At the Monastic Academy, we are trying to create trustworthy leaders. That is the goal of our residential training program.
Our teacher, Soryu Forall, gives a very specific definition of trustworthiness. An individual can be trustworthy, and a culture can be trustworthy. Either way, we are trustworthy when we have successfully integrated three skills: wisdom, love, and power.
These words – wisdom, love, and power – are used in everyday language, but we give them technical definitions.
Power is the ability to hold to our own perspective, and to get people to do what we want them to do. With this definition, it is easier to see how power is morally neutral. The morality of power depends on how we use it.
Love, then, is the ability to see and embrace the perspective of others, hold to their perspectives, and act accordingly. This is the love of a good leader, who sees the needs of her people and tries to meet those needs. It is also the love of a parent, who sees his child’s desire for a sweet treat – but decides not to give them the treat, out of concern for their long-term dental health. When we love others, they may or may not like it – but we see from their perspective, and strive to do what is actually best for them.
If love is seeing from others’ perspectives, and power is holding to our own perspective, what is wisdom? Wisdom is the ability to let go of all perspectives, holding to no perspective whatsoever.
When these three skills are developed and integrated, so that they are mutually supportive, we can describe that as trustworthy. Wisdom, love, and power make us trustworthy.
A monastery is designed to take an individual and increase their level of trustworthiness. At the Monastic Academy, we have a growing ecology of practices for cultivating each of these component skills, including:
One of the most fundamental problems with human civilization is that those who have power tend to be less skilled in wisdom and love, or lack them entirely. This is not a controversial claim: you can surely think of powerful leaders who are not wise or loving.
Sometimes, these people are even seen as evil. Therefore, power itself is seen as evil, and those who are wise and loving tend to avoid power.
These two problems are actually two sides of the same coin: there is a disconnect between power, and wisdom and love.
I would argue that this problem is one of the root problems that causes many of our most pressing problems. We face many threats, threats which hold the potential to destroy not only human civilization but even life on earth. It is paramount that these problems be resolved.
Human civilization is not trustworthy. At a collective level, wisdom, love, and power are not integrated. Our leaders are powerful, but they lack wisdom and love. The wise and loving avoid power. This forms a vicious cycle. The powerful become more and more powerful, while the wise and loving become less and less powerful, and our culture becomes less and less trustworthy. Human civilization, our species, and life on earth are threatened in the process.
There are two ways to bridge the divide between power, and wisdom and love:
- Empower the Wise and Loving: give power to those who are wise and loving, in the form of resources, connections, skills, opportunities, etc. Build social institutions that give wise and loving people the opportunity to master the skills of power, while deepening their intrinsic wisdom and love.
- The Wise Love the Powerful: radiate wisdom and love towards the powerful in the world. Do not coddle the powerful, but hold them to a standard of integrity. Train leaders in contemplative practices that increase their love and wisdom.
With these two approaches, we can re-integrate wisdom, love, and power, so that they are mutually supportive. We can create trustworthy leaders, and we can create a trustworthy culture – and, in so doing, we can create a new, more trustworthy form of human civilization, and ultimately, save life on earth.