The World as an Oyster

–What shapes the way you think as a leader?

The insidious distortion of worldviews in the West over the past half-century and more, has blinded the vast majority of people to the socio-political and economic catastrophe that threatens us.  Milan Kundera’s warning now haunts us:

The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory.  Destroy its books, its culture, its history.  Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history.  Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was.

Consider how the consequences of many very common beliefs shape our world today:

  1. If you believe that physical reality is all that exists, then you will struggle, as science and modern philosophy still do, to explain life, consciousness, mind, and immaterial realities like numbers, universal concepts, and propositions, and even the fundamental laws of physics.
  2. If you believe that after death there is nothing, you should expect people to try and get as much self-gratification in the present world as possible, even if it is at the expense of others.
  3. If you believe that the meaning and purpose of life is a matter of personal choice, then morality goes out the window, family and community become untenable, and individual freedom will inexorably be repressed.
  4. If you believe there is no such thing as objective truth, but only subjective truth, you should not be surprised by the intellectual and moral confusion tearing western societies apart.
  5. If you believe there is no such thing as human nature, you will obviously struggle to explain the grounds on which you base your belief in human rights.
  6. If you believe that the basic unit of society is not the family, but the isolated individual, then you give impetus to the silent pandemic of loneliness causing untold damage in the lives of millions in western society.
  7. If you believe we can dispense with history, and merely live for the moment in a promiscuous, drug-fuelled haze of self-gratification, trusting pharmaceuticals and surgery to keep us going, then resign yourself to the inevitability of the mental health crisis, increasing social dysfunction, and the dumbed-down electorates that make democracy untenable.
  8. If you believe that human beings will create Utopia by means of science and technology, then expect the destructive ideologies of neo-liberalism, neo-Marxism, and neo-fascism, to continue to generate human suffering on the unprecedented scale of the past century.
  9. If you believe the difference between right and wrong is decided by the state, then you endorse the principle of might is right, and have no criterion by which the actions of government might be judged, including evils like slavery, the Holocaust, and the Gulags.

The ancient Greeks saw hubris, the attitude of arrogant pride, the egoism that says my will is all that counts, as the great destroyer of individuals and communities, and it was a constant theme in Greek drama.  For them, it was clear that hubris engendered a type of mental illness because people who deny allegiance to a law that transcends nature become detached from reality.  To be blind to the truth about oneself, other people, and the world at large, with all its natural moral imperatives, is to fall into unreason, regardless of any superior intellectual ability.  Euripides warned that when the gods wish to destroy a man, they first make him mad, through hubris.  A sane approach to the challenges of life starts with the recognition of one’s personal limitations and the dependence we all have on other people, the natural order, and on God.

Given what science, philosophy, and common sense tell us about the human condition, all worldviews need to be judged according to the following criteria: respect for the dignity of all people; respect for human freedom, understood as a freedom for excellence as opposed to a freedom of indifference; respect for human reason, seeking truth and enabling compassionate relationships through rational dialogue; respect for the potential of every human being and the justice and education that nurture it; and respect for human responsibility, and the honesty and goodwill that implies.

Inescapably, every human being has a worldview, and it is identifiable and has a name.  The way to identify and analyse your own is by answering the following questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What is the meaning of life?
  3. What does it mean to be a human being?
  4. What comes first in my life?
  5. What does it mean to think accurately, speak the truth, and act rightly?

It goes without saying that your answers must be truthful in order for you to derive any benefit from the exercise.  Ironically, people who deny the reality of objective truth proclaim an objective truth about themselves and the way they see the world, in their very act of doing so.  And the irony runs deeper still, because even the most dishonest people inevitably try as best they may to convince others that their lies are true.  The consequences are catastrophic when they convince themselves, because dishonesty, the refusal to face reality, is the source of most mental illness.

200 years ago, with astonishing prescience, Alexis de Tocqueville described our predicament in the West today in his classic text, Democracy in America:

“I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world.  The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men all equal and alike, incessantly endeavouring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives.  Each of them, living apart, is a stranger to the fate of all the rest…After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp, and fashioned them at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community.  It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate to rise above the crowd.  The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided: men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting: such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannise, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

It will take leadership – visionary, virtuous, and vigilant – from parents, teachers, managers, professionals, and politicians, to overturn the oyster worldview that has undone our world.  And, inevitably, there will be a heavy price to pay.  Yet leadership means sacrificing self for the Common Good, and whether it takes ten years or a thousand, it will be done.

Andre van Heerden
ANDRE heads the corporate leadership program The Power of Integrity, and is the author of three books on leadership, Leaders and Misleaders, An Educational Bridge for Leaders, and Leading Like You Mean It. He has unique qualifications for addressing the leadership crisis. Since studying law at Rhodes University, he has been a history teacher, a deputy headmaster, a soldier, a refugee, an advertising writer, a creative director, an account director on multinational brands, a marketing consultant, and a leadership educator. He has worked in all business categories on blue-chip brands like Toyota, Ford, Jaguar, Canon, American Express, S C Johnson, Kimberley Clark, and John Deere, while leadership coaching has seen him help leaders and aspirant leaders in Real Estate, Retail, the Science Sector, Local Government, Education, Food Safety, Banking, and many other areas.







"No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it."