said no, that they were processing the movie. This is the class where I told the students we were going to end five minutes early and they came back and said, “wait we have five more minutes.” I have never heard students say such a thing.

In the Bergeron video, the power of bad leadership was so evident. Just like the short story by Vonnegut describes couple sitting in front of the TV watching Ballerinas try to dance with handicapping weights on them, so were the couple in the video. Every once in a while the man, who had an ear implant, would be shocked for thinking inappropriately.

Just like the short story, Harrison, the couple’s son, escapes from prison and takes over the stage where the Ballerinas were performing. Just like the short story Harrison removes his weights and chooses a Ballerina as his empress. She then takes her weights off and dances beautifully. It is at this point the video diverges from the short story.

Outside the auditorium where the ballet is being performed in a SWAT team. They are waiting for word to break in and capture or kill Harrison. But Harrison has told everyone he has placed a bomb under the auditorium. And if anyone attempts to take him, he would blow up the auditorium. The police were waiting to attack after the bomb was defused.

The video goes back and forth building the suspense, and then it is done. The bomb is defused and they enter the auditorium. The police paused because they too had never seen a beautiful ballet. The Handicapper General is there and she pauses too. It is at this time Harrison pushes the detonator. We were supposed to think that his plan was going to be unsuccessful. However, the camera then goes to another device in the basement. The bomb was not the device connected to the detonator at all, and Harrison had no intention of killing people. The so-called bomb was a misdirect.

You see, the broadcast of the ballet had been interrupted by the government and Harrison knew this would happen. So the second device was attached to the equipment that was used to stop the broadcast. He knew the police would come and he was willing to die for freedom. He wanted the world, that was now equal in every way, to see what the Handicapper General was going to do. He pushed the button and the device destroys the equipment stopping the broadcast and the broadcast starts again.

The Handicapper General then takes the gun from the policeman standing next to her and she shoots both the Ballerina and Harrison Bergeron. She does this in front of everyone watching on TV. The video ends the same way as Vonnegut’s short story. The wife goes on with her boring life, and the husband goes to get another beer.

Maybe the video impacted me too. In it I see how power can lead to destruction of the human spirit. “The year was 2081 and everyone was equal in all ways.” I think all of us should pay attention to what goes on in our lives. Each of us is different, and each of us have skills and abilities that allow us to contribute to those around us. Our nation and our communities are rich because of our differences, not our similarities. We will, thankfully, never be equal in every way.

Peggy Noonan’s editorial this morning, entitled “Meanwhile, Back In America,” describes the state of our national union as one where leadership and it s cronies are benefiting from their Associations. She reports that the Washington D.C area is now the richest area in the nation. I don’t know if this is true or not, and I do not think our politicians should be poor, but if they are using their position to become wealthy at the expense of everyone else, then I think that is poor leadership.

Peggy said something that reminded me of Harrison Bergeron. “It is no accident that in the national imagination Washington is the shallow and corrupt capital in The Hunger Games, the celebrity-clogged White House Correspondent Dinner, Scandal, and the green room of MSNBC. It is the chattering capital of a nation it less represents than dominates.”

Good leadership influences people for good and the expansion of human freedom. Bad leadership destroys human ability to self-actualize as it pursues a full and rich life. “In the year 2081 when every one was equal in all ways.” Pay attention, or . . .

And that is my thought for the day!



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