Monday, February 26, 2007

Powerless at Fifty

As the number 23 appears to have some pop currency these days (if you like Jim Carrey, that is), it may now be revealed that I turned 50 the other day, on the 23rd of February.

It's not as if there weren't constant reminders and warnings coming along these past few weeks. I got a membership "invitation" from AARP last month. These people don't miss a beat—look at their logo: it seems that even when you're old you need "power." Well, for better or worse, I'm not interested. We have enough power in the world; we sure don't need any more of it, least of all from me. Power, I am afraid, does not "make it better."

Every time I've gone to the bookstore lately, there's another book about turning 50. I wish I had time or the disposition to read them; I'm sure they'd be very helpful. But this chicken soup phenomenon has just passed me by; perhaps it's after my time.

But the most significant reminder of my age has come from the relative silence of would-be employers. Yes, age discrimination is against the law and all that; but you can't very well disguise 25 years of corporate experience on a resume, and folks tend to jump to certain conclusions based on age.

We live in a culture where the only old men that have any influence or comfort are on executive row or in the White House. So it seems only natural, given the devastation, corruption, and greed that these 50-and-60 something men have wrought upon us, that we affirm our culture's animosity toward the elders—especially the white male elders such as myself. Therefore, as a reminder to any who are concerned about such things, and perhaps to encourage a reconsideration of the aggrandizement of youth that seems to define our Generation X-Y-Z society, I offer this excerpt from my Tao of Hogwarts, which is a celebration of a very old man (click the graphic to hear an "interview" with Prof. D):

In a youth-obsessed culture where middle age is deemed the onset of senescence, and particularly in this country, where the attitude of trust and respect toward the elders of a society breathed its last in the slaughter at Wounded Knee, the appearance on the world's literary stage of Professor Dumbledore is a welcomed blessing. Here is a man of indeterminate age (somewhere over a hundred, we are led to believe), still possessed of the strength and ability that have earned him the designation of "greatest wizard of his time." In Order of the Phoenix, he overcomes the attack of three younger opponents in one scene, and then personally tips the balance of the climactic battle scene. Yet he is the farthest thing from an "action hero" imaginable: he is gentle, yielding, soft-spoken, often unabashedly silly, meditative, and modest. He is, of course, the headmaster of Hogwarts School, and apparently has refused the position of Minister of Magic (the highest office of the wizarding government) in order to remain with the school and its students. Indeed, he appears to be entirely lacking in ambition, violence, contempt, impulsiveness, acquisitiveness, and the hunger for fame—in short, he is the human embodiment of Te, the cosmic principle of Modesty that Lao Tzu speaks of throughout the Tao Te Ching. This poem, from Chapter 56 of that work, appears to fit Professor Dumbledore very well:

Understanding doesn’t talk a lot;
A lot of talk lacks understanding.

Can you be guided by silence?
Can you shut down your outer senses?

Can you blunt your jagged edges?
Can you let the inner knots unravel?
Can you let your brilliance be dimmed?
Can you merge with the dust of the earth?

This is called “harmonizing light and dark.”
In this, you possess no one,
But are loved by many.
You are equally immune
To attraction and revulsion.
You are equally receptive
To profit and to loss.

You are unmoved by fame,
Yet you attract honor.
Because you make no claim,
You can be free of disgrace.

Thus are you lovingly received
Into the Heart of Nature,

As a leader, Professor Dumbledore is everything that our current major world leaders are not. He retreats from display; is non-violent, even amid combat; his vision reaches beyond appearances; he embodies archetypally feminine traits; is simple in his needs; modest in both the amount and volume of his speech; and he promotes loyalty from his students and staff by nurturing their independence. His dignity and splendor are gifts of Nature; he makes no outer demand of others' respect, but his inner aura seems always to evoke it anyway. He is, in short, the "Tao Leader" of whom Diane Dreher wrote an entire book. Dreher writes:

Tao leaders affirm an inner strength that transcends ego. They know that their current leadership position is just that—a position, not a set role...They don't identify with their titles. They know that who they are is always more than what they do. (p. 200).

As will be further discussed in Chapters 8 and 10, Professor Dumbledore is indeed human, meaning that he is subject to error. But he again distinguishes himself from the current crop of political leaders in our society by displaying the capacity to admit his errors. He goes further than this even, in his ability to share the blame for the miscommunication that leads to some of the tragic events of the stories. In doing so, he reveals the defining nature of true leadership, which is the ability to open new paths to understanding and correct action for others, through the example of inner truth, expressed in speech, thought, and action. In acknowledging his error and accepting his share of the blame, Dumbledore engages the Cosmic energies that transform the ideological stain of guilt into the cleansing water of remorse. This is truly the mark of a "Tao Leader."


For those who are used to "Mondays with McKenna", Terry has been given a week off (which is fine, since he doesn't get a dime for writing here), and will be back next week.

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