Leadership: Stealing the fire

There is a wonderful Bushman fire myth concerning mantis, the trickster deity and intermediary between human and animal, who steals fire from the animals. Mantis discovers that the ostrich, after cooking its food, hides the fire used under her wing. Mantis then tricks the ostrich by leading her to a location where there is some tasty fruit. Encouraging her to reach high in order to pick the best of the tastiest fruit ostrich opens her wings, giving mantis the opportunity to snatch some of the fire.

camp fireOf course throughout human history the role and significance of fire is important, in many cases it was vital to survival and community. Communities would have gathered nightly around the fire to tell stories, share tales of the hunt and pass on wisdom. They would have sat around the fire and laughed, together, shared in the good things and the bad things that form part of everyday life. The entire community would have gathered around this central meeting place, young and old, each aware of their place and role – all aware that fire was essential to their survival and protection. Fire represented connection, it was the place of individual freedom and expression; it was the place of togetherness and collective expression.

Today, we no longer sit around campfires looking each other eye-to-eye, face-to-face yet we have found rituals that represent pale imitations of the powerful campfire: sitting around the TV as a family being one such example. In his excellent book, Future Primal, Louis Herman writes, ‘Today instead of family and community gathering around the campfire, we sits in front of the television set. Instead of being connected to an embodied community through face-to-face discussion and storytelling, we follow the lives of celebrities in the news and familiar characters in soap operas; our communication is through cell phone and Internet. Our cities hide the stars and planets; wilderness is paved over and walled out…Today walled off in the urban prisons of our own making, we cannot fully free ourselves without science and history, technology and philosophy. The knife that cuts also heals. We need the technologies associated with our alienation from nature to help us relearn the amazing reality of our condition: that we all wake up within a single story telling us into being. We are all fundamentally connected, dependent on a larger order mot of our own making: yet we are free and creative”.

So, what is your company’s ‘fire place’? Where do you gather to share the stories and wisdom that connect you beyond the cause that brings you together merely ‘to do the work’?

What if someone has ‘stolen’ that fire from you?

Acknowledgement: Future Primal by Louis Herman, p169. An truly remarkable book!

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