The Island of Self

I just got back from a technorati search under keyword, “leadership.” There were 86,586 entries to consider, and yet as I thumbed through them I kept hearing that old line from a Bruce Springsteen song about cable television: “there was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on.”

After visiting a few sites that expressed great anger because it is inauguration day, and many others that seemed focused in content more on the absence of leadership rather than its creation, I felt I had to take a walk in the hills, metaphorically speaking.

I first came across a reference to a new website on peaceful societies. There and on the site itself, I read about the G/wi people who live in the Kalahari Desert of central Botswana in Africa:

“Beliefs that Foster Peacefulness.

N!adima, the supreme being of the G/wi, is the all-powerful creator of the universe and of all life, a remote, omniscient being who does not necessarily intervene to help people. G//amama, on the other hand, is a mean-spirited deity who showers irritability, misunderstanding, misfortune, and disease among humans. Geographically isolated in the Kalahari, and remote as they are from N!adima, the G/wi achieve security primarily from their own social acts. Their harmonious human relations counterbalance the loneliness of the universe. Harmony among humans is the practical result, as well as the dominating value, that the G/wi derive from their worldview. Their word for human, khwe-, implies friendliness, generosity, wisdom, calmness, and good humor. A person without these qualities, by definition, is inhuman.”

It always feels like synchronicity — meaningful coincidence — to open a book randomly and find a passage that speaks directly to an inner state. That, for me, was the line about human relations counterbalancing the loneliness of the universe.


I kept walking. I found a reference to a Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Buddhist monk nominated by Martin Luther King in 1967 for the Nobel Peace Prize. In the talk he describes a time as a young man when he sought to climb a mountain to see the hermit who lived on top. He didn’t find the hermit, but alone in the forest he found a well of clear and refreshing water which satisfied him completely. He goes on in the talk to remind us that such a well is potentially always available through the Buddha’s teaching that we all carry a place of peace within. It is the teaching of “the island of Self.”

I took a long drink from the well before returning to those 86, 586 entries. One line in Thich Nhat Hanh’s talk particularly stood out to me:

“I insist that the amount of freedom you enjoy can be measured by the amount of understanding and compassion that you have in your heart.”

Seemed very appropriate to the day.


  • Thank you, Dave. I can use all the help I can get!

    Anybody else out there: what cool sites on leadership have you found?

  • Thanks for the commentary. We’re working on some other ways to look for posts on leadership. Have you had a look at Technorati’s tags? Give a look at this page (which you can get to by typing in tag:leadership in the Technorati searchbox:


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