Jonathan Dotse, a third-year computer science major at Ashesi, wrote the following essay for a leadership class assignment which asked students to use their creativity and visualize in some way their experience of servant-leadership. I re-print his essay here with his permission. It’s engaging, provocative and insight filled. I hope you enjoy.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and Word was God.” — John 1:1
This bible verse highlights for me the importance of the written word in relation to leadership. It says a great deal about Christian philosophy that the concept of the word is directly equated to the Supreme Being. Even in the early days of the religion, its leaders were aware that the very essence of their faith was linked to the words written down in the bible, words that they could pass down to future generations. There were many prophets around the time of Jesus Christ who claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah, however the written records of Christ and his disciples have played an important role in keeping his memory and his message alive, making the difference between obscurity and immortality.
Words embody the role of the servant leaders in society. Sour world is shaped by the words we speak and hear each day, the words we read and write and text to each other. Words first emerged as the units of verbal communication during the evolution of human language over tens of thousands of years. The written word was the very first form of information technology created by mankind. It gave us the ability to capture our thoughts, to store, copy, and transfer ideas within a society. The oldest recorded words were carved into stone walls by an ancient civilization known as the Sumerians. Since then, the written word was always the domain of the ruling class around the world, who controlled the flow of information in their societies as a means to hold on to power. Words are powerful. The advent of the printing press weakened the powers of the elite to control information in society, and now the rest is history. Now, computers have taken our words and reconstructed them to form their own languages to communicate with each other, whether in Java, PHP, or machine language.
Most of us who are fortunate enough to be literate often take for granted the power and importance of the ability to use words to shape our lives. In this world of mass information, the illiterate are acutely aware of the value of all the words they cannot understand; words that follow them everywhere they go; weird-looking symbols supposedly representing something meaningful, but completely empty of meaning to them. They are surrounded by words plastered on road signs and billboards and posters and may see the same words that we see, but they simply cannot grasp its meaning. Think about those who cannot see, or hear, or speak, or communicate, for whatever reason. Those who live in silence have a deep understanding of the value of words.
In Robert Greenleaf’s essay, “The Servant as Leader,” he states that ‘the servant leader is servant first.’ Likewise, the word is first of all a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used in service of the self or in service to humanity, for good or bad. Tyrants and dictators may use their words to oppress and humiliate others, while elevating themselves and promoting their own interests, but the servant leader uses words to empower and inspire others. Leaders like Nkrumah, Ghandi, and martin Luther King Jr. used nothing but words to give strength to millions of oppressed people to rise up and claim their rightful destiny. Unfortunately, many people use words in a negative way without realizing the effects of their words on themselves and the people around them. The Rwandan genocide began as a war which escalated far beyond even UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s wildest dreams.
Words have the power to harm or heal, to build or destroy. Servant leaders are aware of the importance of words as tools of creating change. This is why literacy is so important to raise people out of poverty and helplessness into a state of empowerment. The servant leader’s most valuable resource is the word — whether written or spoken — because it is the agent of all change in society. Without words, we could not express ourselves in the rich and complex way that we do. We would not have the great works of Shakespeare or the formulations of Greek mathematicians, or the unforgettable punch lines of lyrical rappers. We have the power to share our thoughts and ideas, to pour out our feelings and emotions, to express our hopes and dreams, simply by stringing a few words together.