Recently I attended a meeting in which the principal was running late and arrived looking a little flustered. He was taking a minute to get his bearings and a teacher said “It’s okay, you are doing great.” The principal took a breath and the meeting moved forward. What struck me as unusual was that in that moment, the teacher saw the principal as human. The job description was respected, as the meeting carried forward with the principal facilitating and teachers participating, but the human being was recognized. How often do we separate ourselves by our job descriptions and neglect to see the human behind the imaginary lines that we have created. Do we look at the other and make assumptions based on the label on the door? What is a principal? What is a teacher? What is an educational assistant?
Our school systems are constructed in a hierarchical fashion in order to organize roles and serve students, however, in order for conscious community to take its place, it is necessary to think differently and choose to look across the circle rather than up or down the triangle. When we see someone at the grocery store or next to us at a traffic light, we don’t know what their job description is. In community we have to step away from a hierarchical way of thinking and embrace all members as humans who happen to have a different sign on their door. When we leave it up to one or two people to be in charge of a community or culture, we have a problem. Community is all of us. School culture is all of us. Just by existing and interacting we impact those around us. Like a pebble dropped into a quiet pond, our words and actions echo far and wide. We have the power to shake others or to balance others. We have the power to remain stagnant or to create. Our actions, our words, our movement, or lack of movement, is more powerful than we often realize and this is why we are all leaders.
Indra’s net is a concept that flows through many spiritualities. The artistic writing of Francis H. Cook describes this.
“Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out indefinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflection process occurring.” (Cook, 1989, p. 214)
Indra’s net has great depth of meaning. One aspect of this is a representation of our interconnectedness. In each jewel we can see the reflection of others on ourselves and see how what we project is reflected on others, and what others project is reflected on us. Every action we take or words we speak, our thoughts and feelings, are projected outward. As a result we can see how our actions, thoughts and words impact others, and how others impact us as well. In our community, we have the power to decide - what do we want to project? It is clear that every single person leads. “Leadership is not about titles, status, and wielding power. A leader is anyone who steps up and takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas, and has the courage to develop that potential” (Brown, 2018). When we recognize that through our words we are leading for better or for worse and own the power that we have, we can be intentional about what we want for ourselves and for our community. Covid has left us fractured and exhausted. We have an opportunity to reflect, rebuild, and heal each other. Regardless of our job title, in a community we are all leaders if we choose to own it. We are jewels in Indra’s net and through intentional choices, we are creators of our community. Our actions are reflected on others. When we all choose together to strengthen our community, the net weaves together and the holes repair. This is how we heal from the effects of this pandemic and repair the holes of our communities. This is one reason why we are all leaders. “Everything you do, or not do impacts other,” (R. Charchun, personal communication, June 8, 2021). Job descriptions are simply assignments. The reality is that we are joined through our humanity. We can bring a cup of tea to a colleague who has had a rough moment, or leave a note for an unsung hero. It is okay to step across the boundaries of our job descriptions. Like the teacher who offered a kind word to the principal, our actions can lift the whole. Please take a moment to reflect on your vision of community and your current place within that vision.
Author: Kathleen Robertson
Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead. Random House.Cook, F. (1989). The jewel net of Indra. In J. B. Callicott & R. T. Ames (Eds.), Nature in Asian traditions of thought: Essays in environmental philosophy (pp. 213-229). SUNY Press.