Cherry trees, a help-yourself cupboard, and what I think about leaders

Someone set up a little cupboard, like a book-swap but for food, at the end of some friends’ road one morning this week. I love it. I have no idea how long it will last un-trashed, no idea whether people will run with the idea and donate and take, or whether it will exist in the world solely as a nice idea that came and went over night. But I love that someone bothered to have the idea and then make it real. And I love that the carrots you can see in the picture made up part of the curry we ate for our dinner that night -somehow it connected us to this lovely little project as we sat down to eat.

You can see a photo of the cupboard here

Thinking about eating, I also had lunch with some other friends earlier on this week, folk with grown up children and a good number of years in full time work behind them but who, in the past few years, have given up full time work in order to live a different type of life, one much less dedicated to earning and spending and much more angled towards (among other things) hosting and being hosted by members of the international couch-surfer community and following their intuitions into seeing what different styles of living are possible.


I mention just these two social events as occasions from which I went away, well fed yes, but also with a lovely sense of having been inspired. Inspired by other folks’ courage, creativity and ways they made connections with others. Inspired simply by something of the lives of others that I had seen. It got me thinking about leadership.

What happens in your body when you even read the word ‘leadership’ these days? There are so many reasons to feel let down and angry about those in power and the decisions they are making at the moment. There is so little of inspiration in our leadership right now. Actually, it is hard to think of anything; a sentence which resounds with as much bleakness as the weather has lately.

And then this evening I found myself watching the Channel4 Labour leadership debate. While I admit it feels quite easy to like Keir Starmer’s approach, standing as he is as the man who’ll bring the party unity, it’s also a stance which projects his strategic desire to win support from all corners of the Labour party. As the ‘front-runner to win’, I feel like he is being presented as the reasonable, reliable choice, overall the one we can trust to bring things together in these difficult, unpredictable times (and is there also a gendering of the ease with which we trust that a man is able to do this?). Maybe, who knows, perhaps, this would give the party some kind of stability right now if he is able to do it. But somehow, and call me an idealist, I was vaguely hoping to hear something more than just that from a leader of a party I want to support. Something perhaps that instilled an excitement of well-thought through hope for social change rather than just a notion of safety and reliability. Something more akin to what I think Judith Butler was talking about when asked for her views on non-violence in an interview recently. She admits support for such a notion can easily be dismissed as unrealistic. She uses the very relevant example of electability to highlight the need to embrace that which is often relegated to a place beyond the reach of reason. For example she says:

“If one takes the view that it is simply not realistic that a woman can be elected President, one speaks in a way that seems both practical and knowing. As a prediction, it may be true, or it may be shifting as we speak.”

She goes on to say that even just by dismissing something as unrealistic we give even further fuel to our belief that it is unachievable. For example, we could never have a four-day working week we scoff, we could never go back to the days of free university education for all – it’s just not practical. Maybe we’ll just always have a society that is riven apart by huge inequalities.

And yet what happens to us if we continue to trample the inspiring, the truly transformative ideas underfoot, in favour of what seems safe and known? Would we ever have had the NHS? We miss out for sure:

“to stay within the framework of Realpolitik is, I think, to accept a closing down of horizons, a way to seem “cool” and skeptical at the expense of radical hope and aspiration.” Butler says.

Not to say we should seek out the unrealistic, but I’d suggest a bit of radical hope and aspiration in a leader is pretty important; along, of course, with the ability to work with others to put what is hoped for into action.


But if, having found a candidate who inspires us, we then in time find out that they didn’t actually inspire many other people enough to win the vote, perhaps we need also to think about other types of  leadership.

A writer I find interesting is Parker J. Palmer who talks about how we all have a “common call to leadership”. Before you, like get me, get scared of the idea and run back to bed, actually he is not talking about anything too demanding. He is making reference to the many spiritual traditions which have something to say about both the spiritual and the material aspects of life. He says we all “help make the world by projecting our spirit on it, for better or worse” (p 77 Let Your Life Speak) and that basically, we all help grow the world as what is inside us interacts with the external world, projecting either shadow or light as we do so. Sure, we live within restrictions; our class, race, gender, sexuality, abilities sadly dictate a lot of how we interact with and are received by the world at the moment. This is not talk of a society where we can all create policy or enforce the law, or where we are all listened to in the same way and given the same amount of respect for our ideas, because we know that is not quite how the world works right now. But nonetheless, we all take part in creating the world we live in in some kind of way.

Projecting light or shade.P1070348

Growing the world, in ways often not tangible, often not in ways that are measurable or countable or put-able into any kind of box. But within each of us there is some kind of energy for change, for good or bad or shades of grey. This is a fairly awe-provoking thought. It makes me think of times when I just need to be a bit more confident to be me in all the different kinds of spaces in which I find myself, because it is then, somehow, that the lives we lead seem to speak out to others.

I wouldn’t suggest for a minute that this means we should give up fighting for and voting in inspirational leaders that are needed to help bring about the social, economic and political transformation this country and also the world needs right now. But I am writing and thinking about this to nudge myself to stay grateful for those many people around me who do actually grow the world towards the light in so many hidden ways every day……………..


………Actually, and also grateful for the trees: the cherry trees on my street are doing a great job at heralding spring at the moment. I’ll try and be open to their inspiration and remember that we all, along with all the trees, also have our own part in growing the world.





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