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  • Writer's pictureMartin Stepek

When Leaders Fail You

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

My colleague and friend Morna asked me to write something on this topic but I was reluctant to do so. But as usual she persuaded me that it was a good thing to do, that my calm, clear thoughts on how best to respond to the recent - and still ongoing - controversy about the party that happened at 10 Downing Street last December, might help some people.

My reluctance was that, deep inside, I had not yet reached a state of clear-sighted calmness. Despite what might appear to anyone I’d be with as my usual self, I was far from that. I still am, though it’s slowly getting better, and writing this is helping.

I was furious, a feeling I have only had less than a handful of times in the past twenty years. Really, deep down, actually furious. Ready to rant the head off anyone who came by. Ready to shout and insult and put down the Prime Minister and every single person who featured in the mock press conference video where they joked about how best to word the illegal party so that it could be excused.

Listening to the families of people who lost loved ones and couldn’t see them in their dying days, expressing their own fury at the people on the video and the Prime Minister, just kept reigniting my own anger. And yet these poor, grieving people had to be heard by us all so we could understand the reason why what happened at Downing Street was so, so wrong.

I had my own back story. We couldn’t see our son for a month after he came back to Scotland having spent a year working in Japan. He was in a bubble with his girlfriend, in Edinburgh, just an hour away from us by train but it might as well have been Japan because we weren’t allowed to mix with his bubble, and we didn’t.

Then the two of them were able to go elsewhere for Christmas so we got together. The plan was for them to spend a week or so with us, then they’d travel a while before moving to Denmark where my son was next going to work. Instead restrictions were reimposed after Christmas so they had to spend almost four months with us. His girlfriend couldn’t travel down to see her parents as planned.

They decided to get married before they moved to Denmark but no one except our daughter could attend as the maximum number was six, and that included a photographer, celebrant, and the owner of the premises. So neither my wife and I, nor our soon-to-be new in-laws could attend. It was painful but we all accepted it was for the best of everyone.

These memories kept coming back to me. And more. My Aunt Frances died a year earlier, in May 2020, in a care home. Not from covid. But no church service for this very devoutly religious woman. No singing of hymns. Just recordings of them played at her graveside on my mobile phone. Half a dozen family members there, when she had dozens who would have attended.

So the anger was personal as much as it concerned me about the quality of leadership we have in this country right now. But my mindfulness studies and practice tell me, quite rightly, that the energy and time soaked up by feeling and expressing anger is just wasted time, wasted this precious time which is all we ever have.

Moreover, anger is a dangerous tool to wave around. When we are angry - especially when we are furious - it’s easy to say the wrong thing, possibly to the wrong people, maybe at the wrong time. Choice of what, if anything, to say, to whom to say it, and when to say it, all require calm, clear thinking.

So, having written this, I feel calmer, clearer in my mind. I also remember that we all make mistakes so not to judge too harshly those involved. Good people can be foolish. Good people can make terrible mistakes. In this way I remove an unpleasant judgemental tendency I have.

I also remember to be grateful for the democratic political process we have. We are all free to state our views on this controversy. There are many places where to do so would be to risk one’s freedom. In due course we will all have time to vote for the people we want - and to not vote for those we don’t want - to lead us in future. People in many countries do not have that right. Moreover I can write to my MP or indeed directly to the Prime Minister to tell him of my feeling that the leadership of our country has, in my opinion, hugely let us all down. Not every country would permit that.

Now, having written all this, I am calmer and clearer but not totally at peace yet in my mind. That will come in due course. I practice noticing my breath when the anger reappears, and I let it go, replacing it with contentment, that, despite me having a leader I feel I cannot trust, I can still be happy and able to get on with this one, sacred, precious life. There have been instances of terrible leadership in the past, there are other examples in our country right now, aside from this party horror show, and no doubt there will be more in the future under other leaders from different political parties.

Looking at it from that bigger picture, we calm ourselves, do what we think is right to respond to any scenario, then get on with the other things in our lives, and try not to carry lingering resentments and hatreds. They only burden you, not the people you are angry with. It is easier, and more effective, in life to travel lightly with an unburdened heart and mind.

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