Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Emergence ' Prophet Musa and Al Khidr'

For those who do not know Prophet Musa (Peace be upon him) is Moses of the Bible and even though I am not a muslim the story of his contact and interaction with the Al Khidr (Green man) is one of those parables that feed the wisdom of the times we live in. I participated in fasting during Ramadan to listen to my body as well as spirit. This story nourished and continues to nourish my focus on the power of emergence in the affairs of us humans. This is so relevant to what the former United States Federal Reserves Chairman calls the Age of Turbulence.

Moses was greatly beloved and this is shown in both the Bible and the Quran he is one of the few Prophets who had direct interaction with God regularly. He was also quite impatient. He had given a sermon that so moved those who listened that he agreed with their complement that there was no one on Earth as Learned as himself. God revealed to Moses that this was not true since no person could know all. In this case there was another who knew what Moses did not know. Moses wanted to know and meet this man who had been identified to him as a slave or servant of Allah. He wanted a sign of how to identify the person as he wanted to learn from him.

He followed the sign given to him, a live fish in a boat which would disappear at the location where this Learned person would be. He nearly blew it as he fell asleep at the very place where two rivers met. Nevertheless he met the Man, the Al Khidr whose face was partly hooded a sign of his Sainthood.

Moses asked the Al Khidr if he could follow him and learn from the knowledge that God had given him. The Al Khidr was sceptical since he believed Moses would not have patience to learn about something he did not know. I suppose you could say Moses reputation for impatience went before him. Of course Moses insisted that he could be a patient learner and restrain his questions until Al Khidr opened up discussion. So they agreed that he would only travel with the Al Khidr on condition that he would ask of anything that happened only when the Saint mentioned it himself .

They crossed the river in a ship which when they got to the other side the Al Khidr scuttled i.e. damaged. Moses immediately questioned the decision suggesting that the Saint had done an evil thing by damaging the boat and the interest of the poor people who owned it . The Al Khidr responded by confirming his earlier warning that Moses could not be patient to learn. Moses was defensive responding that he had forgotten and that it would not happen again. They continued on their journey till they met a a boy who the Al Khidr proceeded to kill. Moses was aghast at what we considered evil and dreadful which he once again said without restrain. Once again the Al Khidr said he had reconfirmed his earlier impression to which Moses now agreed that if this happened again they should part from each other.

They came to a town where they were not well received nor were they given any hospitality . As they left , they noticed a wall that was collapsing. The Al Khidr worked to straighten the wall and prevent if from collapsing. Moses could not resist commenting that this was not a people who deserved such an effort and he should have charged wages. This was the final straw for the Saint who enforced the agreement that they should part company after this last comment. As a parting gift he proceeded to explain each of the three actions that Moses was too impatient to let pass.

1) The damage to the ship that they crossed in was to make it defective so that the poor owners would not lose their source of livelihood to a King who was going to seize their source of income by force

2) The boy who was killed was going to turn his parents who were believers against God by his behaviour and pain he would cause them . God would send them children who would have mercy .

3) The wall was straightened for two orphan boys whose father has buried treasure underneath it. This will protect their inheritance until they reached maturity as their father had been a righteous man. This is as God willed it.

In the face of opportunity to learn and understand that which he found challenging Moses did what most of us do which is take a low hanging and easy explanation by focusing on what he knew already.

This is a paraphrase as I do not present this as a religious but a contemporary perspective. For those who want it can be found in Surah 18 60-82 of the Quran.

So what does this truly say to me? Well it differs from day to day but my current lessons are that:

- Leadership requires conscious incompetence that allows one to know, that you do not know, what you do not know. Essentially what you know is insignificant than what you do not know. I always address this to the mentality that leads those who have power or influence to reduce what they do not understand and judge it within the limits of what they know already. There is very little curiosity or openness. The media and journalist have become the avatars of instant judgement, impatience and speculation driving the frenzy for quick judgement as well as rash decision. Whether the fiasco on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or the garden variety ignorance that constantly leads people to assume that nuclear technology can be a guarded secret of a few nations in a world where knowledge is dispersed. This is a form of abject laziness and intellectual cowardice. Life in its fulness is found in the unknown and a diminishing existence is the reward of repeating the known. Moses life was opened up and his assumptions challenged. As a leadership educator I constantly meet authority figures who do not have the vulnerability and openness to be leaders. They package what they know so tightly and spin it for the the brash notion that others will share their aversion to growth. A classic example to my mind in Hilary Clinton the Senator from New York and likely nominee of the Democratic party. That she will be in a nation where fear as trumped hope constantly.

- Celebrate the power of emergence and revelation in a world where people need instant gratification and simplistic explanation. This in itself is not just an issue of patience but a concern for effective decision making. A while ago a group of young girls in Sweden along with others across Western Europe were shouting themselves hoarse about the need to move the Miss World away from Nigeria. This had become a symbiotic hysteria started by a crude populist attempt at introducing Sharia Law, the usual media excitement generated by well placed incendiary remarks and the accompanying knee jerk reaction from hormonally challenged , sanctimonious self serving do gooders in the NGO world. The shame is that by intervening when they did they prevented the Sharia matter getting to the Supreme Court and leaving room for fire next time. As for the baying mob of protesters they have gone to the next cause celebre , yes! Darfur. Perfect excuse for the unscrupulous characters to use the guise of a do good NGO to kidnap children, you think. If only like Al Khidr suggested we can wait for fullness and ripeness so that answers from complicated things are allowed the space to emerge. There is no place where this is more glaring than amongst the forever complaining urban elites in Nigeria. They are too quick to follow their newspaper manipulators in a ignorant dance of seeking someone to blame. It means there is no institutional learning and eventually even the dialogue does not change.

- Moving beyond good and bad to just 'Mo Lo'. The Al Khidr shows that sometimes when we do what appears to be bad in a limited context it has potential to deliver an eloquent piece of good. The gross oversimplification of things is quite the basis of the comical hollywood separation of actions and sometimes people. When Senator Obama says he will talk to Iran there are those who call that naive. What is criminal is leaders who refuse to talk to their so called evil enemies and then do not hesitate to go to war killing thousands and losing many lives on their side too. Which is the more responsible, macho posturing that lose lives or naive engagement that leads at worst to PR success for enemies but potential greater understanding. We always want or villains and heroes so clear cut that we forget that most things in life are co-created. A week ago I had a pleasant evening with two of my great friends that I call the two Dokitas, Dr Funmilayo Olonisakin and Dr Kayode Fayemi both special people who I go back a long way with. Now Kayode who stepped to the plate and contested fro the Governorship of Ekiti state is the person who turned me on to Senator Obama long before he got to the Senate. Kayode himself is fighting a tribunal case on the recent election in Nigeria. Excuse my name drop my point is that my worry in the past was how Dr Fayemi would evolve into a politician from his NGO world. It is my privilege to say like the finest cognac he retains the moral essence and has blossomed into quite an Adaptive Leader. I pray that Ekiti State has the opportunity to experience such finely evolved leader.

For me this story connects with my core values. For example that there is nothing like convetional wisdom only failure to think deep enough. Also that nonsense is only so because of the lens you choose or the state of mind with which you are experiencing things. We will all do well to listen to the Al Khidr in the times ahead. In the meantime my sincere prayers for Dr Fayemi in his attempt to balance the scales of justice.


yomi said...

Curiosity guided me to your blog from funmi iyanda's blog.
And from the 1st read, it was enlightening and thought provocating.
wld however, beg 2 differ on dis whole take on Al-Khadir.
My point being that Al-Khadir, in all 3 instances dat he reacted, also didnt wait for the fullness of time. Every action he took, was to avert some futuristic event.
Which guides one 2 conclude that the conviction of a plausible end result to a particular situation, directs/guides immediate actions taken by all concerned.
Agreed, the place of patience/perseverance in any society cannot be compromised but then again 2 go by what u r advocating ie waiting out situations before taking a stand, begs d question: who den decides like Al Khadir, d rite time to act/respond?

Onibudo said...

I like the perspective . It is another lens on the whole issue and so long it delivers effectiveness it is powerful. However you miss the role of God in the Al Khidr's choices remember he is a 'slave' of God and acting out the knowledge that has been revealed to him. On the contrary Moses his using his assumptions. The critical deal breaker is about opening up new learns and revealing a more productive understanding of issues. It is always down to the fruits that are the result of our actions. Thanks Yomi in any case there is much more to see in that story than the one I chose to explore.

Anonymous said...

i like your connection to current events. also understanding how mistakes can bring forth discovery, we need to stop pretending we can quickly decide right and wrong action.a wise man has to understand that he may not know anything as it seems.

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