“Double in Ourselves”*

Posted by jlubans on May 27, 2014

20140529-double haring-.jpg
Caption: HARING, Keith. DOUBLE MAN, Print, 1986

Edward Mendelson’s “The Secret Auden” has set me thinking about the characteristics of the unboss, the unboss as leader.
I have attributed several qualities to the democratic leader, the unboss, among them:

Leads by example
Works alongside
Waits for others to initiate

Takes “risks”
Tolerates mistakes
Defends staff
Shares praise; accepts blame

Is a gentleperson

Mendelson tells of the many kindnesses and courtesies to others – real and substantial - the poet WH Auden provided throughout his life. He “…was generous and honorable. He kept it secret because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it.”
Before I go on to explain why Auden shrank from the limelight of praise, I would tack on “generous and honorable” to the list of unboss qualities.

Auden was reluctant to judge others; he had come to realize that he was the last person to cast blame on someone else. He could have, but chose not to since he believed that he was not much better than the next guy. “Auden preferred to err in the opposite direction, by presenting himself as less than he was.”

While showing personal restraint he knew that it would not take much to slip into rage and over to the dark side, indeed he’d been there. Mendelson quotes Auden writing to his former unfaithful lover: “on account of you, I have been, in intention, and almost in act, a murderer.”

The unboss recognizes, like Montaigne, we are “double in ourselves” (good and bad) and knowing that, she should be the last to act with absolute certitude, that there is only one way, hers! The unboss is not deluded into thinking others need only follow and all will be well. He understands even when he has THE answer, that there are other answers, some even better than his or that his idea can be made better.
Now, “double in ourselves”, is not about being of two minds, waffling. It is rather, as explained above, the unboss being open to other views, always seeking the best solution, not just his, and then acting.
Virginia Woolf, according to Mendelson, when speaking of the imagined, indeed promoted, superiority of writers to their readers anticipated and argued for an egalitarian relationship between the author (leader) and the reader (follower). For her, books “should be the healthy offspring of a close and equal alliance between us.” A close and equal alliance. Shades of the “invisible leader” and other good things that Mary Parker Follett – Woolf’s contemporary - endorsed for leaders and followers!
So these qualities - honor and generosity - eloquently exemplified by Auden’s life, are ones that further help to outline the unboss, the unassuming leader, the leader resisting demagoguery and championing the egalitarian bond between workers and leaders.
OK, then, are being honorable and generous exclusive qualities of the unboss? Of course not! But, the unboss is less likely to act dishonorably or to stint generosity? Why? Because the unboss is more aware of his or her personal limits and has a greater understanding of the internal tension between good and bad. I suppose I have a foot or other body part in the uncertain terrain of ethics. So I may have stepped in it, but I doubt an unboss would knowingly make another person suffer. The regular boss (some more so than others) would be less reluctant if it is a so-called “business decision” that leads to suffering.

*“We are, I know not how, double in ourselves, so that what we believe we disbelieve, and cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.” ― Michel de Montaigne

@Copyright John Lubans 2014
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