Thus far in the Exodus story, I’ve suggested that it’s more accurate for us to identify with the personal power of Moses rather than the victimhood of the other Israelites. I’ve also suggested that what we think of as the divine is not an external intelligence but an inner part of ourselves. It’s important to remember that the same is true for everyone, that each person has the capability to tap into a deep truth, beauty, and creativity. Exodus 14 provides a couple examples of what happens when we fail to acknowledge our personal power and the personal authority of others.
Moses leads the Israelite plunderers on a cunning escape route that provokes the Egyptians to pursue them and attempt to reclaim their stolen goods. When the Israelites see the Egyptians coming, their response to Moses is, “Were there not enough graves in Egypt that you led us out into the wilderness to die?” Encouraging words from a devoted following? Hardly. And yet, there are probably similar accusations leveled at leaders all over the world each and every day. While spiritual leadership can be abused, it’s also important to realize when someone else is exercising their capabilities for the greater good.
Every leadership role lives and dies by the trust of other people. Some people are good at winning trust and fall short on the follow-through. Some people are incredibly capable but have a difficult time helping other people see a lofty vision. Some people fail to recognize how their strengths could turn the tide of a situation, so everyone loses out. And some people are too busy trying to maintain control to recognize where their strengths end and another person’s strengths begin. There is a balance that must be struck between embracing our own personal power and opening space for the capability of other people to shine. When we tap into the deep truth, beauty, and creativity within us, our perception of equality may be challenged.
All people are equally valuable as human beings, but all people are not equally skilled in all things. It’s simply dishonest to treat life like a game of kids’ “fair and fun” sports, where no score is kept and there are no winners and losers. A false sense of equality leads to frustration, stagnation, and separation. We wind up complaining about leaders instead of giving their ideas a chance to succeed. We sometimes decide that we are being overlooked and spend our time trying to outdo someone else rather than focusing on the things that we are uniquely capable of doing. Recognizing the deep truth, beauty, and creativity within ourselves and others leads to an honest sense of what we are able to contribute to the world and honest acknowledgement of the contributions of others.
As the story of the parting of the Red Sea continues, the people following Moses become convinced of his capability for a short time. His connection with the divine was perhaps stronger than theirs was at the moment. They don’t make much effort to develop their own connections to the divine, though, and before long, they are complaining once again and demanding that Moses’ leadership look like what they want it to. They complain about things without suggesting any practical alternatives. They make demands without considering what is required to satisfy those demands. They expect to have something done for them rather than being part of a cooperative effort to make things better. And as we’ll see later on, when leadership apart from Moses does emerge, it’s shallow and irresponsible.
Connection with the divine brings a certain amount of personal responsibility with it. This goes for people who claim the labels of organized religions as well as people who chart their own spiritual courses. It’s unwise to blindly accept the words of everyone who claims to speak for God. But it’s also unwise to dismiss everyone who speaks with authority just because they may say something we don’t like. Hostility and petty conflicts most often result from fears and false beliefs. Our connection with the truth, beauty, and creativity within us combats those fears and beliefs and opens paths of cooperation. Paths where we can confidently bring our honest strengths forward while allowing space for the honest strengths of others to shine as well. Trying to tear other people down, or building ourselves up in dishonest ways, can never yield the same level of satisfaction that honest and authentic partnership brings. Great satisfaction comes from partnership that places equal value on people as human beings while recognizing diverse abilities.