A bright and beautiful young person asked me the other day, in so many words, if leaders are born or made.
My response was a hearty vote for the latter choice, as for some years I have been reading about the amazing plasticity of the brain, the strength of habit-building, and the wonder of incremental changes. There are so many great how-to books and videos now, they almost make up for the dumb "Dream, Dare, Do" motto of my childhood. "Dream, Dare, Do" was dumb because it lacked the all-essential HOW. I was too shy as a child to ask "HOW" very often. Perhaps we can change this motto to "Dream, Dare, Demand How, Do."
People don't believe me when I mention how shy I was as a child, so afraid of people, dogs, deep water, and speaking to strangers on the telephone. It's true, though, and it was absolutely crippling.
Life as a shy child was torture. Selling daffodils and cookies for Girl Guides was torture. Calling up voters for the Liberal Party (long story) was also torture--and one voter I called was an elderly lady who was waiting for the ambulance for her stricken husband. Yikes.
Playing ice hockey was another horrible torture, for nobody ever actually explained to me the rules. I was offside so many times, I could weep just thinking about it. It would have been great if someone had explained the HOW of not being offside before I picked up a hockey stick.
Weirdly, I liked the idea of playing hockey even more than I hated playing hockey, and so I stuck to it for a few years. And I was a terrible player because I believed in Talent*, knew I didn't have any, and didn't know that I could become a good player if only I asked HOW and then did as advised. What a waste of my parents' money. Oh dear.
Of course, I still have some beliefs that need serious examination. After assuring the young person. that most people (or everyone) can learn to be a leader, I went on a tangent about whether or not women can be leaders of men.
My thinking was that only a few women can be leaders of men (e.g. St. Joan of Arc, Margaret Thatcher, Queen Zenobia), especially in traditionalist communities, unless you are related to them in some way. Clearly mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, sweethearts, teachers and even aunts can have a strong influence on traditional men. But Susan from the Parish Council can forget it.
However, I think now that I have been too cynical about this--or not cynical enough--and I think that women can indeed learn to be leaders of men. It's just a question of "which men" and of "HOW."
What made Thatcher, Thatcher? (This is not a popular question in Scotland.) What made Joan, Joan? Well, Joan was called La Pucelle, which means The Maid, which indicates why she had great religious power over deeply Catholic Frenchmen. And Thatcher, who carried a handbag and was called The Iron Lady, was ... Well, the word "Mummy" comes to mind--although not for the Scots.
What a dangerous conversation.
At any rate, Thatcher (I know, not a role model in Scotland) changed some aspects of herself, like the pitch of her voice, in order to be more convincing as a leader of men. However, I am not going down that rabbit hole, as Cardinal Cupich would say. The point I am trying to make is that, if her achievements, personality and circumstances bring a woman to a place where she is called upon to become a leader of men, she can learn to be one. She will be a self-made leader, not a born leader, no matter what people tell her afterwards. It's a question of HOW.
I do not know how, but there must be books about it.
By the way, I managed to pass a swimming test in deep water by hypnotising myself with the help of a children's book called Jake O'Shawnasey by Stephen Cosgrove. Jake O'Shawnasey was a fictional Irish seagull who was too scared to fly, just as I was too scared to swim in deep water. And (spoiler alert) after being told by a wise old owl to believe in himself, Jake obeyed and found himself flying. So, mimicking Jake, I filled my head with whatever mantra he used (and I have since forgotten what it was) and I passed my swimming test. My mother was pleased. My swimming teacher was surprised.
I managed to stop being scared of dogs by pretending I wasn't scared of dogs. And I managed to stop being scared of speaking to strangers on the phone in my twenties, probably because I had jobs in which I occasionally had to telephone strangers.
Now my great challenge is becoming trilingual, which is difficult for many reasons, including the fact that I am still shy around strangers and almost everyone I know is completely fluent in English. However, today there are many books that explain the HOW of fluency, and so little by little I am achieving this dream.
And that reminds me of the metamorphosis scenes in films like Pretty Woman, The Princess Diaries, She's All That. If you have any big goal--like getting a black belt in karate before age 50, like someone I know--the idea that you can be completely transformed in an afternoon of shopping and beauty treatments is utterly ridiculous. It's also playing into the idea that your life can be improved through consumerism. No, change come from within, and it takes time. It can take a LOT of time.
Last point: humility. Humility is not self-abnegation. Humility is knowing the truth about yourself. Our Lady is a model of humility; she said "All generations will call me blessed" because she knew the truth about herself, in relation to God and in relation to us. The wonderful thing about our squishy mouldable brains is that while we know the truth about ourselves, we can change ourselves to become what we want to (or are called to) be.
*Talent is what differentiates the very best from the merely enthusiastic and hard-working. I acknowledge that there are "naturally gifted" people, but I now know that love and work will get you 90% to where you want to be, and that is pretty good.